The Metaworker – Casual Deckbuilding Part 2

In the last article – Casual Deckbuilding Part 1 – we picked a win condition, brainstormed some supporting strategies, chose a colour identity and a commander, and created a few advanced Gatherer searches based on templating of cards we already know about. Since the last article, I’ve been diligently combing through pages upon pages of Gatherer search results to assemble the following list:

Narset Form of the Dragon

Before we start tuning this list, let’s come up with a description of what we want the deck to do. This will allow us to assess each card or package of cards in the deck to determine whether it aligns with our description.

This deck wins by casting Form of the Dragon – ideally for free off of Narset‘s triggered ability. To ensure that we’re able to survive long enough to cast Form of the Dragon, we’ve included noncreature pillowfort pieces that create persistent effects that discourage creature combat. To decrease the risk associated with Form of the Dragon setting our life total to 5 every turn, we will be relying on those same persistent effects. To increase the impact of Form of the Dragon‘s upkeep effect, we are including damage doubling effects.

Tuning and Interaction

What we’ve got here is a super rough first draft and a description of what we want the deck to do. First, we’re going to check to see if what we’ve got aligns with the description:

Creatures

Most Narset lists go creatureless, but I’m pretty comfortable with the suite of creatures I’ve chosen here. Even though we can’t cast them for free off of Narset, each of them provides an important effect related to preventing damage, discouraging combat, or just being a flying blocker.

Artifacts

Lich’s Tomb is a neat piece of tech I found while I was researching cards like Phyrexian Unlife and Worship. The effect is pretty expensive, but it has some cute interaction with Platinum Emperion.

Soul Conduit didn’t come up in any of my searches, but it popped into my head while I was thinking about Tree of Perdition in my brainstorming session for the first half of this series. If we’re going to be at 5 life every turn, it might be kind of fun to bring everyone else to 5 as well – especially since we’re able to do exactly 5 damage on upkeep. This has the potential to straight up kill people.

I deliberately kept the artifact count low because I wanted to include the Madcap Experiment / Platinum Emperion combo, and each artifact we include increases the chances that we’ll just straight up die to Madcap damage. This means we’re not able to run topdeck manipulation like Sensei’s Divining Top or Scroll Rack. More on this in the Sorcery analysis.

Overall, having no mana rocks means we’re able to rein in some pretty significant power we have in the command zone. This means our land count is going to have to be slightly higher than usual.

Instants

Aside from general utility in this package of instants (removal, card selection, and tutors) there was really only one thing that came up during my Gatherer searches – Angel’s Grace. I didn’t want to go too deep on this type of effect because it’s only good once we’ve already cast Form of the Dragon. I also liked the idea of including Illusionist’s Gambit – a nice little piece of Commander 2013 technology – because it has the added benefit of redirecting combat damage to our opponents if someone decides to alpha strike. The fact that I wanted my key pillowfort pieces to be persisting effects meant that I skewed this list towards enchantments rather than instants.

Pull from Eternity is a pretty important piece. Ideally, we’re going to be exiling a pretty good chunk of our deck, and we want to make sure we don’t exile something really important. If we do, this allows us to toss it back in the graveyard to be replenished or shuffled back into the library.

Sorceries

Possibly the most important package in our list of sorceries is the Madcap package. To properly assess this, we need to consider what will happen if we flip each of the potential payoff cards. What can we flip off of Madcap Experiment?

Platinum Angel and Platinum Emperion are great! Madcap Experiment puts them directly into play, and we don’t lose to the damage no matter where they were in the library before we cast Madcap.

Lich’s Tomb off the flip is rough. Lich’s Tomb replaces damage with sacrificing permanents, so we’ll live if we flip Lich’s Tomb provided the damage from Madcap Experiment is less than the number of permanents we have in play.

Flipping Soul Conduit is an unmitigated disaster. The only way we don’t lose here is if Madcap Experiment causes us to flip fewer cards than our life total can handle. This is pretty interesting, because sometimes we might be put in a situation where we’re at a low life total and can immediately swap with someone else. Keeping Soul Conduit in is a huge gamble, and I think I like it. This is a deliberately suboptimal decision, because the Platinum/Madcap combo works best when the only artifacts in your deck will prevent Madcap Experiment from killing you on resolution. Keeping this in the deck adds a sense of suspense and excitement whenever I cast Madcap.

Silent Arbiter, on the other hand, is no bueno. Flipping this off of Madcap Experiment doesn’t prevent us from losing the game to Madcap damage, and it doesn’t have any upside if we manage to survive like Soul Conduit does.

