Posted on Leave a comment

The Witching Hour

Word on the street is that in a certain city, in a certain region, in the hour between 12:00 AM and 1:00 AM, during the so-called Witching Hour (not the occult 3:00 AM variation,) they would play Summer Madness by Kool & The Gang on the local radio station. This doesn’t have anything to do with Magic, but I thought I would share the tale and cement it into Internet history (hopefully I got it right!) Anyway…

Happy Halloween

The Witching Hour is my featured deck for this Halloween week release. Originally built sometime in 2014, this deck is a wonderful multiplayer experience that works by draining each opponent and converting that into life gain. I believe the original purchase price for this deck was under $20, and it’s remained a budget build despite being heavily modified over the past six years. Nevertheless, the core of this deck has stayed the same, and always will.

The creepy core

Festering Newt: When Festering Newt dies, target creature an opponent controls gets -1/-1 until end of turn. That creature gets -4/-4 instead if you control a creature named Bogbrew Witch.

Bogbrew Witch: 2 Colorless Mana + Tap Bogbrew Witch: Search your library for a card named Festering Newt or Bubbling Cauldron, put it onto the battlefield tapped, then shuffle your library.

Bubbling Cauldron: 1 Colorless Mana + Tap Bubbling Cauldron + Sacrifice a creature: You gain 4 life. 1 Colorless Mana + Tap Bubbling Cauldron + Sacrifice a creature named Festering Newt: Each opponent loses 4 life. You gain life equal to the life lost this way.

Although each of these cards can perform on their own, together they shine. This is the core gameplay, and everything else in this deck is designed to expedite getting these pieces, keeping them in play, and capitalizing on their effects.

Bogbrew Witch allows you to tutor for either Bubbling Cauldron or Festering Newt. Usually you always choose to grab the Cauldron first, if you don’t have it, because it’s better to have that on the battlefield to prevent enemy removal from taking out your Newt. Once the Witch, Cauldron, and Newt are all on the battlefield, saccing Festering Newt (at instant speed,) lets you trigger 4 life loss on each player and that total loss is converted into life gain (so if you have three opponents, you gain 12 life.) This significantly pushes you ahead while draining your opponents. WOTC doesn’t really do that kind of effect anymore, because that kind of advantage is just too powerful. That is especially true in this deck. Plus, Festering Newt is four times as strong, as a removal spell, when it dies with the Witch present.

Effectively this means that, off of one trigger, you can hit everyone, gain a bunch of life, and can usually take out most problematic creature, even if they’re indestructible. The one downside though, is that you can’t repeat this combo without extra help. In fact, you’ll need to trigger this at least five times if everyone is still at 20 life, and there’s only four Newts in the deck. What ever will we do?

Newts zombified


Order of Midnight: Flying. Order of Midnight can’t block. // Alter Fate: Return target creature card from your graveyard to your hand. (Then exile this card. You may cast the creature later from exile.)

Unearth: Return target creature card with converted mana cost 3 or less from your graveyard to the battlefield. Cycling 2 Colorless Mana (2 Colorless Mana + Discard this card: Draw a card.)

Immortal Servitude: Return each creature card with converted mana cost X from your graveyard to the battlefield.

Witch’s Cottage: Witch’s Cottage enters the battlefield tapped unless you control three or more other Swamps. When Witch’s Cottage enters the battlefield untapped, you may put target creature card from your graveyard on top of your library.

Okay, so we need to get that Newt back into play, and the best way to do that is to bring it back from the dead. Let’s see what we have in this deck to do just that.

Let me just take a second to say that the alternate art of Order of Midnight // Alter Fate is thematically beautiful, especially for this particular deck. Gameplay wise, though, Alter Fate allows us to return the Newt or the Witch, and Order of Midnight can act as the last bit of damage to push through if we don’t have any other options. If we’re low on life, we can always sac it to the Cauldron (or sac it because we want it in the graveyard.)

Unearth is perfect for this deck, because for one black mana, you can grab the Newt and put it directly onto the battlefield. It’s like casting it straight from the graveyard, which is exactly what we’re looking for. The cycling is an added bonus, but it would only really be useful if you didn’t have any Newts in the graveyard, or if you hadn’t set the Witch or the Cauldron up yet.

Immortal Servitude is also incredibly useful for this deck, because for four mana, you can return all of the Newts from your graveyard directly to the battlefield. Dropping this late game and saccing one Newt might be game over, but getting all four, short of a board wipe, would be really difficult for any opponent to survive.

