It’s been about a month since I could sit down and put together a new decklist for you to eagerly pour over like a kid at christmas… or just glance at briefly, shake your head, and go back to more interesting corners of the internet.
Either way, what a month it’s been. I bought a new house, moved my family, cleaned out my old house, sold it, bought new furniture and kitchen appliances. I’ve signed so many papers it’s felt like every time I turn around I’ve been signing deals with the devil.
Which brings us to this edition of Participation Award Magic!
This is a deal I’m willing to sign.
Yes, Core Set 2019 has been released… Dominaria is old news… but this card, this card calls to me, asking me to look deeper. I lay awake at night, staring into the darkness, thinking about how I can put this card in a deck, how can I make it work, where do I start?
It’s late, very late, and here I sit, waiting for the baby to cry so I can get up and stumble out to the couch to coax her back to sleep. Her bottle washes away bad dreams and the other things that wake the innocent from their slumber through the night, while I’m tortured by this card. My eyelids are heavy, I should turn off my brain… But still I sit, thinking about this card as she drifts back off to sleep in my arms. Placing her in the warm safe embrace of her bed I look into my room at the welcoming sight of my own bed, but in the dark recesses of my mind, I can’t help but think that perhaps for me, life is a battlefield, and sleep is the same as leaving the battlefield… I don’t want to lose the game…
“do not fear the truth… search… commit…”
Who said that…?
Son of a Lich
Lich effects have existed in Magic’s history for a very long time, Dominaria brings us the most evolved iteration, waiting for someone to commit, to look past the clear downsides, to dig deep enough inside themselves to break it, to find the truth.
“Search for the answer… you are close”
While this effect has existed a few times, looking at the above examples from various times in Magic’s history, you can clearly see the inspiration for Mastery’s card design. Richard Garfield has even noted that he was excited about working with Wizards on Dominaria because it gave him the chance to go back and work on an updated Lich card, (which he considered a flavour victory, but an execution failure) now that he had a more seasoned understanding of Magic card design provided by 25 years of history.
Both examples above left you constantly in fear of a disenchant effect to simply end the game. This downside didn’t stop at least one of these cards from seeing competitive play, but as disenchant effects became more and more popular and powerful, what could you do to a modern Lich card to keep it’s flavour, but improve the chances it could see play?
Give it Hexproof.
THAT is a fantastic addition. It comes at a cost, an increase of 2 generic mana makes the new Lich a big ask if we want to cast it in a regular game of magic, however, we’re going to take a look at how we address that shortly.
First, we need to note the other way original Lich allow us to lose the game.
“Whenever you’re dealt damage, sacrifice that many nontoken permanents. If you can’t, you lose the game”
Non-token, and only permanents you control already. That is a pretty serious commitment, even if you were at a mid point in the game and controlled 10 permanents, it’s like setting your life at a virtual 10.
Apparently when you achieve mastery over your Lichey Ways, things get a bit easier on you. The new Dominaria Lich reads as follows
“Whenever you lose life, for each 1 life you lost, exile a permanent you control… OR a card from your hand… OR Graveyard”
That is A LOT of fuel to work with now. and notice tokens also got the nod to be sacrificed, that’s a REAL big bonus, which we will also take a look at soon.
Ok, lets get to the deck, and dig into our card choices while the night is young and my candles burn bright around me.
Immortal Lich – By Jeff Roberts
4 Eternal Scourge
3 Inquisition of Kozilek
2 Abrupt Decay
4 Collective Brutality
3 Harmless Offering
2 Masterminds Acquisition
2 Immortal Coil
4 Blood Funnel
3 Demonic Pact
1 Palace Siege
3 Lich’s Mastery
2 Blood Crypt
2 Overgrown Tomb
4 Bloodstained Mire
2 Verdant Catacomb
2 Blooming Marsh
1 Bojuka Bog
3 Graven Cairns
1 Kher Keep
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
2 Beast Within
2 Surgical Extraction
2 Leyline of the Void
4 Slaughter Games
1 Lich’s Mastery
Signing The Contract
The cards smell like ash, yet sweet and tempting…
If you’re going to sign a deal with the devil, you need to hope the payoff is worth the costs. Lets talk first about Demonic Pact. The value of this card is literally written all over it. Draw cards, Force opponents to discard, Deal Damage and gain life. Lose the Game.
Let’s just ignore that last line for now…
If you have a Demonic Pact online when you have Lich’s Mastery in play, the 4 Damage, 4 Life mode has the hidden text “Draw 4 cards”
Ok, so maybe the card also says “You lose the game“, but we have a deal, this is nothing to be concerned with.
Immortal Coil is likely a card you haven’t seen before. The effect is very unique in Modern, and of course it has the downside of making you lose the game, so it doesn’t see much play…
But we need not worry that this will impact us, our deal is signed in blood and without flaw.
Let’s take a moment to break down the pieces on this one and see why in the world we’ve included it in our deck.
“Whenever you lose life, for each 1 life you lost, exile a permanent you control or a card from your hand or graveyard”
“If Damage would be dealt to you, prevent that damage. Remove a card in your graveyard from the game for each 1 damage prevented this way”
When you combine these two effects, you become immune to all damage. The only effects that can cause you to sacrifice permanents or exile cards from your hand/grave are effects that cause loss of life without damage being dealt. These effects are not commonly played in high numbers.
Lich’s Mastery also takes away the “you lose the game” clause of having an empty graveyard by not allowing you to lose the game. Period.
This is what we signed. This deal will never be broken, and WILL stop our opponents from achieving their ends… for our deal is the truth.
