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By: Paul Leicht, Paul Emerson Leicht
Jan 20 2012 5:08am
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My "The Sky is Falling!!!" Survival Guide

an image by Paul Emerson Leicht

(or "How To Live With The Cage")
By Paul Emerson Leicht

Let me start by saying I don't hate Wizards of The Coast's R&D as much as I did right after Pete Jahn got to unveil his wonderful-horrible Dark Ascension spoiler card:

Grafdigger's Cage from the DKA visual spoiler.

My eyeballs popped out slightly as I reread the text to be sure it was as much of a hoser as I thought it was. Oath? Dredge? Reanimation? Don't really care. I play the Classic format occasionally but certainly never seriously nor for money and I don't think I would worry too much about it if I did. Classic has so many "broken" cards, one more adjuster won't really change it that much. Yes, so Snapcaster Mage decks won't be as hot as they were.

I'm totally fine with that. All within the course of that format and the game in general. What really irks me is that weeks before this announcement arrived I began tinkering with a new archetype in Standard. While not great vs aggro, it seems to wreck mid-range and control decks and does a fairly good job against combo too. (Not that there is too much in the way of combo in standard these days.)  I was getting excited by the lists I was brewing. Here is the first list:

The reason I was so upset by the newest companion to Pithing Needle is that it directly stops my deck cold. Flashback? Forgedaboudit. Snapcaster Mage? Just a quick weenie chump blocker. Praetor's Grasp? Never mind, I'll take a land instead. Initially I was going to discuss the evolution of my lists from being quirky to actually doing quite well in admittedly random games vs a large variety of decks. (From mono blue delver, to RU delver, to self-mill, to Puresteel and Tempered Steel, to Pod variants, to MBC and RDW, facing down elves, and titans and dissipates and what have you.)

It usually only lost to the most aggro piles. (Red Deck Wins and fast Steel decks.) I was also going to present you with various stages of the lists (ala Lord Erman) for example where I decided I didn't really need Mulch at all and thus cut entirely to where I came up with a preliminary sideboard in anticipation of bringing the list to the tourney practice room. While I don't expect serious players to like much less love the idea as much as I do I figured a number of you more casual Johnny builders would appreciate the angles and weirdness of it.

Stop Sopa/Pipa now before this becomes illegal to post!

And then Grafdigger's Cage was revealed just as I was planning how I was going to write this article about it! Oh the agony! Argg my eyes burn! My hair is coming out in clumps of grey! I took a few breaths after screaming out loud so that my neighbors knew that Frankenstein's monster was indeed alive again. Then I calmed down. I decided the best revenge for such visceral torment is to write about it. Perhaps not revenge so much as catharsis.

I realized that my overreaction to the card, -- inevitable but emotional mostly -- was echoed by a number of people. I felt similarly about the Annihilator mechanic. I heard thoughts like this then about that and yet here we are. We still live and so does the game and all has been well even though Emrakul, the Aeons Torn got himself banned in a few formats. (Tribal, informally and Commander, officially.) I did not miss the Eldrazi scourge when it left standard but I also didn't really sigh in relief either. After all, mainly it was OK except for the 3 unique legends.

Here at last is my 'The Sky Isn't Falling As Hard As We Originally Thought' Survival Guide for people like myself who love the interactions between graveyard, exile zone, deck, battlefield and hand. The question that is being begged here is: How does one survive vs a Turn 1 cage? Or any cage even (because turn 1 might be too soon to play it vs some decks.) Here are some of my answers in ordered list format:

  1. Play around it.

  2. Avoid it.

  3. Live with it.

  4. Bring it.


Play Around It
Kill your opponent fast enough and his denial main deck won't matter. Don't play complicated decks, instead play aggro. This will totally change whether people bring cage. At least in single game matches. Aggro is good if not necessarily the best strategy in Standard right now. Sometimes you just get lucky and your opponent is dead before they have time to do anything reasonable. Sometimes your opponent fumbles and you win anyway. Nothing says dead in 4-5 turns like a good aggro curve followed by some burn.