Finally, thematically on point, Witch’s Cottage lets you grab the Newt, the Witch, or Order of Midnight, and put it on top of your library. It should be simple to hit the three swamp requirement, given that the rest of the land in this deck is made of swamps.

Now that we can establish the combo and we can keep it running, it’s time to dive into all of the utility we’ve packed to maintain our momentum.

Breathe your last breath

Tragic Slip: Target creature gets -1/-1 until end of turn. Morbid — That creature gets -13/-13 until end of turn instead if a creature died this turn.

Pharika’s Libation: Choose one — Target opponent sacrifices a creature or Target opponent sacrifices an enchantment.

Feed the Swarm: Destroy target creature or enchantment an opponent controls. You lose life equal to that permanent’s converted mana cost.

Golden Demise: Ascend (If you control ten or more permanents, you get the city’s blessing for the rest of the game.) All creatures get -2/-2 until end of turn. If you have the city’s blessing, instead only creatures your opponents control get -2/-2 until end of turn.

Never: Destroy target creature or planeswalker. // Return: Aftermath (Cast this spell only from your graveyard. Then exile it.) Exile target card from a graveyard. Create a 2/2 black Zombie creature token.

We can’t hit artifacts with this deck, but we have numerous ways to stop our opponents from maintaining any worthwhile board presence. Tragic Slip is brilliant, because we’re always sacrificing the Newt or removing an opponent’s creature, enchantment, or planeswalker, so triggering Morbid is the norm. That also means potentially up to -17/-17 for anything really big when stacking these effects. Both Pharika’s Libation and Feed the Swarm let us hit enchantments, and the potential life loss is irrelevant after saccing the Newt once. Golden Demise is our only board wipe, but it has the option to protect our Newts late game, if we even make it that far. Finally, Never // Return is a double-edged sword, letting us target planeswalkers, or hitting any card in our opponent’s graveyards with Aftermath. Something that eliminates an each opponent’s graveyard might be better, but I really like the duality of this card for this deck.

Making a deal with the devil

Sign in Blood: Target player draws two cards and loses 2 life.

Diabolic Tutor: Search your library for a card and put that card into your hand. Then shuffle your library.

The only real card draw in this deck comes from Sign in Blood, but given that it has two purposes, it seems apt for this deck. You can either draw two cards (and the 2 life loss doesn’t matter at all,) or you can target an opponent, and finish them off. I honestly haven’t really needed much card draw, since the core gameplay of this deck is low variance. To keep it that way, we’re employing a powerful budget staple, Diabolic Tutor. It’s a straight forward effect, and it will almost exclusively be used as additional Witch’s, since grabbing a recurring tutor is the most efficient way to start the drain.

Stay safe! Wear a mask!

That’s it for this deck! Isn’t the art and overall theme perfect for this time of the year? As for gameplay, it’s very simple, and the deck runs like clockwork, so it’s great for any beginner or veteran. Since my version of this deck changes quickly, I’m keeping a running deck list over at Scryfall, so click here to access that. It might have already changed by the time you read this article!

I want to take a second to stress that if we’re going to make this 2020 Halloween a safe one, everyone needs to work together, wear masks, keep alert, stay distanced, and maintain our hygiene and sanitization practices. Stay home if you can, and save a life. Have a safe, and Happy Halloween!

Posted on Leave a comment

Affordably Frozen

First, let me apologize for this post going out late. I’ve been a little behind on this blog due to some personal concerns, but I’m continuing to make this a priority and I am doing my best to keep the pressure on!

Dark Depths: Dark Depths enters the battlefield with ten ice counters on it. 3 Colorless Mana: Remove an ice counter from Dark Depths. When Dark Depths has no ice counters on it, sacrifice it. If you do, create Marit Lage, a legendary 20/20 black Avatar creature token with flying and indestructible.

I can see how, if you’ve never played with it before, you might think that Dark Depths is a jank card. It doesn’t produce mana. It’s a legendary, which means you can only have one on the battlefield. It costs 3 colorless mana each time you want to remove an ice counter, and it starts with ten. Its ability can be countered. Finally, the creature it produces is vulnerable and can’t attack the turn it enters the battlefield. But now, imagine for a moment, that all of the ice counters can be removed immediately without spending nearly as much mana, or any at all! Suddenly it becomes a little bit better despite its faults. Speed becomes important, and pacing the game to ensure you can trigger the ability at the perfect moment, becomes quintessential. Sounds interesting, doesn’t it?

