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By: CottonRhetoric, Cotton Rhetoric
Nov 30 2011 9:23am
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Portcullis was printed in 1998, and I'm starting to notice a couple of things about it.

A. Strategies

Without reading the card, do you know what it does?


After reading it, do you?

At first glance, it seems like an Æther Storm variant: 4 mana, and players can't cast creatures.  Weaker, since two creatures have to be in play already, but it is colorless....

What I'm trying to say is, if you think that's all Portcullis does, you're missing a ton.

Here are some things to point out.

1. It checks the creature limit twice

As you cast a creature, a trigger goes on the stack.  "If there are two creatures in play, exile this guy."  Then your guy finishes being cast and the trigger is ready to resolve.  "Are there two creatures in play?  Should I exile him?"  If the number of creatures changes between those events, your guy doesn't get exiled.


The clearest way to abuse this is by casting a creature like Man-o'-War or Nekrataal who removes a creature when they enter the battlefield.  Supposing you and your opponent each have a creature in play, and you cast Man-o'-War, you'll end up with two creatures while your opponent has 0.

There are tons of creatures with similar abilities to have come out since Visions, when those two creatures were minted (and nicknamed "187" creatures).  Perhaps my favorite in this scenario is Gilded Drake — it will enter the battlefield, trigger the Portcullis, steal your opponent's dude, switch to your opponent's side, and THEN become exiled by the Portcullis!

2. The creature enters the battlefield before leaving

Unlike Æther Storm, where you can't cast a guy at all, here you cast the guy and then exile him.  That gives you enough of a window to use EtB triggers.

And although it might seem like a bad deal to pay 1B for a Ravenous Rats trigger without keeping the creature... what about more efficient examples, like evoke creatures?  Or "leaves the battlefield" triggers, like Aven Riftwatcher?  What about casting one of them when you already have a Primordial Sage in play?


3. It lets the creatures return

I mentioned evoke in the previous paragraph.  Well, after the guy's done evoking, he doesn't just disappear.  He gets exiled underneath the Portcullis.  And if the Portcullis is later destroyed, the creature comes back and his EtB ability triggers a second time.  Mulldrifter becomes 2U to draw 4 cards and get a 2/2 flier.

Keldon Marauders costs the same 1R he always did but is now dealing 7 damage instead of 5!

4. It lets you stockpile

Picture this scenario.  Portcullis and two creatures are in play.  Your opponent, sensing the futility, doesn't cast any creatures.  You cast a bunch, exiling them all.

Then you cast a Jokulhaups.

What happens?  The two creatures and Portcullis die... and all of those exiled creatures return to play.  You now have a bit of a board advantage.

And if you're worried about your opponent making a stockpile of their own, run Riftsweeper.

5. It prevents you from giving your opponent things

    Hunted Horror

If there is one creature and a Portcullis on the battlefield, cast a Hunted Horror (or Hunted Troll, or any card in that cycle).  You'll get a huge undercosted guy, and your opponent will get... some exiled tokens.  Advantage!

And unlike the creatures in #3, above, tokens can't return when the Portcullis dies.

Even if there were no creatures in play, and your opponent gets to keep one of the tokens you give him, it's still quite a deal for you.  (Unless your guy was Hunted Lammasu, in which case you haven't gained anything over what the card usually does... but at least you're preventing the opponent from casting more guys!)

6. It only checks what "enters" the battlefield

This is actually the same as Æther Storm, but it's worth pointing out that you can sneak guys past a Portcullis if they aren't creatures when you cast them.  Chimeric Egg, Chimeric Idol, Chimeric Mass, Guardian Idol, the Time Spiral totems....

7. It is in fact a trigger

And you know what they say about triggers: they can be Stifled.


B. Sample Deck

We can take the above strategies in any number of directions.

  • Since our entire deck revolves around a single card, tutoring would help.  Blue and White offer cards like Fabricate and Enlightened Tutor.
  • Since our opponent won't be able to cast creatures, we could play green to run Biorhythm.
  • Since we might need to clear a cluttered board before casting a Portcullis, we might want to run cards like Pyroclasm or even Wrath of God.
  • Since we want to prevent our two post-Portcullis creatures from being killed and replaced by the opponent, we could play guys with Shroud or Hexproof.

Choices, choices....

I ended up going heavy blue, because I couldn't pass up the Gilded Drake.  I also stumbled upon Equilibrium, which turns every guy you cast into Man-o'-War (see strategy #1, above, for why Man-o'-War and Gilded Drake so good with Portcullis).

