Under Constuction

Commander Theme Articles, MTG News Updates, and Random MTG Topics to help fill your hunger for

Magic: The Gathering!!!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Oh Captain... Captain???

Hello everybody!  My name is Imshan (aka Sinis) from www.Commandercast.com, author of the column Generally Speaking.  This week I’ll be your Acting Captain here at ThreeToTheFace while Captain Red Zone will be filling in for me at http://www.commandercast.com/.

The Captain is usually all about coming out swinging, while I tend to play a more reserved game, so this will be a halfway point: this week we’re going to check out Szadek, Lord of Secrets.  As a nod to the Captain’s style, Szadek will be winning by swinging, but because I’m sitting in the Captain’s chair, it wont be ‘damage’ and the focus will be on enabling and protecting Szadek while he claws at our opponent’s libraries.

The first thing to ask is “why”.  For those out of the loop, Szadek is a 5/5 Vampire with flying that costs 3UUBB.  Instead of dealing combat damage to players, Szadek discards cards off the top of your victim’s library equal to his power, and then gets that many +1/+1 counters.  At first brush, he’s expensive and he’s a mill general not unlike Oona, Queen of the Fae, so his efficiency is questionable.  However, with a starting body of 5/5 and his doubling effect, Szadek will bury a player rather quickly: the first mill is 5, then 10, then 20, and then 40. That’s 75 cards in four swings, and the fifth swing should be lethal.  

This puts him on par with any other 5/5 general that seeks to win through commander damage, even if he’s a touch expensive.  To make things a bit more complicated, in order to maintain his speed, Szadek needs to survive the entire time.  But, if it works out there is a huge payoff: players hit by Szadek after the fifth swing will get milled for more than their library will be able to accommodate.

Effectively, after the first victim, Szadek will one-shot people.  Further, after the first swing, Szadek will be 10/10, which will be immensely difficult for most players to deal with except by removal, and as the turns roll by, he will be all but impossible to handle.  This inflation of power and toughness will have other interesting impacts on the game, as you will see.

A benefit to playing a mill game is that opponents will unwittingly give you resources.  Chancellor of the Spires, Memory Plunder, Puppeteer Clique, Dimir Doppleganger and Wrexial, the Risen Deep can provide us with fairly extreme advantages, like duplication of powerful effects.  Animate Dead effects can provide us with alternate win conditions if really powerful creatures appear in your victim’s decks, or to simply supply creatures and effects that would ordinarily be unavailable.

Outside of Szadek, there are going to be no other mill cards.  Something like a Millstone, or a Glimpse the Unthinkable will be a drop in the bucket compared to Szadek’s punches.  Their insignificance is such that they do not warrant inclusion. Even a card like Traumatize is not particularly worthwhile compared to other options; it will mill someone for perhaps 40 cards at best, which will shorten our clock by one turn.  We would be better off playing a Time Warp for the extra card, untap step and greater strength on Szadek.  Similarly, something like Trepanation Blade from Innistrad will not likely do a whole lot; even though its effects will cumulatively add to Szadek’s power and cause more mill with every swing.  This doesn’t mean that Trepanation Blade is bad, but it does not exactly do enough to make the cut; it will likely speed up the clock by a turn, but will do little else.

Similarly, Sword of Body and Mind will grant limited evasion and some 2/2 bodies, but otherwise be a Trepanation Blade.  At first these rejections might seem counterintuitive, but to put things in perspective, an equipment or aura that gives as little as +2/+0, such as Bonesplitter, will speed up Szadek’s clock by one turn, the same as one could hope for from Sword of Body and Mind.  There are plenty of items that will do that and provide other useful returns.

The cards that will help Szadek the most will be the ones that keep him swinging, which means granting evasion and preventing his destruction which would reset his accumulation of +1/+1 counters.  Sadly, Szadek does not have trample, or a means of evasion other than flying.  My first pick to fix this is Distortion Strike.  With two successive turns of unblockability at one blue mana, it’s a bargain and will keep mana open for counterspells.  Once those two successive attacks are over, Szadek will be at least 26/26, which means that blocking to kill Szadek will be all but impossible without a creature with deathtouch.  Some other picks for getting Szadek through are Loxodon Warhammer and O-naginata.  Loxodon Warhammer will allow us to take advantage of Szadek’s continually inflating power which will utterly stop attempts to kill you with damage from non-Commander sources.  O-naginata is very similar to Loxodon Warhammer; the creature needs to be strong enough to lift it (which isn’t a problem for Szadek), it doesn’t have lifelink, but it’s half price.

Trample is the ultimate form of evasion; if Szadek is giant, the evasion is basically unconditional, unlike Sword of Body and Mind or other kinds of evasion.  Lastly, painless card that can grant Szadek Evasion is Shizo, Death’s Storehouse.  At worst, it’s a swamp, but fear can be very relevant when trying to sneak your champ through.

Getting Szadek onto the table will require a certain amount of ramp, like Wayfarer’s Bauble, Solemn Simulacrum and Dreamscape Artist.  An array of mana rocks will also be necessary, including the higher yield ones like Worn Powerstone.  Keeping Szadek safe will mean protecting him from spot removal, control spells, board wipes and similar.  Unlike Skullbriar, if Szadek is hit by even a blink effect, all his counters will be lost and his potential will be sorely reduced.  To this end, the best protection will be from Vanishing.  Phasing out Szadek will allow him to retain counters, avoid wraths and targeted removal, and otherwise stay safe until the beginning of the next turn.  Teferi’s Veil works similarly, but cannot phase Szadek out on command as Vanishing can.  Since most Wrath effects are sorcery based, Szadek should be able to escape the all-too-common board wipes.  Other protective measures will be to deck him out with Darksteel Plate, Lightning Greaves and Whispersilk Cloak which will do double duty by giving Szadek a way past any blockers.  To round out the protection package, this deck will play heavy permission to stop anything that might find its way past these defenses.  

