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Breaking Through – Ghast Again

About a year and a half ago, Orzhov got its day at center stage when it was brought back in Gatecrash. The guild had a pretty strong presence in Limited as extort was great for recovering from slow starts and ending long games. And despite Orzhov offering all sorts of solid Constructed playables, such as Obzedat, Ghost Council, Blood Baron of Vizkopa, and Orzhov Charm, not many cards with extort have actually seen play.

Blind Obedience is probably the most, if not only, played card with extort on it and it sees very little play as a one- or two-of in sideboards. Why is that?

The answer is likely that extort comes at too big a cost. Most of the creatures that have extort have below-rate bodies for Constructed because otherwise they would be too good in Limited. Wind Drake is not a Constructed card, especially not once it costs two colors of mana. And yet, we are supposed to consider it for its extort?

Or a card like Thrull Parasite. The idea of playing every spell with a Drain Life kicker seems awesome following up your 1-drop, but when that 1-drop is close to useless otherwise, that idea becomes a little less attractive. Tithe Drinker may be the best thing we have in terms of rate plus extort and even that is just a glorified Child of Night. There has to be something we can extort with…

Also about a year and a half ago, there happened to be a little Pro Tour held in honor of Gatecrash. That Pro Tour was held in Montreal in February (never again…) and while there were a lot of decks tossed about during our testing, eventually CFB broke out into what I consider comfort decks. Basically, we couldn’t find a consensus best deck so people turned to one of the handful of good decks, choosing based on play style and preference. For myself, I found comfort in brewing more so than in any archetype and I already had been working on something with promise, so I just returned to it. That deck had what I consider the best extort creature at its center.

Mono-Black Control
Conley Woods

2013 Pro Tour Gatecrash – 18 Points or Better
Type II

The idea was pretty simple. Swamps matter. Not only had a brand new engine just been printed that could lead to some degenerate plays, but Mutilate had been in the format for quite a while and gotten no love. The deck completely destroyed all of the aggressive decks in the format and could put up a fight elsewhere. In retrospect, obviously had anyone known at time, Pack Rat should have been in this 75 somewhere. That card alone would have improved my Jund matchup considerably, which was probably my worst matchup in the tournament.

With an active Crypt Ghast, the deck turned from a very reasonable control deck to a combo deck. Turn 5 Griselbrands happened every few games or so and Crypt Ghast would even let you sneak an extort trigger in while you’re at it.

The deck was able to function because of a couple of key elements: The first was that we were able to distract the opponent from an eventual Crypt Ghast with both Gloom Surgeon and Vampire Nighthawk. The format was very creature-heavy which meant that both of these cards were complete roadblocks for many decks. They would use one of their few removal spells to take one of these threats out only to leave them empty-handed when Crypt Ghast followed the turn after. The second was that the deck played out like a typical control deck whenever Crypt Ghast was not around or was killed.

Sure, getting to eight mana and casting Griselbrand might not be the most desirable thing for typical control decks, but it turns out that Griselbrand is still going to win you a lot of games on turn 8. With enough spot removal and sweepers, even if our A-plan failed, we could prolong the game to a point where Griselbrand needs no dance partner and then we are in the same scenario we want to be in, just four or five turns later than is ideal.

So what happened to Crypt Ghast? Long story short, Mono-Black devotion became a deck and Crypt Ghast kind of lost any footing he might have had. Why should you be a different mono-black deck when the best deck in the format is already mono-black and is highly tuned. Crypt Ghast has little room in a deck that tops out at 5 mana. If anything, it would just add inconsistency.

So, with the most obvious home for Crypt Ghast obsolete, Crypt Ghast faded away with the rest of the extort duders.

Fast-forward to M15. One single card sees print that gives Crypt Ghast lovers everywhere a bit of hope:

Urborg promises big things with Crypt Ghast but if you explore the same route as before, you still come back wanting to play Mono-Black Devotion. Imagine a black/red deck that had Rakdos’s Return and Dreadbore just like the one I posted above, but it ran copies of Urborg to turn all of those Temples and Mountains into Swamps. That sounds pretty sweet right? Compare it to what Mono-Black Devotion splashing red looks like right now. They get to run Rakdos’s Return and Slaughter Games just the same, but they do not have the need for any four-mana 2/2s.

