Saturday, April 30, 2011

Snap Judgments #6.5 - Some additional thoughts on Sheoldred "Rock"

Hello everyone and welcome back to a special supplemental edition of The Cardboard Witch.  Recently as part of our ongoing "Snap Judgements" series we took some time to look at Sheoldred, Whispering One and how she might fit into a Standard build.  Unfortunately at the time I was busy writing some other articles so I simply threw out some possible ideas and card combinations that might work with her in standard.  To be fair I did note at the time that this was all off the top of my head but it still struck a chord with a number of readers; both positively and negatively.  In addition to a fascinating 8 person discussion on Twitter about possible permutations of the build I received a number of emails and private messages asking me for a deck-list I hadn't even built yet.  Additionally the following comment was posted by a reader on this very blog (Jim Bowie):

I think when you look at Sheo, you really need to compare her to the titans. The titans trigger happens as long as it resolves, and Sheo's sac effect doesn't. Sure, if you have it in play and your opponent passes the turn, you have the win, but you can say that for any titan. If you want to play toolbox, we already have the cheaper Sun Titan, and if you want the removal, Inferno Titan is there too. If you want a consistent sea of dudes, Grave Titan is there to back you up with a 2-turn kill. You say that the difference between 6 and 7 CMC isn't much, but in fact it's huge. Lotus Cobra +explore is all it takes to get to 6 mana on turn three. To get to seven, you have to have multiple cobras/explores. If you're playing a deck that ramps into bombs, you either need to get there on T3 like RUG does or you need to be playing Ulamog/Emrakul and resolve them by T4.    

First of all I'd like to thank Jim for his comment and apologize for replying in the form of a blog post.  I figured this was the best way to both share a decklist and respond to your comments.  Additionally as usual Blogger is acting funny and I'm having a hard time posting comments on my own blog; no really.  While I share a number of Jim's concerns I still feel the deck has a space in the upcoming metagame; particularly because of cards like Despise and Beast Within.  Sitting down over 3 separate 1 hour brainstorming sessions this is the deck I eventually came up with; once again keep in mind that I have done no testing with this deck whatsoever as many of the cards don't exist yet:

New Phyrexia Sheoldred "Rock" -G/B Midrange

Creatures - 19

4x Lotus Cobra
4x Fauna Shaman
2x Skinrender
1x Obstinate Baloth
1x Thrun, the Last Troll
2x Precursor Golem
1x Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief *
2x Grave Titan
2x Sheoldred, Whispering One

Spells - 16:

4x Despise/Inquisition of Kozilek
4x Explore
4x Beast Within
2x Birthing Pod
2x Garruk Wildspeaker

Land - 25:

4x Verdant Catacombs
4x Marsh Flats
4x Misty Rainforest
6x Forest
6x Swamp
1x Mystifying Maze

Now once again I'd like to remind you all that not only is this deck "a brew" but it's also made up of a bunch of cards I haven't even touched with my real hands yet; this is not a finish line but a starting point and I am 100% sure I've made mistakes in this build.  Okay with that out the way let's talk a little bit about this deck, what it's trying to do and why I think that might be a good thing in Standard once it becomes legal.

Overview:  While more experienced readers will immediately recognize this deck as a modern simulation of older (and successful) G/B "Rock" builds newer players are likely to be puzzled by all of the terminology I'm using here so let's start with a little history lesson.  From the Wikipedia entry on Magic the Gathering deck types we find the following (reasonably accurate) description of Mid Range decks:

"Midrange strategies seek to control the game's first few turns and then win in the middle turns with large, yet highly efficient, threats. The black-green "Rock" deck is one of the most common decks to execute this strategy: it uses cheap creature removal and discard in the early turns to disrupt aggro and combo decks, and then starts playing large creatures in the middle turns that are, if not removed, capable of ending the game quickly after hitting play."


I should also note that the Wiki article needs an update citing Shards of Alara era Jund; in my mind the G/R/B boogie-man from last arc is one of the greatest "mid range" decks every built.  For a more detailed description of "The Rock" in particular you should visit Magic Deck Vortex; they have a great primer on a classic Extended "Rock" list.  While obviously a little dated this should give you a reasonable idea of how this deck-type functions when it's working, although I should warn you immediately that I don't think they'll ever reprint a card as powerful as Pernicious Deed so there's little point in getting your hopes up on that front. :)

Okay so after using the magic of the internet to help us define "The Rock" we can essentially break the deck down into 4 major components:


1) Mana Acceleration - While I was quite tempted to play Birds of Paradise in the initial build I really couldn't find room for them; this deck could easily be 90 cards if you aren't careful while building it.  In this version of the deck I ultimately had to settle for 4x Lotus Cobra, 4x Explore, 2x Garruk Wildspeaker and 12 Zendikar "crack" lands.  Cobra/Cracklands were simply the most efficient way to make 6-7 mana on turns 3 and 4, Explore draws me a card and Garruk provides a secondary win condition when combined with Grave Titan or Precursor Golem; giving them the nod over the various 1 drop acceleration critters in the format. 