In addition to the usual suspects for counterspells, Diplomatic Escort, Willbender, Glen Elendra Archmage and Stronghold Machinist will be on hand to stop spells that might harm Szadek.  Finally, Not of This World will play well to Szadek’s inflated power and toughness; after a single contact with an opponent, it’s a free counterspell against any spell or ability targeting Szadek.

Experienced players at this point will note that this format commonly has Legendary Eldrazi, Darksteel and Blightsteel Colossi, and other effects that will shuffle a graveyard back into its owner’s library.  This basically means that the inclusion of comprehensive graveyard hate that can be activated at instant speed is going to be necessary.  Nihil Spellbomb, Relic of Progenitus and Tormod’s Crypt will be needed to keep a lid on this.  Sadly, this is pretty much it for hate that will keep you rolling at the same speed; other graveyard hate like Shred Memory will allow you to win by exiling the offending shuffler, but typically cost you a turn as the remainder of the cards get shuffled back in. 

Cards like Withered Wretch, Nezumi Graverobber and similar will simply be too costly to exile the massive number of cards being milled.  Planar Void and Leyline of the Void could serve here, but half the fun of milling players out is being able to abuse their graveyard, and these pretty much preclude doing so while the others need only be used when an opponent is about to get a problematic benefit out of it.  Finally, if you can mill a player’s entire deck at once, you may use an instant targeted draw spell like Careful Consideration in response to the shuffle trigger, causing them to lose instantly.

Finally, it’s important to not overlook personal protection.  The permission package will cover a fair number of threats, but not all of them.  Propaganda, and Koskun Falls will deter and limit attackers.

We can’t really maximize Collective Restraint, but it is another propaganda effect and it can go a long way.  From Innistrad, Undead Alchemist will generate a host of chump blockers, and potentially creatures to aid in the milling process.  Some of black’s typical removal will cover the really dangerous threats.  Outside of typical removal is a card very dear to me: Arena.  As Szadek grows larger, he’ll be all but unbeatable in personal combat with your opponent’s creatures, and the use of the Arena will not even slow him down.  Szadek need not be untapped to be the critter you put into the fight.

Another tech defensive play is Pariah’s Shield, even though there is some anti-synergy with Vanishing and Teferi’s Veil.  As Szadek’s power and toughness grows out of proportion, attaching Pariah’s Shield to him will give you what amounts to a relatively invincible bodyguard.  After a mere two swings, it may become all but impossible for opponents to damage you without first answering either Szadek or the shield (unless players dishing out 20 damage in one turn through permission is common at your tables).  Pariah’s Shield also combos well with Darksteel Plate, and at very worst turns your worst critter into a fog each turn (barring removal prior to attacks).

Lastly, there’s some more tech concerning Szadek’s power and toughness.  This deck works so hard to protect and enable this giant creature that mills opponents out of the game.  But, it need not end that way.  Rite of Consumption from Shadowmoor is what amounts to a black Fling, getting sweet use out of Szadek’s colossal power.  Sure, you’ll lose Szadek, but if he has touched opponent’s three times, he’ll kill someone outright from starting life, and you’ll gain more than enough life to have time to rebuild.  Similarly, Final Strike from Portal can off someone, though there isn’t any life gain as a consolation prize.  Each of these is of prime use against someone playing with Legendary Eldrazi or Colossi; if you can’t mill them out, or it might take too long, this will handily bury them.  Finally, if you’ve got real stones, Xathrid Demon from Magic 2010 can kill an entire table with Szadek if no one has answers before your next upkeep arrives.

Is this the a different kind of redzone deck you can get behind?  I’ll let you, the reader, decide.

If you liked this article, check out my column at  http://www.commandercast.com/category/articles/generally-speaking and follow me on twitter: @generalspeak

For email, please feel free to contact me at ipoolar(at)hotmail(dot)com.


General: 1
Szadek, Lord of Secrets

Creatures: 15
Chancellor of the Spires
Puppeteer Clique

Dimir Doppelganger

Wrexial, the Risen Deep


Diplomatic Escort
Glen Elendra Archmage
Stronghold Machinist
Solemn Simulacrum
Dreamscape Artist
Undead Alchemist
Xathrid Demon
Trinket Mage
Avatar of Woe
Body Double

Artifacts: 13
Loxodon Warhammer
Wayfarer’s Bauble
Sol Ring
Worn Powerstone
Dimir Signet
Darksteel Plate
Lightning Greaves
Whispersilk Cloak
Nihil Spellbomb
Relic of Progenitus
Tormod’s Crypt
Pariah’s Shield

Enchantments: 9
Teferi’s Veil
Animate Dead

Koskun Falls
Collective Restraint
Mystic Remora
Phyrexian Arena

Sorcery: 10
Distortion Strike
Rite of Consumption
Final Strike
Time Warp
Time Stretch
Beacon of Unrest
Decree of Pain
Demonic Tutor
Promise of Power
Consuming Vapors

Instants: 15
Memory Plunder
Spell Crumple
Spite / Malice

Mindbreak Trap
Muddle the Mixture
Not of This World

Pact of Negation
Time Stop
Turn Aside

Lands: 38
Tainted Isle
Darkwater Catacombs
Drowned Catacomb
River of Tears
Underground River
Jwar Isle Refuge
Salt Marsh
Dimir Aqueduct
Creeping Tar Pit
Command Tower
Bad River
Barren Moor
Lonely Sandbar
Bojuka Bog
Shelldock Isle
Shizo, Death’s Storehouse
Minamo, School at Water’s Edge
11 Island

10 Swamp

No comments:

Post a Comment