Most of the other cards in the deck are explained above, but I would like to mention:

  • Forbidden Orchard and Wall of Blossoms are both cheap ways to fill up the board before casting a Portcullis.  And both are still useful on a post-Portcullis board.
  • Turn Aside is my counterspell of choice, since it can protect our creatures during a Portcullis as well as protect the Portcullis itself.  Our plan unravels a bit if either is destroyed.
  • Guardian Idol is another card that's nice both before a Portcullis (helping us curve into 4) and after (being a creature that never enters the battlefield).
  • Since we're running Fabricates anyway, I wanted some toolbox artifacts to tutor for when we don't need a Portcullis.  I went with Caltrops, which is useful against random decks (as well as our own Forbidden Orchards), and Tawnos's Coffin, which can help us maintain an advantage during a Portcullis.  Note that untapping it will cause the exiled creature to enter the battlefield, ie get re-exiled by the Portcullis.

Here's the list!  I intend it to be casual and customizable.

Land (23):
2 Forbidden Orchard
11 Island
10 Forest

Creatures (15):
Wall of Blossoms
3 Gilded Drake
2 Riftsweeper
3 Man-o'-War
2 Hunted Troll
2 Mulldrifter

Noncreatures (22):
2 Preordain
2 Turn Aside
4 Guardian Idol
2 Echoing Truth
2 Naturalize
2 Fabricate
2 Equilibrium
1 Caltrops
1 Tawnos's Coffin
4 Portcullis
Riftsweeper Guardian Idol

Pretty fun.  And always unexpected.

C. Bonus

Since I have some extra room left after all of that, let's switch away from single-card strategies for Portcullis and run some single card strategies for Gilded Drake!

Gilded Drake

Aside from combining it with Portcullis (which you certainly still can), there are plenty of ways to utilize this awkwardly drawbacked creature.  Even beyond the standard old "sideboarding him in against Emrakuul" strategy.

Your first instinct might be to cast Stifle on the trigger to keep your 3/3 flier... but consider, is a creature that size really worth 1UU and 2 cards?  I think we can do better.  For instance:

  • Use Brooding Saurian or Homeward Path to give your opponent's creature back and keep the drake on your side as a regular old discounted creature.
  • Even more powerful (but less repeatable), use Brand to take your drake back AND keep the opponent's creature.
  • Make the swap and then bounce the drake to your hand.  Vapor Snag is a fine approach.  Crystal Shard is more repeatable.
  • Make the swap and then kill the drake.  You won't get to recast him (without an Unearth or something), but you will get to have a Disenchant-proof Control Magic.  Aside from the usual ways to kill a creature, Despotic Scepter is very efficient here.  And don't forget how great a fit the drake is for your Spinal Villain deck.  (The one with Painter's Servant!)
  • Cast the drake, make the swap, cast Heat Shimmer on your opponent's drake, steal a second creature, and leave your opponent with a token that's about to be exiled.
  • Use Soul Foundry, Echo Chamber, or Mimic Vat to repeatedly get drakes into play.  Each has its own advantages and disadvantages.
  • Oblation that drake!  Read it carefully: it's the owner, not the controller, who gets to draw the two cards.
  • Play the drake against your friend you just traded a Blightsteel Colossus to and who you know is just so excited to have this new card that he has to play with it immediately in his next deck.

C'mon, buy those Oblations before they skyrocket in price.


As always a brilliant by Paul Leicht at Wed, 11/30/2011 - 14:03
Paul Leicht's picture

As always a brilliant article. So glad you have continued writing and putting out gems for us to ponder. Stronghold has some very underrated cards and portcullis is definitely up there. Unfortunately, it requires playing in Legacy or Classic typically so not so much fun vs serious decks in those formats. On the other hand it might be interesting in some form of Tribal...

Hmm! I'm so used to writing by CottonRhetoric at Wed, 11/30/2011 - 15:01
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Hmm! I'm so used to writing casual-only articles that sometimes I forget to mention it.

Everyone, my Portcullis and Drake ideas are all meant for the casual room.

Yeah that was obvious. I by Paul Leicht at Wed, 11/30/2011 - 16:58
Paul Leicht's picture

Yeah that was obvious. I meant that the Casual Room does not really discriminate between serious and fun particularly in the older formats. You bring portcullis you may find people annoyed by it or you might find decks you can't cope with.

Great article by PatrykG at Wed, 11/30/2011 - 22:36
PatrykG's picture

It gave me an awesome idea for a Commander deck. Will have to run Black to have any hope of it working, but man that's gonna be some fun :-D

And all the other fun cards you mention is gonna end up costing me a pretty penny now :-S Why I aughta...

Hey don't leave us hanging... by CottonRhetoric at Thu, 12/01/2011 - 20:42
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Hey don't leave us hanging... who's the commander?