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Attention to Detail #10 – Making a Pact
by Jordan Kronick
January 27, 2006

The prerelease is over and the real fun can begin. Guildpact is already making a big splash and many drafts are being played. I myself played seven drafts last Saturday, and I've done perhaps three times that many in the intervening days. Of course, being a part of the Magic Online Guildpact beta test helps a lot in that regard. Part of the testing process for Magic Online involves going back to old sets and making sure that new cards interact the way they are supposed to with the remnants of Magic past. There's a lot of old cards out there and there's a lot of weird interactions to test. The best part of this process is that it causes you to come up with all sorts of interesting interactions with older cards. The first thing I want to look at today is one of the Guildpact cards that seems custom made for interactions with older cards.

Abyssal Nocturnus is certainly one of my favorite cards in the new set. For those who may not have seen this little gem yet, here's the card text:

Abyssal Nocturnus 1BB
Creature – Horror
Whenever an opponent discards a card, Abyssal Nocturnus gets +2/+2 and gains fear until end of turn.
2/2

It's such a simple, tight little package of a card. Obviously it doesn't take a lot of creativity to realize that the Nocturnus is best when your opponent is discarding lots of cards. Stuff like Duress, Hymn to Tourach and Cabal Therapy can all quickly make your Nocturnus a nasty bugger. But, like any discard-based strategy, there's a flaw. Eventually your opponent is going to run out of cards. If they don't have anything they can't discard anything, right? Well that's where the fun interactions come into play. Although black has a virtual monopoly on discard effects, blue has a niche with causing people to both draw and discard cards. Well that's just as good when you're using a Nocturnus – it might even be better. Four cards come immediately to mind. Each is available on Magic Online and can be had pretty darn cheap.

First, there's a pair of cards from Odyssey – Cephalid Looter and Cephalid Broker. Back in Odyssey these were usually used to draw cards and generate Threshold. Giving your opponent more cards and a bigger graveyard was generally not a very good idea back then. But the Broker seems tailor-made to the job of keeping your Nocturnus huge and scary. One activation gives +4/+4 and fear, and doesn't actually result in any card advantage for the opponent. The Looter will do the same thing, but one card at a time. Still, it's a bit cheaper.

Next, there's a card from Ravnica that falls right along the same lines – Lore Broker. This one is going to do the same job as your Looter, but you get the effect as well! That's great, because while we want to be causing the opponent to discard, we want to draw cards too. More cards means more Noctunuses (or would that by Nocturni?). The cheap casting cost makes Lore Broker an all-star as well.

Fourthly is a card that I've loved for many years. It's been a huge weapon in a couple decks that never really made the scene, but it's a big nasty effect. I'm talking, of course, about Urza's Guilt. With a Nocturnus out, you could potentially cause the opponent to lose 4 life while simultaneously giving your bad guy +6/+6! That's a huge life swing. And there's a card that combos really well with Urza's Guilt as well – Megrim. In the above situation, you would be doing 6 damage from discard, causing the loss of 4 life, and also giving your Nocturnus the +6/+6 bonus. Including an attack from the big guy that's a stunning 18 points of life loss – and it can be done on turn 5 without needing any acceleration. Now that's a deck that's worth building!

So let's build this from the ground up. I'm going to try to limit the amount of direct discard that the deck uses for two reasons. First of all, Urza's Guilt is slightly less effective when used against someone with an empty hand. Secondarily, the casual rooms of Magic Online (where I fully intend to test this deck) have an overwhelming hatred for discard. We don't want to make people too angry – at least, not until the giant Nocturnus is swinging at them. I also want to point out that I'm going to try to make this deck as inexpensive as possible. I could be including things like Umezawa's Jitte and Shadowmage Infiltrators in here, but I fully understand that those things are out of most people's financial reach – including mine!

First of all, the creatures. For a black/blue deck, this thing actually uses a pretty high number of creatures.

4x Abyssal Nocturnus

Obviously, we need four copies of the key card. Nocturnus, Nocturnus - he's our man! If he can't do it, nobody can!

4x Cephalid Broker

I really like this guy in here. There's a strong possibility that our plans for a quick kill could be disrupted, and we may need to go for the long game. Whether it's giving +4/+4 or letting you dig deep for an answer, Broker is going to be a big help.

4x Lore Broker

Speaking of Brokers, we've got this little gem. I'm not going to include the Cephalid Looters because I feel that they are too expensive for the deck. We want to be casting Nocturnus or finding Nocturnus on turn 3, not playing a 1 toughness creature. Even the Lore Broker has a toughness of 2! This guy will help us find the threats and provide a bit more of the kill.

4x Drift of Phantasms

One thing that this deck doesn't do very well is defend itself. We don't want to be blocking with the Nocturnus or the Brokers because that could easily result in the loss of one of our big weapons. So instead, we've got this thing. It serves two purposes, of course – first of all, it blocks until we can kill the opponent. Second of all, it can be Transmuted to find a Nocturnus! That sounds good to me.

4x Ravenous Rats

Well, it can't all be draw-and-discard effects. Ravenous Rats are one of the staple black cards that seem to show up in just about every aggressive black deck out there. It serves a lot of purposes in our deck, it's incredibly cheap and it blocks in a pinch. That sounds like a good choice.

Well, 20 creatures sounds like a lot. This deck still has a lot of spells to include, so let's get on with it!

