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By: CottonRhetoric, Cotton Rhetoric
May 11 2016 12:00pm
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I've been writing articles about casual decks for over six years! And a lot of cards have been printed in that time. What can we do to pump some fresh blood into the old ideas?

I'll be going over four decks today instead of my usual three, since (as upgrades, not new creations) we can go through each more quickly than normal.


Deck 1 Song of Serenity

Back in August 2010, I showed off this wonky number:


It's one of my all-time favorites, a deck centered on casting auras on our opponents' creatures—and then shutting those creatures down. It then closes the game with some large (mostly) vanilla attackers.

Let's bring it to 2016 though! For one thing, we have much better enchantment enabling now, thanks to Commune with the Gods. For another, we have the cantrip-reusing Riptide Chimera. We also have the redundancy afforded by Aura Gnarlid (it's not as good as Yavimaya Enchantress, but it's sure better than Imperiosaur!).

Commune with the Gods  Riptide Chimera  Aura Gnarlid

Significantly, we also have cards that were around seven years ago but I hadn't yet thought of, like Rofellos's Gift and Simic Guildmage. And more significantly still, we have my increased knowledge of deckbuilding, so for instance I know to run more than 21 lands, and I also know to make enchantments more of a focus (although I'll miss the Brainstorm and Lightning Greaves). Here's the new list!


Much better! Let's do another.


Deck 2 Ula's Temple

Here's the March 2010 original:

What Lies Beneath
3 Wall of Tears
2 Psychic Membrane
2 Daring Apprentice 
2 Aetherplasm
4 Grozoth
4 Inkwell Leviathan
4 Deep-Sea Kraken
19 cards

Other Spells
4 Brainstorm
4 Quest for Ula's Temple
4 Ancestral Knowledge
2 Levitation
2 Evacuation
14 cards
23 Island
23 cards
Quest for Ula's Temple


The premise is pretty obvious: manipulate the top of the library with Brainstorm and Ancestral Knowledge, get the Quest counters, and drop the huge sea creatures.

I had some stall with Wall of Tears, Psychic Membrane, Evacuation, and some redundancy with Ætherplasm.

What I didn't have was a backup plan. And as fun as Ula's Temple is, it's not all that reliable. So for 2016, how can we have another wincon that's also synergistic with the deck's Plan A? We're already running a lot of walls—why not run even more, then add Assault Formation? Not only does it add a way to win, it also helps us stall while trying to win through the original way.

In addition, the green splash opens the door for Wall of Blossoms, which I would run over Psychic Membrane any day, and (once again) Commune with the Gods, which can find EITHER of our wincons!

Versatile! Two more to go.

Deck 3 Undying Flames

The April 2010 list:

Hazy Explosions
2 Psychic Membrane
2 Ingot Chewer
4 Spellbound Dragon
4 Deep-Sea Kraken
12 cards

Other Spells
3 Dead/Gone
3 Rough/Tumble
4 Foriysian Totem
4 Erratic Explosion
1 Honden of Infinite Rage
4 Paradox Haze
4 Undying Flames
23 cards
13 Mountain
12 Island
25 cards
Undying Flames


The idea here is to cheat on casting costs—pay 1 for Ingot Chewer, but it counts for 5 on an Undying Flames flip. Rough costs 2 but flips for 8; Deep-Sea Kraken costs 3 but flips for 10. The secondary premise was to double the Epic triggers with Paradox Haze, which itself boosted two Hondens and alleviated the delays on Suspend cards.

I'm going to start by removing things. Psychic Membrane doesn't do enough on defense, four Spellbound Dragons is too many; Dead/Gone is better replaced by the new Turn/Burn; Foriysian Totem is superfluous; and Erratic Explosion is suboptimal! These omissions leave us with a pretty sizeable hole in our deck. So sizeable that to fill it I'm turning to a third color: white.

Honden of Cleansing Fire  Martial Law  Assemble the Legion

White expands our Honden base by 1, and with a crucial Honden if we are to stay alive in our post-Epic game. It also allows us some more Paradox Haze combos: Martial Law and Recumbent Bliss nail the creatures too big for red's burn, and Assemble the Legion is a must-answer threat even when it's not being doubled. Finally, it expands our split-card options. Hide is more versatile than Ingot Chewer (even if it deals one less off an Epic flip); Order flips for a whopping 7.


Let's run down some numbers, because it's a little hard to calculate the mana curve. In terms of what you actually spend on spells, we have 0 one-mana spells, 10 at two mana, 13 at three mana, 4 at four mana, 4 at five mana, and 4 at six mana.

In terms of what they flip for, we have 0 at one or two mana, 9 at three mana, 4 at four mana, 8 at five mana, 4 at six mana, 2 at seven mana, 4 at eight mana, 0 at nine mana, and 4 at ten mana.

Undying Flames will hit for an average of 5.514. (Compare this with the original version's 4.314.)

A few cards were tempting, but didn't make the cut:

  • Soldevi Excavations improves the Epic output, but may hurt the color development or even be hard to drop (depending on your choice of duals).
  • Spinerock Knoll is enabled by 14 different cards, but I didn't want too many EtB-Tapped cards.
  • Odds/Ends has high potential, but little reliability, and I already have enough creature removal.

Soldevi Excavations  Spinerock Knoll  Odds/Ends


Deck 4 Avatar of Will

The April 2012 original:

Empty Hands
4 Rotting Rats
3 Imaginary Pet
2 Augur of Skulls 
Veiled Crocodile 
4 Guul Draz Specter
4 Avatar of Will
21 cards

Other Spells
2 Go for the Throat
2 Negate
4 Necrogen Mists
4 Bottled Cloister
12 cards
4 Howltooth Hollow
9 Swamp
11 Island
24 cards
Avatar of Will


    Necrogen Mists

In this case, there's only really one new bit of tech (Asylum Visitor), but there's also four years' worth of playtesting-inspired tweaks and streamlining.

I realized four years ago that a single Necrogen Mists was enough to empty both players' hands in almost every single game. I didn't realize how vital this was to have out as consistently as possible! This time around, I've upped the count to 6x by adding 2 Oppression. (And if you draw multiples... just discard them to the one you already cast.) This makes the Augur of Skulls and Guul Draz Specters a bit superfluous, so let's cut them. (They were always a bit underwhelming in here anyway.)

And although Bottled Cloister is good on paper, it usually only didn't play out that way. Those are gone now. We can also remove the Imaginary Pets and reduce the Veiled Crocodile. This gives us a lot of room! What for?

We don't have to add to our engine; let's just make it run smoother. Preordain, Merfolk Looter, and Dimir Signet all do this. For a while I tried playsets of Lore Broker and Notion Thief, and it was nice about one game out of every five, but usually it either was worthless or outright backfired. (I'm keeping one single Notion Thief as a safety valve, and that seems to be the right number.)

The Rotting Rats are surprisingly good, and the Howltooth Hollow is Five Stars in this deck.


Take some time to look through your own old decks! There is probably some great stuff in there begging for a new life.


Only 6 years? Seems like by Paul Leicht at Wed, 05/11/2016 - 13:02
Paul Leicht's picture

Only 6 years? Seems like longer! Will need to peruse this leisurely.