I have always wanted to play my own variation of this deck since I first saw Dark Depths. It’s such a thematic design; plus the card, and the combo tools to release Marit Lage on time, have always interested me. Recently Dark Depths dropped to just above $10, and I bought one. Admittedly, a single card for that much seems excessive, but it’s been trending over $25 for so long. Well, I’ve come up with a terrible deck idea to trim a somewhat traditional build into what I’m affectionally calling “Affordably Frozen,” otherwise known as “Marit Lage on the Cheap.” My goal for this deck is to keep it around $60. I think it’s worth the cost (especially given the format it’s so popular in.) Luckily, I already own a lot of the cards I plan to put in it, but for those who are looking at this without a collection to support it, you might think it’s not really my usual budget deck. Honestly, based on my past decks, that’s fair criticism.

Although I’m not basing this deck specifically off any other single deck I’ve seen before, before I begin, I recommend checking out a version of the real thing by clicking here. That way you have a solid idea for comparison purposes.

Bring her to life

Vampire Hexmage: First strike. Sacrifice Vampire Hexmage: Remove all counters from target permanent.

Thespian’s Stage: Tap Thespian’s Stage: Add 1 Colorless Mana. 2 Colorless Mana, Tap Thespian’s Stage: Thespian’s Stage becomes a copy of target land, except it has this ability.

Vampire Hexmage has the incredible ability to remove all counters, regardless of their type, from a single permanent; including Dark Depths. Since the ability triggers at instant speed, you can wait until just before your turn begins so that Marit Lage can attack immediately. This effectively reduces the need to stock up on haste enablers (like Lightning Greaves, Swiftfoot Boots, or a cheaper alternative, Chariot of Victory. Side note: Marit Lage in a chariot!) Vampire Hexmage can pose a slight problem with requiring double black mana to cast, but that’s why we’re also mainboarding Dark Ritual.

Thespian Stage, for the price of two mana and a tap, can copy any land, like Dark Depths. However, it doesn’t copy the requirement for the counters since it hasn’t entered the battlefield. Therefore, it immediately turns into Marit Lage, ready to swing when your turn begins. Isn’t that a cool interaction?

This makes summoning Marit Lage a two-card combo. That means, fast, efficient, and easy to put together. Unfortunately, Marit Lage is vulnerable, even moreso in a budget variation, so it’s really important to time this deck going off perfectly. Gotta keep her breathing long enough to take out your opponent.

Keeping the monster breathing

Not of This World: Counter target spell or ability that targets a permanent you control. This spell costs {7} less to cast if it targets a spell or ability that targets a creature you control with power 7 or greater.

Not of This World was designed to be a tribal Instant for the massive Eldrazi who have become the big bad win conditions that many of us scorn. Here, we’re going to use it to protect Marit Lage. See, because Marit Lage is a 20/20, and thus, like many Eldrazi, has a power greater than 7, Not of This World becomes free to cast once Marit Lage is out. Now, this doesn’t protect Dark Depths unless we have 7 mana, but that’s okay. That just means we can’t play Dark Depths until we can trigger it, and we know it’s safe to do so.

Ramp… ramp ramp ramp ramp

In order to reliably and efficiently be sure that Marit Lage is summoned, we need to exploit green’s most iconic archetype, which is ramp.

Expedition Map: 2 Colorless + Tap Expedition Map + Sacrifice Expedition Map: Search your library for a land card, reveal it, and put it into your hand. Then shuffle your library.

Crop Rotation: As an additional cost to cast this spell, sacrifice a land. Search your library for a land card, put that card onto the battlefield, then shuffle your library.

Once Upon a Time: If this spell is the first spell you’ve cast this game, you may cast it without paying its mana cost. Look at the top five cards of your library. You may reveal a creature or land card from among them and put it into your hand. Put the rest on the bottom of your library in a random order.

Ancient Stirrings: Look at the top five cards of your library. You may reveal a colorless card from among them and put it into your hand. Then put the rest on the bottom of your library in any order. (Cards with no colored mana in their mana costs are colorless. Lands are also colorless.)

Sylvan Scrying: Search your library for a land card, reveal it, and put it into your hand. Then shuffle your library.

If I could get rid of green, I would, but I can’t. Personally, I would prefer to have the interaction and protection that blue provides, but a three-color deck would be cost prohibitive for a budget build. I firmly believe it’s possible, but it’s just not reasonable to maindeck with this build. Ultimately, green is just too useful at ramp. We may not need a lot of mana to go off, but we need specific cards, and green can get us everything we need. Truth be told, there are also some black/green cards that are really effective in this format, but I can’t afford them, so I’m just going to have to pretend they don’t exist.