4x Megrim

Part of our kill mechanism. Not to mention one of the coolest most combo-rific cards out there. If you want to try building this deck, I highly recommend picking up something 7th or 8th edition versions of Megrim, as the 9th edition art really leaves a lot to be desired.

2x Urza's Guilt

I actually wavered on this one. Although it's part of the idea that originally led me to build this deck, it's very expensive. Invasion block cards are so rare that even the “junk” rares like this one are still pretty spendy. Fortunately, I've got two of them already. If you want to try building this thing yourself, feel free to replace the Guilts with more direct discard. It's mostly a matter of style.

4x Duress

Besides the Ravenous Rats, this is the only concession I'm making to the world of direct discard. Duress really is just about the best discard for the price. One of the problems this deck has is that the Nocturnus is vulnerable. If we can remove things like Wing Shards or Rend Flesh before they have a target, we'll be a lot better off.

To round out the deck, I think it needs a bit of creature removal. Although this strategy is very aggressive, it has a big hole in the plan. What if the opponent has black or artifact creatures? Abyssal Nocturnus isn't going to work too well in those situations. Well, there's a piece of removal or two that we can toss in for just such an occasion.

4x Rend Flesh

Maybe the best common black removal printed in years, Rend Flesh had a huge drawback in the spirit-filled Kamigawa block. However, now that it's entered into larger formats, it is even better. Black creatures? Artifact creatures? This'll take them all done. Well, the non-spirits anyway.

So what if they have a black spirit? Well, that's a tough one. Black and blue don't do a very good job of removing such creatures, usually. And what about annoying enchantments and artifacts? Well, there's a card that's absolutely perfect for this sort of thing. It's one of my favorite cards of all time, too.

4x Recoil

It just might be the perfect card for this deck. It causes discard. It can remove any permanent on the table (well, the ones that aren't somehow untargetable anyway), and it's cheap. The last step is to throw in some lands. There's a number of nonbasic lands that might go into this deck, but I'm just going to avoid the whole issue. Watery Graves and such notwithstanding, I want to build this thing cheaply. 38 spells? Let's go for 11 Islands and 11 Swamps. The deck has a pretty low mana curve and the Brokers can help us flesh it out, so 22 lands should work well.

Here's the list in a bit more manageable view:

4x Abyssal Nocturnus
4x Cephalid Brokers
4x Lore Broker
4x Ravenous Rats
4x Drift of Phantasms

4x Megrim
2x Urza's Guilts
4x Duress
4x Recoil
4x Rend Flesh

11x Island
11x Swamp

Unfortunately, I'm not going to get a chance to test this quite yet! We don't have complete access to the cards on the Magic Online beta test, so it will just have to wait until Guildpact releases into the online world – that happens on February 27th, by the way. If anyone wants to try putting this together in paper form and giving it a whirl, I'd love to hear some reactions. Just throw a post in the Pojo message boards or contact me on Magic Online under my handle – ChainMaster.

I'm going to completely change gears now to talk about another of my favorite Guildpact cards. Where Abyssal Nocturnus is quick and powerful in the short term, my next choice is just the opposite. It's a bit slow in all the ways Nocturnus is fast. It doesn't do much damage, while the Nocturnus can get huge in a hurry. And it is absolutely great in multiplayer games, while the Nocturnus would quickly run out of steam against multiple opponents. I'm talking, of course, about Agent of Masks.

Here's the card text for those who don't recognize the name right away:

Agent of Masks 3WB
Creature – Human Advisor
At the beginning of your upkeep, each opponent loses 1 life. You gain life equal to the life lost this way.
2/3

5 mana for a 2/3 is usually a really bad deal. Many people look at this card and see the 1 life loss per turn for such an investment and dismiss it as overcosted. I really don't think that's the case. At the prerelease and in my last week of testing Guildpact, I've discovered that a lot of people are undervaluing this guy. As the members of Magic R&D have said, Orzhov thrives on the “bleeding” strategy. That is to say that the Orzhov like to win slowly, a pin prick at a time. Agent of Masks is the perfect example of that. It doesn't win in shining giant glory like a Nocturnus, but rather it slowly drains your opponent until they are dead. But it does so much more than that as well! Agent of Masks is maybe the strongest multiplayer card in Guildpact. Or at least the one most likely to get your some unfortunate attention from your opponents. It can gain you a lot of life very quickly while your opponents take only a little bit of damage. A few turns of that and suddenly you're going to be in a very enviable position. To say nothing of multiple Agents.

The second thing that really interested me about Agent of Masks was the creature type! Guildpact brings with it 3 new Advisiors (this plus Teysa, Orzhov Scion and Droning Buerecrats). If you combine that with the previous from Kamigawa (Masako the Humorless and Michiko Konda, Truth Seeker), you've got five. And you know what five means, don't you? It means Tribal deck! Of course, there's a problem with the Advisor tribe – 3 of the five creatures are Legendary! I didn't say it was a very good tribe, did I? Of course, in these figures I'm not counting the sixth advisor – Trusted Advisor. In addition to being off-color to the rest of the group, his ability would repeatedly bounce himself with no real purpose.

I'm going to investigate the Advisor problem deeply. I'm going to find a way to make this most red-tape infested tribe functional. Stay tuned to this column and maybe I'll find the key.

That's all for this week. Next time I'm going to fire up the bat signal, so make sure to check that out. Until then, enjoy winning fast and winning slowly. Just do it with a little style.

 

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