Goblin Bombs Win
A sample Standard format list of RDW by Winter.Wolf
4 Stormblood Berserker
4 Goblin Chieftain
4 Goblin Fireslinger
4 Goblin Arsonist
4 Grim Lavamancer
4 Goblin Wardriver
4 Perilous Myr
28 cards

Other Spells
4 Goblin Grenade
4 Arc Trail
4 Incinerate
12 cards
16 mountain
4 Contested War Zone
20 cards
Goblin Grenade


You can also just hope your strategy works better than theirs. After all they will have to mulligan or Trinket Mage into the cage to guarantee having it in a timely fashion. It doesn't shut down all aspects of cards that have flashback. Just the graveyard casting part. You can still get some effectiveness from your cards neutered though they may be. Sure Burning Vengeance and company will be hosed but Think Twice still gets you a card. Sever the Bloodline still exiles one or more creatures and so on.

This idea assumes that eventually the cage bringers will realize their hoser isn't that hot and will stop maindecking it. (Yes I am assuming it is maindeckable in a meta that includes so many hosable cards.) And there might not even be a "storm" to "weather" if people come to this conclusion without having to actually experience people playing around it or switching to aggro decks.

Avoid it
Don't play against it. This isn't an option if you are a tourney player of course but when you see hosers in "Just For Fun" ("JUFF") it is incumbent on you to decide whether you find them acceptable or not. Since people bring anything from draft leavings to tuned top tiered decks in there it is your choice whether or not you will.

Just the same as those who play whatever they want in the JUFF room have a right to do so. You are absolutely within your rights to concede. It doesn't make you a weak sister or a woozy or whatever derogatory term chosen to emasculate that is preferred. People who play cage main deck know it will just end some decks. Just as playing Gaea's Blessing hoses any number of Mill decks (like they need the help).

This approach may be the most sane one for the majority of players. Playing aggro does not suit every magic personality. In fact some people wouldn't play Aggro if they were getting paid. I'll occasionally play aggro but I prefer more complex decks with flexibility more important to me than flat out power.

The 'avoid it' idea also assumes that eventually the craze will die down and JuFF will return to normal.

maze of ith maze of shadows

Live with it
The last option is to adapt. Add more removal to your decks. If playing Pod be sure to include Sylvok Replica along with your Acidic Slimes and Archon of Justice. If playing Vengeance, main deck Ancient Grudge. UW control with Snapcasters? Bring Revoke Existence, in large numbers. The cage like Pithing Needle is powerful because it is so cheap and is also fetchable with Trinket Mage. You can play Nevermore naming it to prevent it from wrecking your plans. You can bring Oblivion Ring and other cards. SOM block is full of artifact hosers.

Yes at 1 cmc sometimes it will come down turn 1 and turn your deck to mush. C'est la vie. Will people bring cage to single game matches? Certainly. Will it matter? Sometimes. But if your deck is designed to adapt to this they will stop eventually. (Well the majority will.) The main thing to remember is that with very rare exceptions no one card is a complete hoser. With the older formats your options become better. Meddling Mage and Chalice of the Void in Modern (well Extended but who plays that???) and older formats. In Legacy there is Force of Will, and Daze and in Classic those plus Mental Misstep which is also available in standard.

Yes some of these answers are budget unfriendly but there is a plethora of cheap removal for most colors. (Black has no answer for it directly but then Black seems to want to be paired with White these days. Also Black can opt for Ratchet Bomb which is not dead against other decks either.)

Revoke ExistenceRatchet BombOblivion Ring

Bring it
Finally, if it turns out that shutting down the graveyard and deck searchers is not only viable but important against the potential brokenness that Dark Ascension might otherwise be, switch decks. Build the hate deck. There is Grand Abolisher and Nevermore and Grafdigger's Cage and Leonin Arbiter. There is also Stony Silence and Phyrexian Revoker oh and Torpor Orb. Between all these cards maybe you can just say no to everything in one nasty list. Yeah OK so this might not be so practical and some of these are clearly better ideas than others but isn't the idea of this type of card to keep those broken combos under control?

A hypothetical Standard format deck By Winter.Wolf
3 Phyrexian Revoker
4 Grand Abolisher
2 Glimmerpoint Stag
3 Leonin Arbiter
3 Fiend Hunter
15 cards

Other Spells
4 Grafdigger's Cage
4 Disperse
4 Vapor Snag
3 Nevermore
3 Venser, the Sojourner
3 Stony Silence
21 cards
5 Island
4 Seachrome Coast
7 Plains
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Moorland Haunt
24 cards
grafdigger's cage

Not that I expect this to win any games but it would be funny if it did.

Obviously the deck lacks some sweeping and probably dies to: Mountain, Goblin. However Those flaws can be fixed by adjusting the numbers above and inserting cards like Day of Judgment, Rebuke and other removal. You can also stick in some Mana Leaks and Negates. In fact you can do all this from the sideboard. Yeah OK, all joking aside I don't expect a hate deck to work in Standard but it would be hilarious if it did.