In the sorcery list we’ve also got a mild recursion theme – or at least – the best we can do in Jeskai colours. Wheels like Time Spiral and Day’s Undoing shuffle our graveyard back into the library (and work decently well with Pull from Eternity). The best recursion spell in the deck is absolutely Replenish, and can be a pretty good way to reestablish our pillowfort if we get blown out at some point in the game.

I included Mana Severance because – at some point – we’re going to hit a point where we don’t want any more lands. Narset doesn’t like flipping lands off the attack trigger, and this is a good way to get them out of here. This is a casual deck that’s unlikely to see any kind of land destruction, so the risk here is pretty low. Don’t get me wrong – I know this card isn’t good. This is one of those opportunities to include goofy cards that don’t get to see a ton of play elsewhere. Similarly in the enchantment package, I’ve included Endless Horizons to serve a similar purpose. Endless Horizons is significantly better because it gives us the option to draw plains if we need them, and this deck skews really heavily towards white mana symbols.

Finally, I’ve included Descent of the Dragons. Originally I’d included this because I intended to include a heavier token theme (a la Assemble the Legion), and Descent is a great way to turn those soldiers into fliers who will help prevent flying attackers from getting through. Given the fact that this only synergizes with one other card in the deck, and we don’t run a ton of creatures that we can target with this, it’s probably going to be one of the first cards on the chopping block.

Sorceries Review Conclusion

Enchantments

This is really the bread and butter of this deck. We have to make sure that the mix of persisting effects that we’re putting together in our enchantment mix all works towards the same goal (keeping us alive until we can become a dragon, and keeping us alive after we become a dragon). Fortunately for us, a new slot just opened up while we were reviewing sorceries, so we can add another enchantment! I came across an enchantment totally by chance while looking through the deals binder at my LGS, and I love the idea of it so much.

I deliberately tried to avoid building this deck as the “Oops, All Spells” Narset deck we all know and hate, but this extra turn effect fits so perfectly. If we’re going to set our life total to 5, and there’s an effect that specifically gives us an extra turn if we start the turn at 5 or less life, we have to run it, right? Right. Get in the deck.

The only other extra turn spell I run has a pretty big downside – Savor the Moment. This card effectively acts as a second copy of Paradox Haze in that it gives us an extra upkeep without giving us an extra untap step. I feel pretty comfortable drawing the line at 2 extra turn spells, especially since the ones I’ve chosen are pretty bad.

Beyond this, I’ve divided my enchantment package into three separate groups, with each group corresponding to my goals of surviving (1) before and (2) after becoming a dragon, and (3) increasing the effectiveness of Form of the Dragon‘s upkeep trigger.

Group 1 – Surviving Before Becoming a Dragon

Group 2 – Surviving After Becoming a Dragon

This list should look pretty similar. Turns out things that keep you alive tend to keep you alive whether you’re a dragon or not.

Group 3 – Increasing the Effectiveness of Form of the Dragon

This list is a little on the short side. Granted, we probably only need one or two of these to make Form of the Dragon really pop, but in retrospect I think adding another damage doubler would be a good decision.

(Bonus) Group 4 – None of the Above

These are the only two enchantments I’m running that don’t really fit into the groups above. Land Tax is going to help us hit the right land drops to be able to cast colour-intensive spells like Form of the Dragon and Furnace of Rath in the late game, and ensure that we pull off the WUR that we need to cast Narset as early as possible.

Parallel Thoughts is a card that didn’t come up in my Gatherer searches, but I’ve been wanting to play it in an EDH deck for a long time. This is one of the only ways we can ensure that we’re not going to flip a specific card off of Narset or Madcap Experiment before we’re ready to handle it, and it’s part of the reason why I included the Brainstorm / Ponder/ Preordain package as well as the two wheels. Parallel Thoughts works best when you’re able to pack it with redundant effects and draw spells (like you might when you’re creating a Doomsday pile), because in a playgroup that any kind of decent threat assessment, this is a pretty serious threat that needs to be dealt with.

Enchantments Summary

The mix is actually pretty good. The fact that there’s a ton of overlap between Groups 1 and 2 means that we’re equally happy to draw these cards before or after becoming a dragon. We might look for one more damage doubling effect in the future if Group 3 is too lean.

Lands

For this list I decided that I was going to start at a land count that’s roughly appropriate for an average CMC of 3.5 (36) and add nonbasics and utility lands to that total to account for the fact that we aren’t running ramp or mana rocks.