Like with my deck from Montreal, any deck that uses Crypt Ghast needs to do powerful things when it is in play but also function just fine without it.

The first of these are modal spells—any spell that can provide something useful for cheap and something more when supplied with additional mana. A card like Cyclonic Rift is a good example here. You have a nice utility spell for two mana or a potentially game-ending spell for seven mana. Or look at Silence the Believers as a great card to work with Crypt Ghast. If you do not draw your Ghast, you have a fine removal spell that is usually going to be played for 4 or 7 mana. If you have a Ghast out though, you can immediately follow it up with a Silence for 10 mana, killing 3 creatures and probably winning you the game.

The other type of spell to look to take advantage of are those spells that you would gladly play if the only way to get them out was the hard way. Griselbrand is a great example here as it is nigh unbeatable on turn 5 but still one of the best ways to close a game late. Obviously the rest of our deck needs to help Griselbrand buy the time to make it into play, but imagine we were casting it without any Crypt Ghasts in our deck. Maybe we would have one or two less copies, but I don’t think you would be blown away if I told you my control deck wins with Griselbrand. It may not be conventional, but is very reasonable.

If we wanted to capture the power of Crypt Ghast with Urborg in Standard, I think we need to keep all of these things in mind. We need a functional deck without Crypt Ghast and we need to avoid a mono-black shell because otherwise, why aren’t we just on mono-black? I decided to abuse the best scalable spell in Standard instead:

This is a pretty rough list, but it has played pretty well thus far in limited testing. I have a few “gimmicky” options in the deck that could end up being too much, but I always want to test the limits of what Crypt Ghast allows. In Garruk’s Wake doesn’t have to be in this list. By any normal accounts, it should just be the fourth copy of Supreme Verdict, but following up a Crypt Ghast with the wake of Garruk or casting it in the late game against a Jund Planeswalkers deck will quickly have you second guessing yourself.

As you can see, we have the ability to go pretty big with Crypt Ghast in this list but we have done so with quite a few modal spells and then Ashen Rider has stepped in for our Griselbrand. While the card is not as impressive as the legendary Demon, it does have an immediate impact on the game and answers any permanent, which is big. Ashen Rider is one of those cards that could have seen more play over the past year, but it just hasn’t.

Our scalable spells are where things get really interesting. We have two copies of Silence the Believers as we have already discussed. Sphinx’s Revelation is arguably the most powerful spell in the format and Crypt Ghast allows us to do some truly degenerate things there. It also means that late-game Crypt Ghasts are never dead as you can just filter the extra mana into something like Revelation and immediately recover.

Remember that Crypt Ghast adds an additional black mana whenever you tap a Swamp for mana. That means you can tap Watery Grave for blue and still get an extra black. This is how casting cards like Sphinx’s Revelation and Ashen Rider is even possible with Crypt Ghast out.

Beyond just Revelation, Pack Rat also acts as a sort of scalable spell here. On turn two, it puts pressure on the opponent in the same way that every Pack Rat does. You can instead wait until after playing Crypt Ghast and play Pack Rat with the ability to make two additional copies right away. Revelation should keep enough cards in your hand to allow this play, even if it just comes naturally in the late game without Crypt Ghast being involved. This helps allow us to get away with Rat while not having any Mutavaults.

Currently, I am trying Liliana Vess as the only planeswalker in this list as I liked the ability to tutor for my combo pieces, whether they be the Ghast, Urborg, or any large thing such as Revelation. However, three copies is probably a bit of overkill here and I should likely cut one for some other planeswalker.

That said, overall the deck has worked quite well. You have the same explosive possibility that existed in my mono-black version of the deck but your backup plan is now a solid Esper shell that has most of the same tools and options as traditional Esper does. Aetherling is obviously absent here and Elspeth is too, but Ashen Rider does a surprisingly good job of filling in. I could see a copy of Elspeth to tutor up with Liliana though, especially if we are making room by cutting a copy of the black planeswalker.

Wrap Up

For those of you that do better with visuals, I have some videos finished and being uploaded tonight, so expect to see some of those soon. I also have some follow-up videos to the Master of Cruelties R/B list that went up last night, so those will be up in the near future as well.

There is always brewing to be done, even in a lame deck format like this one. Thanks for reading!

Conley Woods

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