In other words: Don't Panic and remember to bring your Towel. The answer is 42 as we expected all along. Oh and thanks for all the phish. But not "so long" because the section coming up describes in some detail the deck I intended to gush about initially.  In the meantime thanks Pete for keeping this under your hat until the right time and then blowing our minds. A properly placed spoiler is worth a few thousand words I'd say.

Praetor's GraspSnapcaster MageSever The Bloodline

Praetor's Recursion

The Name:
To start with I had a hard time finding a good name for this deck. It wants to do so many things and while certain cards are certainly central to it's design they aren't crucial. I've won games without seeing Praetor's Grasp or drawing my 1 shot creature removal spells instead managing to use my opponent's. The deck list is deceptively trash looking so maybe some form of "PT Junk" (to blatantly steal from Mike Flores and others) in the name makes sense. Though since it is far from PT design maybe "Casual Junk" is more like it.

There is a main theme and it is control through recursion. Your opponent is running counter magic, Day of Judgment, karn? Bait out their counters and then when they do tap out or try to do something proactive you can grasp their counters or control out of their deck. Your opponent is running fatties? Tokens? Recursion? Sever those bloodlines and rinse/repeat until they cry "Uncle!"

I settled on the above name: Praetor's Recursion.

The first list (see way above) ran into some problems. One was that I had no good answer to enchantments that shut me down. I didn't have anything to deal with an Oblivion Ring. Also when I showed the list to our Content Manager, Joshua Claytor, he immediately questioned the singleton Rampant Growth, suggesting instead a Traveler's Amulet which at least meshes with the Trinket Mages. I was also dissatisfied with the removal and latched on to Geistflame as a fairly good answer to all those Vault Skirges, opposing Snapcaster Mages, Goblin Fireslingers and other 1 toughness creatures people seem to enjoy playing.

Here is the next version:


Perhaps now is a good time to explain the silver bullets. I wanted the ability to self-mill the deck into utility cards without having to rely too much on specific cards to get the job done. As this deck was still new to me I was tinkering also with which cards were most critical to winning vs the masses. Doom Blade hits everything but black cards. Go for the Throat doesn't deal with artifacts. They complement each other however if facing both.

Time Reversal turned out to be a double edged sword. Either casting it won me the game almost immediately or it gave my opponent some breathing room which turned the tables back in his favor. I am not saying it was strictly bad. I did have some great games with it and people complimented me on its use but in the final analysis it would not make the next cut since I needed room and it was a weak link.

The single Army of the Damned was often my finisher since games would either last a long time or end long before I could do anything interesting. 8 mana seems insane to hope for and 10 even more with as part of the cost, but often times I found myself hitting the right amount and that was game over unless my opponent happened to have a sweeper on hand. An event a lot less likely when I was busy removing their good cards from the game. 13x 2/2 zombies is typically enough to end the game in one swing. but if that proves insufficient you can always just recast it. And if THAT fails, a Runic Repetition targeting it might be the convincing end.

Runic Repetition Memory's Journey

These two were the cards that inspired the idea for this deck alongside Praetor's Grasp and Snapcaster Mage. With those and the Trinket Mage/Elixir of Immortality engine you are likely to never run out of cards as long as you play correctly. Elixir also serves to keep you alive when facing down beaters. "Oh I am at 2, lets fix that. There, 7 life is much better. Maybe next turn? Nah I've got another and another." I had some interesting concessions from that alone when people realized I wasn't planning a quick win. Yes this deck can be boring if you are expecting flash and grandeur. The deck is a grinder and not very suitable for Timmy sensibilities usually. Though killing someone with their own 7/7 infector gave me a few thrills.

The idea behind adding Evil Twin was very simply to answer any annoying legends like Thrune (The nigh unstoppable). Typically though it was just another Simulacrum or occasionally some random OK creature from the other side to keep my opponent wary of attacking.