2) Early Game Disruption - Once again this part of the deck provided a series of hard choices; while the original Rock deck packed as many as 8 discard spells I really couldn't find room for that kind of action in a deck fueled by Fauna Shaman.  I also lacked Pernicious Deed to clear out early monsters and set up my mid-game which is probably fortunate because killing my own Cobras/Shamans isn't exactly a legit path to victory for this build.  Eventually I decided to run 4x Despise, 4x Beast Within and 2 "fetchable" Skinrenders to help keep my opponent down long enough to get the Sheoldred engine online or just beat him to death with Garruk/token-making monsters.  On a basic level I feel the current Standard format is all about creatures and Planeswalkers and I felt this package as a whole was my best weapon against format defining cards like Jace, Stoneforge Mystic, Primeval/Inferno Titans and the like.  It certainly doesn't hurt that a Beast Within can turn a Sword of Feast and Famine into a "boring" 3/3 creature either.  I was sorely tempted by Inquisition of Kozilek as a method of protecting my Cobras/Shamans and if I had the room I probably would have run a 3/2 split on Despise/IoK.  Ultimately however I think it's really important to accept that as a mid-range deck this build is *extremely* vulnerable against enemy Planeswalkers; when you're trying to prolong the game to turns 6-7 it's a pretty safe bet your opponent can do something interesting with a resolved Jace/Gideon/Koth/Tezerret.  For the moment I'm going to go with 8 cards than can directly attack said Planeswalkers and tweak later if playtesting proves it's too many.


3) Graveyard Recursion/Inevitability - Okay this one is going to be a little harder to explain; while obviously Sheoldred is the heart of the "reanimation package" in this deck there are several other cards that help you grind out longer games.  This starts with 2 copies of Sheoldred herself but I've added a whopping 6 additional ways to get her with 4x Fauna Shaman and 2x Birthing Pod.  Amusingly enough these cards also happen to put creatures in the graveyard, thus fueling Sheoldred even *while* you're fishing her out of the deck; that's synergy folks! :)  Is Birthing Pod a real card?  Actually I have no idea; I know that Food Chain was a very powerful effect but at this point with zero testing all I can say for sure is that on paper chaining a Baloth, into a Precursor, into a Grave Titan and finally into Sheoldred seems like a really cool idea.  If it doesn't work these slots will probably go back to being a 3rd Grave Titan and a 2nd Baloth (12 crack lands is a lot of life to lose).  Of course when you're talking about inevitability it would be silly to ignore the Grave Titan, Precursor Golem and Garruk's ultimate "overrun" ability; if your opponent won't let you get Sheoldred online just "stompling" him to death with tokens seems a legitimate backdoor victory condition in this build.  Finally of course you can always just fish out Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief once you have enough mana and just fly over top of your opponent while killing of his creatures turn after turn; again it's not exactly Genisis recursion but taking 7-6 Damage in the air per turn will force your opponent to kill Drana or die to her very quickly.  One of the major ideas I tried to incorporate into this design was multiple threats/paths to victory; your opponent should have to kill so many of your creatures that eventually something *will* stick and take you to the finish line.  Ideally that something should be Sheoldred but it really isn't necessary for the deck to win in my opinion.

4) Ridiculous "Finishers" That Make Tokens and End Games Quickly - This is pretty self explanatory; whereas old school Rock had Spirit Monger and Deranged Hermit this build runs Precursor Golem, Grave Titan, a singleton Drana and of course Sheoldred herself.  Even our "187" utility creatures aren't half bad beaters at 3/3 (Skinrender) and 4/4 (Baloth, Thrun).  Once again I should point out that all of these cards work pretty well with Garruk; after he helps you pay for them he quickly turns an army of mid sized beaters and tokens into a lethal threat.  The basic idea is that when combined with early disruption and mana acceleration virtually any one of these cards allows you to go over-top of what your opponent is doing.  Naturally of course this requires some playtesting; I may well have too many finishing creatures and not enough support for example.  Alternately while I'm pretty sure this matches up well with Caw Blade, Control and most combo decks in the format (Valakut, Pyromancers) I'm a little worried about losing to speed rush aggro.  Only time/testing will tell if this is the exact right mix.


Finally I should note that there are a few "pet cards" I am very fond of that I included in this deck; these slots are probably quite movable and likely someone much smarter than me will find a way to turn them into more removal, acceleration, recursion or discard somehow.  While this is probably the smart answer I have a hard time turning down the situational upside of cards like Thrun, Drana and Mystifying Maze.  As usual mileage may vary.


Well folks there you have it in all it's scrubbly glory; my first crack at a G/B Standard Sheoldred "Rock" deck.  Is this deck going to be good in Standard?  Actually I have no idea to be fair but I think it might be.  Right now the format basically revolves around 4 Planeswalkers, 2-3 Titans and a bunch of weenie creatures who generate card advantage and fish out Swords.  On paper this deck has a number of answers to these strategies while simultaneously going over-top of most of them with a much bigger endgame.  Of course on paper the Detroit Lions had a good draft this weekend but I'm still trying to figure out who'll play linebacker or corner next season; as always you never know anything until you play the games.  Feel free to tell me how awful you think the deck is in the comments and as always folks remember to keep it weird.






  1. I have a suggestion. If life in this deck will be expendable, I think Dismember is a good early kill spell. The card can be a 1 or 1B for the cost of 4 or 2 life.

  2. I don't know about the drana, you may want to replace her with a necrotic ooze if your running graveyard type powerhousing.