Now, most of our ramp cards only deal with land. Expedition Map, Crop Rotation, and Sylvan Scrying all help us get the lands we need, mainly Dark Depths and Thespian’s Stage. One of the benefits to having a land-focused deck, is to also pack it with useful utility lands to help us deal with our opponent’s moves. These cards also let us get any of our other lands, like Blast Zone, Bojuka Bog, Detection Tower, Ghost Quarter, Nephalia Academy, or even the snow lands that I’m using to play Arcum’s Astrolabe. I know that snow lands cost a bit more, but I think they’re thematically relevant and I’ve always wanted to play them. Chromatic Sphere would probably be a better option overall to play for mana fixing, but I’m not doing it!

The rest of the cards in this section aren’t tutors, so they’re not letting us dig into our deck to get exactly what we need. Instead, they let us filter the top cards of our deck to pull what we might need earlier than we would just drawing into it. Once Upon a Time is a potentially free way for us to grab a land or creature, like Vampire Hexmage. This card is notorious for being banned in a lot of formats, and for good reason. I think it’s absolutely amazing as the first spell in the game, and worth the late-game cost. Ancient Stirrings lets us grab any colorless card, like a land, but also like the aforementioned Arcum’s Astrolabe, Chariot of Victory, or more importantly, Not of This World. This card is bonkers as a turn one drop to grab Not of This World, especially when you have everything else to get Marit Lage out.

Collectively the bulk of this deck is all about reducing the variance of our deck, and that’s really important because we need to go fast, like Sonic.

Sideboard and Alternative Win Conditions

Autumn’s Veil: Spells you control can’t be countered by blue or black spells this turn, and creatures you control can’t be the targets of blue or black spells this turn.

Chronozoa: Flying. Vanishing 3 (This creature enters the battlefield with three time counters on it. At the beginning of your upkeep, remove a time counter from it. When the last is removed, sacrifice it.) When Chronozoa dies, if it had no time counters on it, create two tokens that are copies of it.

The majority of the sideboard is pretty straight forward, and I’ve included a list below. One notable card though, is Autumn’s Veil, which lets you shut down blue and black spells at instant speed. Since blue and black are incredibly common in competitive formats, this card seems like a no brainer to include.

Now you’ve seen a blue card here, and you’re probably getting ready to call me out. I know, I know. Earlier I said I couldn’t support the idea of a third color in this deck, but as a last-ditch effort when things are looking rough, I’ve included a splash of blue to include Chronozoa as an alternative win condition to Marit Lage. See, my thinking here is that Chronozoa is a weird option to come across in this kind of format, so it won’t be expected. Plus, with Vampire Hexmage, you can trigger its Vanishing ability whenever it becomes threatened, forcing it to clone itself. Then it just becomes a race to keep making Chronozoa’s until your opponent becomes overwhelmed. Is it a good win condition? No. Is it interesting? I think so. Funny, too!

Deck List

Every other card that’s in this deck list seems pretty straight forward. Fatal Push takes down creatures early, Hagra Mauling // Hagra Broodpit is a split land/removal spell to deal with creatures late game, Duress gives us the ability to see what’s coming and take away powerful spells, and Bala Ged Recovery // Bala Ged Sanctuary is a split land card that lets us get Dark Depths back if we lose it.

  • 4 Vampire Hexmage
  • 2 Arcum’s Astrolabe
  • 3 Expedition Map
  • 2 Chariot of Victory
  • 4 Crop Rotation
  • 4 Dark Ritual
  • 3 Fatal Push
  • 2 Once Upon a Time
  • 1 Hagra Mauling // Hagra Broodpit
  • 3 Not of This World
  • 3 Ancient Stirrings
  • 3 Duress
  • 2 Sylvan Scrying
  • 2 Bala Ged Recovery // Bala Ged Sanctuary
  • 1 Blast Zone
  • 1 Bojuka Bog
  • 1 Dark Depths
  • 1 Detection Tower
  • 1 Ghost Quarter
  • 3 Llanowar Wastes
  • 1 Nephalia Academy
  • 4 Snow-Covered Forest
  • 4 Snow-Covered Swamp
  • 2 Temple of Malady
  • 3 Thespian’s Stage

I hope you’ve enjoyed this version of a classic! As you can see, I’m pretty proud of this version even if it’s expensive and totally vulnerable in such a competitive format. I’m sure its win rate will be well below anything tolerable by most players, but to me, it’s simply great.