Sealing the Deal
We have quite a few effects that make us lose the game, but we signed a contract, we won’t lose…
But you, you didn’t sign anything did you? Perhaps you’d like to fill OUR end of the bargain?
Harmless Offering allows us to donate our lose the game effects to our opponents, and since they don’t have a contract to stop it, they CAN just lose the game.
We have main deck Bojuka Bog’s intended to clear out our opponents graveyard if they are trying to use it to be tricky.
Perhaps they would be interested in our Immortal Coil as an offering…
But sometimes that won’t work. Perhaps our opponent has given themselves hexproof, or they’ve surgically extracted our Harmless Offering.
If that happens, we have a backup plan in Palace Siege. By selecting Dragons, it will drain our opponent without targeting them. A side effect to this game plan is that with Lich’s Mastery on the table, Siege also draws us an additional 2 cards per turn.
Holding up our end of the Bargain
Our key card Lich’s Mastery is a 6 mana effect. That simply won’t do. Blood Funnel lets us reduce the cost of our key piece and knock it down to a much more tolerable 4 mana. The side benefits of this being our Demonic Pacts and Immortal Coils are now 2 mana, Harmless offering is just a single red mana. Blood Funnel is also a suprisingly effective card to donate to our opponents when their decks rely on non-creature spells. It can almost lock them out of the game completely.
Deals are not always without their concessions
To enable Blood Funnel, there are some deckbuilding restrictions we need to consider. We need creatures, ideally we need recurring creatures that will always be there for us when we want them.
Bloodghast is the classic creature for players looking to abuse sacrifice and discard effects. They come back to play for just playing a land. However, Immortal Coil has a nasty effect of exiling our graveyard when we prevent damage. So we can’t rely on our graveyard for our creatures all the time. Eternal Scourge is our answer to this. The nasty little eldrazi doesn’t mind living in exile before we cast him. He’s always there when we need him.
From there we have our creature generators. Bitterblossom is a staple of Black/White token strategies, and it will help us keep a flow of creatures to sacrifice flowing. The downside to this card in our deck is it causes a loss of life. While we are unconcerned about losing from the life loss, we can’t prevent it, so with a mastery on the board, we will be forced to exile something. In a pinch, that sacrifice can be Bitterblossom itself, it may have already served its purpose… But Eternal Scourge is a way for us to continue to make the enchantment work if we need a more steady stream of fliers.
If all goes well, it will buy us enough time and spell casts to ensure our opponent accepts our Harmless Offer…
The Devil is in the Details
We need to survive, just long enough to either lock ourselves behind our enchantments, or to donate our wonderful gifts upon our opponent. A Modern staple, Inquisition of Kozilek gives us strong first turn distruption, while Collective Brutality has proven itself in modern to be an incredible value at 2 Mana, allowing us to slow our opponents plans down by stripping a spell from their hand. It can deal with small creatures when opponents try to get under us, and it’s drain 2 mode can be a literal draw 2 in our deck with a mastery on board.
Some early game plays require answers, and it’s possible we’ve played a Blood Funnel and don’t have a creature to sacrifice. Abrupt Decay is our surefire method of answering troublesome early game permanents as it can’t be countered by Blood Funnel.
Mastermind’s Acquisition is a great tutor to find our missing pieces, but in some matchups, it’s even more powerful as it can search our sideboard, a spot our opponents don’t have the pleasure of looking. In there are a slew of answers to various strategies, but also a single copy of Lich’s Mastery for those decks that like to Surgically Extract our cards. It also helps us avoid drawing too many of our 6 mana enchantment during the game.
The Fine Print
Our sideboard starts with some information gathering. Based on our first game we should have some idea what our opponent is playing. Surgical Extraction is a powerful card for digging into opponents library after they’ve boarded in some number of hate cards. In our deck we’re not concerned about hitting their hate cards with surgical, we’re running it simply to gather information.
Our hedge against hate cards that could break our lock is our 4 copies of Slaughter Games.
This spell is a 2 mana answer to every piece of hate or combo piece in the format when we have a Blood Funnel out. Being uncounterable, we ignore our control opponents counterspells, and also ignore the drawback of Blood Funnel completely.
We run a copy of Damnation to fight decks attempting to get under us before we can lock out their combat damage. Thragtusk plays a similar role since it can gain us life, it also provides 2 creatures we can sac under Blood Funnel if needed. With a mastery on the table, this guy is also a Draw 5, which seems… decent.
We run a suite of general purpose removal options. Dreadbore helps us remove planeswalkers if needed, but also helps against aggro matchups. Beast Within answers anything from Tron lands to enchantments like Leyline of Sanctity (which can be hard for us to fight through with the targeting from many of our major spells in the deck)
Leyline helps us fight graveyard decks, but has the backup bonus of keeping our opponents graveyards completely empty. This means if we can donate an Immortal Coil, we have an instant win.
As I sit quietly in the darkness of my new home, my family sleeps soundly until the warmth of the sun will rouse them to another day of possibilities. They can never understand the torment of a mind tangling with the manner of offers that lay in front of me. Cards are strewn about, their secrets poured over as the wax from my candles have formed puddles around us. The voices that shouted earlier in the night have dimmed as I placed card after card into their protective sleeves. Now simply whispers. Quietly urging me to push on… just a little longer…
“Not much further… Keep searching…”
Maybe I’m just tired, maybe there are no voices…
The room around me grows quiet, it holds no people, no one to talk to…
but how can that be? they seemed so real?