I was still not happy with the list though. I found myself loving Sever the Bloodline more and more and also wishing Mulch was more functional. I loved the idea of Mulching into stuff in my graveyard which I would then Snapcaster but in fact it was never crucial and often excessive. To the point where I'd end the game with 2 or more in hand having never cast them. That is a sure sign of card that doesn't quite fit the deck. Meanwhile I briefly flirted with a two color version running full Domain but no cards outside of . Here is that deck:


OK so not actually domain but using Shimmering Grotto means Praetor's Grasp is good for anything an opponent might have available. And the other duals help that goal as well. But since it is two colors only I really just need swamps and islands which means less chance of color screw. Unfortunately this deck just wasn't fun. I don't understand why but it didn't have the flair of the five color versions. Maybe I just hate being forced to be the reactor with a deck like this. I like assuming that role sometimes but when you have Dissipate in your hand and you ignore it you are doing your deck a disservice. This is why though some versions of the main deck had Dissipate in them, in the cuts they were always removed in favor of other cards.

Same thing with Negate. There is no good reason to run counters if you don't want to use them. Also this version seems to be missing Memory's Journey which is mysterious because without that the deck is much less likely to recur properly. And without Sever the Bloodline or other sweepers there is no chance to survive against Aggro. So perhaps that is why I scrapped it quickly and moved back to the main deck ideas.

One theme that kept coming up with this deck is: How to deal with similar decks? What if my opponent is also running Elixir of Immortality? Sure I can take theirs but then they may have one in hand or just draw into the rest and then my plan to keep their cards out of the game in some manner or other won't succeed. Graveyard hate seemed the obvious answer so my next version added two cards. Nihil Spellbomb which is fetchable and Purify the Grave. Here is that list:


You might notice I upped the sweepers in this version. Black Sun's Zenith became a singleton and I added more DOJs and Sever the Bloodlines. I also flirted with a singleton Cackling Counterpart which as I mentioned before I really love. Being able to steal a creature then copy it is some funny. As is just avoiding Geth's Verdict during your attack phase. "What? Verdict? OK I will make a token version of my Golem which I can sac to draw a card!"

Love the card but as much as I do it was not really in focus with the deck. Also I had not really figured out how to deal with the excessive mulches problem. The reclaim I added was a replacement for geistflame which while I like can be situationally dead. Reclaim seemed like a smart way to recover from the more numerous sweepers. In the end I took out the Traveler's Amulet since it wasn't that great at ramping and that was the initial reason for the Rampant Growth in the first place. The next list I cut to 4 colors:


Not only was Mulch coming up too often but I was also flooding a lot and while that was good for an end game Army of the Damned it was not much good for the middle game where I needed to draw non-lands. So I cut 3 lands and added a Druidic Satchel. I also added back the Geistflame and 3x Forbidden Alchemy which replaced Mulch as my graveyard dumper of choice. Some of you are saying "What took you so long??" I was resistant because I didn't want this to just become some oddball version of Solar Flare. I also reinserted the amulet as it is something handy to start with and not bad later to thin the deck a bit, given the need for more reach.

The key change, however, is the 2x Memoricide which I added after facing a near mirror. I was shocked to see someone running a similar strategy to mine and realized I needed a way to defend against Praetor's Grasp in my enemy's deck. Memoricide is also nice against decks that rely heavily on 4x lists. Any time you can take 4 of a key card out of someone's deck you are likely on your way to winning that game.

I made a mistake with this list, eliminating entirely from my mana base thinking I wouldn't need it. Ancient Grudge and Memory's Journey disagreed vehemently and made me pay for that mistake. Yeah don't forget the flashback costs when designing decks with flashback cards. Not very smart. Especially if you self-mill them away thinking you have it covered. Not so much useful when you have but no to pay the flashback.

Also I started thinking of maybe taking this deck into Tourney Practice. Not because I expected it to win much there. But I felt it had some small chances and maybe was getting to be too good for the "JuFF" crowd. Never did make it to TP because the next time I loaded MTGO I was faced with Pete's article and that just stopped my brain for a bit. Here is the sideboard included version with mana fixed:


The sideboard is the big focus here and probably needs a lot of tuning but it is a start. Timely Reinforcements just shuts down RDW if you draw it on time. I have had games (with other decks) where I didn't draw it before they got their 2x Goblin Grenade ftw but typically it is enough. Snapcastering it again means they can't win unless they get a very lucky several top decks. I added the counter package in too on the theory that sometimes countering their counter is better than just baiting it out and hoping they are done. The other cards are merely reinforcing existing cards that are particularly effective against certain decks.

As I haven't actually played any 2-3 game matches with this yet I can't say how good or bad it is but I think it is workable for now. I added it more for completeness than for any statements as to viability.

