One of my plans this year was to take the EDH decks I have that are either no fun to play, or no fun to play against, and rebuild them into something better. Thus far, I have rebuilt my Necra deck (which I rebuilt into Doran, the Siege Tower and Karador, Ghost Chieftain here) and my Boros deck (which was rebuilt into Brion Stoutarm here).
Now, another deck was going up on the chopping block: our Dimir deck, Vela the Night-Clad, which had been built from scratch by the lovely Angela.
Going into February, this was the decklist for Vela:
Vela the Night-Clad - Final decklist:
There were many issues I had with this deck, so let’s go over them one at a time. Vela’s first ability looks for you to have a deck where you have lots of creatures going to the graveyard (so her ability constantly triggers, making your opponents lose life for each dead guy). Thus, a Vela deck can lend itself to a token theme, where you want to put as many guys into play as possible, and as they are killed, your opponents will suffer for it. The issue with this is that while that is an okay plan, blue and black are the worst colors for a token-producing deck (and I already had too many token decks as is… sounds like the same problem I had with Jor Kadeen and Ghave, doesn’t it?)
Her life loss ability is very slow, and coupled with the fact that blue and black creatures are pretty fragile (not to mention the fragility of Vela herself), this led to a lot of games where the deck just felt like it wasn’t doing anything. Generally the deck played a very slow game plan, and was often overpowered by better themes or better cards.
(Granted, casting Rite of Replication kicked on Vela herself can lead to some epic life loss for your opponents, and can kill a table out of nowhere. So, don’t think that I’m saying her ability can’t be potent, because it can be).
Vela’s second ability gives all of your creatures intimidate, which is fine. This ability lends itself to a deck full of saboteurs, where being unblockable lets you trigger all sorts of shenanigans (think creatures like Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni). The issue with this ability is that it’s at odds with the first ability; her first ability wants your creatures to die, and her second ability wants them to never get into a fight, so that they never die.
Altogether, I’ve never been a fan of Vela the Night-Clad, and I’m looking forward to cutting her for something better. I was proud that Angela had managed to build a deck that did string together some wins, but I’m going to be glad to see Vela go.
So, what Dimir options do we have as a replacement for Vela?
As an allied color pair, Dimir has all sorts of generals worth looking at… or does it? A second look at the list of generals reveals a number of them that are uninspiring, weak, or just plain terrible. How does the best color pairing have some of the worst generals for EDH? Right from the start, I am able to dismiss Circu, Dimir Lobotomist (cool ability, does nothing in multiplayer), Nebuchadnezzar (does nothing, essentially), Princess Lucrezia (is awful), Ramirez Depietro (avast me hearteys, he be a big blank!), Riven Turnbull (blank), Sivitri Scarzam (why does Dimir have the highest concentration of Legends generals that do nothing?), Ur-Drago (see: my previous question), and Wydwen, the Biting Gale (she’s cool, but not big enough to do much in multiplayer).
What we are left with is a collection of interesting and powerful blue/black legends. The ones that caught my eye were: Ramses Overdark, a hilarious and fun Legends general that just screams to have a deck built around him with lots of recurring Auras that you can put on your opponents’ creatures (ie. Slow Motion, Despondency, etc). Ramses is a deck I’ve always wanted to build for EDH, but never have gotten around to. Dralnu, Lich Lord is a potentially powerful general (and the idea of flashing back a Fact or Fiction does appeal to me!); sadly, his drawback is only for the truly ballsy, so I think he’s out. Oona, Queen of the Fae is a very powerful control general that I’ve seen used to good effect; she is very easy to combo with, though, so she’s likely also cut. The final general that we looked at was also the most recent: Lazav, Dimir Mastermind, who is a very cool new general from Gatecrash. He could be built as either a control deck that just wants to kill your opponents’ creatures, or as a pseudo-milling deck, which makes him very versatile.
In the end, since the deck was Angela’s, it was her who made the ultimate decision; it would be Lazav, Dimir Mastermind that we would build around as our new Dimir deck!
So what does the new deck look like? Well, I’m glad you asked…
Lazav, Dimir Mastermind - First draft:
This list was built from the ground up by Angela, and is a work in progress. Since Lazav triggers from creatures going to the graveyard from anywhere, the subthemes in here are built to take advantage of that. Of the number of sub-themes that are built into the deck, the first is that of milling your opponents (as seen on cards like Mind Grind, Nemesis of Reason and Paranoid Delusions). Milling away an opponent’s big dude is excellent with Lazav out, since he can copy the creature that was milled.
(As a side note, I think it’s fantastic that we’ll finally have a viable EDH deck built around milling in multiplayer. For a few years now, I’ve toyed with the idea of trying to make the former Dimir leader, Szadek, Lord of Secrets, into an EDH deck just to have a mill deck; he is so much worse than Lazav, it’s not even funny. So I’m glad they printed Lazav, for multiple reasons).
Another sub-theme of the deck which ties right into the milling subtheme is that of reanimation. There are multiple creatures that can steal creatures from my opponents after they’ve been milled (ie. Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni, Body Double, and Scion of Darkness) and some spells (Beacon of Unrest). One of the creatures, Geth, Lord of the Vault, does double duty; he mills and reanimates things from our opponents!