Glacial Chasm buys us 2 turns of damage prevention after becoming a dragon – after which the cumulative upkeep is too high and we can’t pay it unless we’ve got some of our pieces that cheat death out.

Serra’s Sanctum is expensive, but wow is it incredible in this list. We’ve got a heavy skew towards white and plan to have a ton of enchantments in play at any given time.

The rest is pretty standard fare. I built this landbase out of my collection so it’s much better than what you’d normally see at this power level, but I feel it’s an okay trade-off because our wincon is pretty damn janky. I went with the full suite of white fetches because of the significant white skew in this deck, and didn’t add a ton of utility lands because we want to grab 3 basics every turn if we land an early Land Tax.

Are we done here?

Not even close! We’ve identified a few areas where we might make some alternate card choices (such as cutting Descent of the Dragons and adding a damage doubler), but up until this point we’ve really only assessed this deck in a vaccuum. Once I’ve got my decklist somewhat where I want it to be, I like to come up with a list of questions, try to answer them, and see how I feel about the answers. Here are a few questions I have about this deck:

How does this deck stack up against life gain strategies?

This is a question I have because of my experience piloting my Vial Smasher deck. We already have our work cut out for us if we are trying to pull off a damage-based strategy in increments of 5. Sometimes if someone sticks a Venser’s Journal or something, I end up spinning my wheels a bit. This deck has some outs to that by ramping up the amount of damage dealt through damage doublers, setting people’s life total with Soul Conduit, and guaranteeing that we can do at least a little damage each turn.

How responsive is this deck to opponents’ threats?

Not very. Because we’ve made the deliberate choice to go with a pillowfort strategy rather than one that’s more proactive or one that runs loads of instant-speed removal, if someone makes a move to win the game we’re going to sit and watch them do it. As this is a deck for a lower-power meta, I think this is acceptable. The pieces I’ve chosen (for the most part) prevent people from interacting with me rather than preventing them from interacting with anyone, so I think this deck will fly just fine in the meta it’s intended for.

What is this deck’s biggest weakness?

I think we’d have a pretty rough go against decks with a high density of fliers, or anything that does damage directly like Nekusar or Vial Smasher. The pieces we’ve put together effectively shut down go-wide strategies and anything on the ground, but if we wanted to make things more resilient we might go with something like Witchbane Orb or other redundant Leyline of Sanctity effects. I didn’t do that in the original draft because of the Madcap interaction and the fact that having multiples of these types of effects in play at once doesn’t improve my position in the game.

Is 38 lands the right number?

Truthfully, I have no idea. Despite the fact that we have a few bombs at the top end of the curve, our ACMC is actually lower than I expected it to be. In a perfect world we’re casting those bombs for free off of Narset, but we want to be able to do something before turn 6 so it’s important to load up the 2- and 3-drop positions with a ton of action. Because this deck relies so heavily on casting things for free, I’m not going to know how this deck runs until I test it.

What if I’m not satisfied with the answers?

We’ve already done a ton of research on card choices and interactions, so at this point I’m generally comfortable approaching other people for help if I don’t think I’m capable of taking this deck further than this point. At this point, I’d approach my friends, people working at my LGS, and the Reddit / MTGSalvation communities to see if anyone has any ideas. The most important part about this step – and I can’t emphasize this enough…

Put some thought into it!

When you post or approach someone to ask for help, have an idea of what you’re looking for. Start with a description of what you have in mind for the deck (which we conveniently have as a result of this deckbuilding process). Provide a link to the list on something like TappedOut or DeckStats so the person helping you can take a look at some basic info about your list. After that, mention the intended power level and any restrictions you might have placed on building the deck, such as budget, flavour, or deliberate inclusions or exclusion of effects. Finally, ask the question or questions that are on your mind, remain open to suggestions, and thank people for their assistance! If you’re looking for an example, it might look something like this:

I’ve built this deck to win by doming people with Form of the Dragon. I built a pillowfort package to prevent me from dying before and after I become a dragon. I recently got a bit of money for my birthday and I’m looking to buy approximately $100 worth of cards to improve the deck. I like the way that the pillowfort package runs right now but I find I’m not as involved in disrupting my opponents’ game plans as I’d like to be. My friend is running a Dragonlord Dromoka deck that I’m particularly struggling with because he has access to a flying beater in the command zone that I can’t remove with Form of the Dragon.

That’s it for this two-part series on casual deckbuilding! I really hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I did. Brewing around jank is one of my favourite things, so if you’ve got any recommendations on something I might brew in a future series, please hit me up on Reddit or in the comments below.

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