One last list came from my tinkering with the notion in my head in regards to the Modern format which I occasionally dabble in despite my better judgment. I knew certain cards would be no-brainer additions. Wrath of God? Total upgrade to Day of Judgment. Path to Exile better than any singleton removal from the standard deck except vs pro white which would be dealt with by other cards like Sever the Bloodline and Wrath. Here is the list:


Some cards were not so obvious to me and I spent a lot of hours(!!) thinking about for instance how many Isochron Scepters (if any) to run. Also Pull from Eternity I struggled with back and forth, finally agreeing to add one if I would just let it drop. Yes I have arguments with myself. :/ Brittle Effigy seems like a natural include despite the fact that it is usually a one shot. Occasionally having removal on the board puts a crimp in the opponent's play style which gives you breathing room. They hope you will take out their second best beater before laying their Hero of Bladeholds down. Fat chance right?

The one time I did shoot the effigy off was to kill a fully pumped Figure of Destiny. Yeah that felt good. Until he played another next turn. But that too soon saw removal. I chose Disenchant over Revoke Existence for the sole reason of speed. And Revoke doesn't fit under a scepter. But Boomerang does which is how that snuck in. Probably there are better cards to put in that slot but I love Boomerang from the days of old and so it made the cut.

Pongify was the final surprise and while I am not convinced putting it on a stick just wins it does help some with how to pop an unkillable Solemn Simulacrum (because your opponent hit it with a pacifism! I mean the nerve right?) I suspect it will become path #4 which I excluded mainly because I have this thing about playing with odd pictured cards and my last path is a promo foil. As an aside: anyone who wants that in exchange for 2 regular ones let me know. I have no problems trading away foils.

Thanks for reading this. The main compensation to me for writing these articles is the knowledge that I added something to the lore of the game even if it is miniscule. If some readers enjoy what I write then I have done my job and the credits (necessary for my continued playing of the game) are an incredible bonus. Thanks MTGO Traders (Heath) for that and for the opportunity to write for this site.

As I was putting this to bed today I got word from FD_Sunie that she will be available for my next interview article so look for that in the coming weeks. I appreciate the suggestions and comments the pure readers make here. So feel free to let me know in the feedback whatever you are thinking.

Until Next Time,
Paul Emerson Leicht aka Winter.Wolf on Magic Online.


I believe Praetor's Grasp is by milegyenanevem at Fri, 01/20/2012 - 07:26
milegyenanevem's picture

I believe Praetor's Grasp is not affected by the cage, as it casts an exiled card, not a card from a library.

That's true. It is the rest by Paul Leicht at Fri, 01/20/2012 - 07:42
Paul Leicht's picture

That's true. It is the rest of the deck that suffers as I tried to point out. Snapcaster Mage in particular suffers quite a bit.

*wakes up before commenting next time*

Yes you are correct. I was thinking of it blocking stuff from the library but the exile makes Grasp safe. So my conclusion is still the right one I think. No panic needed, the Cage is not the menace initially perceived. It does still wreck Snapcaster Mage and lots of other cards.

Thanks for posting.

You would think this is a by whiffy at Fri, 01/20/2012 - 14:01
whiffy's picture

You would think this is a good card or something. 3 articles in 4 days? lol.

You'd think, right? ;p by Paul Leicht at Fri, 01/20/2012 - 17:30
Paul Leicht's picture

You'd think, right? ;p

Awesome ideas by Madmaph at Sat, 01/21/2012 - 13:22
Madmaph's picture

Awesome ideas! In the end, it's a sweet card that will find play in most formats and that's something we should be pleased with. I think it's relevance to the current meta just caused a general wt...?!? I remember the first time my son played a Chalice of the Void on me. I was like for real ?!?!! lol. Great article.

Thanks for the comments. Yeah by Paul Leicht at Mon, 01/23/2012 - 08:34
Paul Leicht's picture

Thanks for the comments. Yeah Chalice is quite the beating. I can imagine your surprise when your son pulled that.

no offense but with regards by JustSin at Sat, 01/21/2012 - 17:45
JustSin's picture

no offense but with regards to your side comment there I have seen you on many occasions complaining about losing because your opponent had more expensive cards lol

good stuff though, it is funny how every new set brings everyone crying out how something is so OP or to quote you "the sky is falling"

Why shouldn't I be offended by Paul Leicht at Sat, 01/21/2012 - 17:54
Paul Leicht's picture

Why shouldn't I be offended by you calling me out as a hypocrite Dave? Especially since we haven't spoken in years? Especially since I have long since abandoned complaining about inequities in collections and decks. Please don't bother commenting again. I don't think we have much to say to each other.