Killing our opponents’ creatures is a major theme here too, since you can kill a creature and have Lasav become a copy of it. There are several Wrath effects that don’t hit Lazav (ie. Plague Wind, Reiver Demon, and Dread Cacodemon), as well as some spot removal spells (Nekrataal, Shriekmaw, Grisly Spectacle, and Murder). This section of spells will let you kill and copy whatever the biggest, baddest creature is on the board with Lazav at any given time, which is awesome.
Finally, there is a small subsection of counterspells (since you can counter a creature and copy it with Lazav). Several of these counterspells also mill, which is useful (Psychic Strike and Induce Paranoia), while Cryptic Command is just the same versatile card it’s always been.
We’ve been playing this deck for a little while now, and it is tremendous fun to see in action. Lazav himself is a badass, often copying some ridiculous creature (since a lot of those see play at my kitchen table) and normally killing through general damage. With hexproof, he’s a pain in the ass to get rid of, demanding a Wrath effect all by himself. The deck itself is great fun, and I guarantee this will be our Dimir deck going forward.
However, this is very obviously a first draft, and there are some cards that are very notable by their absence. Here is a list of cards we’re looking at:
-More card drawing spells: there’s an entire subsection of Windfall spells that should be in here (ie. Windfall, new card Whispering Madness, Jace’s Archivist, Memory Jar and Magus of the Jar). A Windfall effect is great with Lazav, since you simultaneously draw cards and make your opponents discard creatures at the same time.
Apart from Windfall effects, there are a number of other card drawing effects that should likely be in here. Jace, Memory Adept is the main one I’m looking at picking up for the deck (since his “mill 10” ability is very good, as is “draw a card, mill them for one”); I am also looking at adding Probe (since it makes your opponent discard — possibly making them discard a creature to copy with Lazav), and Consult the Necrosages (again, can be used as discard); there are also classic blue and black draw spells like Tidings, Concentrate, Phyrexian Arena, Underworld Connections, Opportunity, etc. There’s an awful lot of card drawing spells in blue and black; the real trick will be figuring out which ones to use in here.
-More milling effects: This goes right along with the Windfall thought. There are a number of potent multiplayer milling cards that are not in here yet: Sewer Nemesis, Dreamborn Muse, Memory Erosion, Traumatize, the aforementioned Jace, Memory Adept, Keening Stone, my favorite card from The Mimeoplasm, Mindcrank; and a potential sleeper hit in Mesmeric Orb.
The Orb is interesting and a very potent way to mill everyone at once; if we were to use it, I’d have to also include an Eldrazi god (ie. Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre) to prevent the Lazav deck from being milled to death itself.
-More Wrath effects that don’t kill Lasav: There’s a couple more Wraths that don’t kill Lazav, but do kill your opponents’ creatures. These are Wrath effects like Hex, Hellfire, and the amazingly obscure Rain of Daggers. Despite the life loss of the last two cards, they may actually be better in this deck than normal staples like Damnation or Decree of Pain, just because they don’t kill Lasav while simultaneously killing your opponents’ creatures. I do want to test these cards out, and conveniently I’ve had a copy of Hellfire sitting aside for a year now, begging to be put into a deck, so that’s both classic and awesome.
-More planeswalkers: Really, there are only two that I want for sure: the previously-mentioned Jace, Memory Adept and Liliana of the Veil. Both are fantastic with Lazav, with Jace being card draw and milling all in one, and Liliana giving you removal and mass discard in one planeswalker.
-More “reanimate my opponents’ creature” cards: There’s actually a giant subsection of these cards in U/B, and we only included a few. Some that I’ve been looking at for this deck include Havengul Lich, Coffin Queen, Bone Dancer, Animate Dead, Reanimate, Ashen Powder, Dimir Doppelganger, Nezumi Graverobber, Cemetery Puca, and Diabolic Servitude. These are all fantastic with the “mill and reanimate” theme, and I think they’d all be great fits in here.
-More counterspells: This is something I’ve debated for this deck, since there are only so many counterspells that also mill opponents. I will be looking at whether or not the deck needs more as we test it, though, with the main one we’re looking at adding being Soul Manipulation.
-More kill spells: How many spot removal spells are too many? Currently, the deck has Nekrataal and Shriekmaw (both of whom are useless against other black players), and Grisly Spectacle and Murder. I’ve looked at adding more, since kill spells interact so well with Lazav; the main ones we’re considering are Bone Shredder, Skinrender, Fleshbag Marauder, and Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre.
(Ulamog would pull double duty in here if Mesmeric Orb is also added; he gives you a way to reshuffle your graveyard back in without having to worry about ever getting decked by the Orb).
Conclusion: So there you have it! That is the first look at what I’m sure is going to evolve into a very powerful and fun deck to play. We are going to be editing it extensively over the next while, and I’m looking forward to seeing what it does when tuned. Stay tuned on Monday for a return to Shandalar, and coming soon: The Mono-Black Challenge!