Project X Gifts
I love a deck with multiple levels of synergy and seemingly incidental combos. I once played Five-Color Reveillark combo at regionals. You know, the Body Double, Reveillark, and Greater Gargadon loop? The deck played cards like Wall of Roots and Bonded Fetch, which were pretty good just for face value. Wall of Roots blocked things and accelerated you, and Bonded Fetch dug through your deck while you didn’t mind pitching cards to the graveyard. Then, they both came back from the graveyard with Reveillark if they happened to be killed. THEN once you got the combo, Wall of Roots gave you infinite green mana while Bonded Fetch went through your whole deck! It was incredible.
I didn’t want to write about Gifts Ungiven two weeks in a row, but I can’t help myself this time. I think I’ve found the most synergistic deck I’ve ever played. Maybe not the most that’s ever existed, but it’s easily the most synergistic deck that I’ve gotten my hands on. Each card has a job its doing, but then it does SO much more. I built the deck with certain synergies in mind, and then kept running into new things every game I played. Why don’t I just let the deck speak for itself:
First let me explain how this deck came to be, then I’ll take you through the pieces. I’m always looking back to old Standard formats to try and find interactions that might be exploitable in Extended, or are maybe helped out by something new. One of the decks I looked back on was Project X. If you’re not familiar with the strategy, check out the cards Crypt Champion and Saffi Eriksdotter. You cast Crypt Champion without Red mana, and then you use Saffi on it. When Crypt Champion dies the Saffi ability will put it back into play with another sacrifice trigger on the stack, and then you use the Crypt Champion ability to bring Saffi back into play. Do this a million times with an Essence Warden in play and you’ve gained a lot of life.
I pitched the Project X idea to Zaiem. He’s good for pitching decks to because he tends to be pretty skeptical, which is good to keep me in check. Right off the bat he didn’t like the idea of being a graveyard-based deck. If you’re using the graveyard, why not just play Dredge? Being the second-best graveyard deck can’t be the right call. If the deck was going to succeed, then it would need a huge boost from the Standard version.
Enter the ol’ trusty Reveillark. I see a combo that involves all creatures with two or less power and I’m there. Then you throw in the fact that it’s a combo that can somewhat live in the graveyard, and you’ve got me thinking Gifts Ungiven. I was so excited when I started to put the pieces of the deck together, I knew it was going to be something awesome.
Let’s go through the pieces of the deck, starting with the straight-up combo.
I’ve explained the combo already, but it’s worth pointing a few things out right now. First, it might be worth it to find room for Auriok Champion in the deck, in addition to the two Wardens. It’s a little hard to cast, but doesn’t die to Lightning Bolt and makes for interesting Gifts. Also, Saffi doesn’t have to be just a bear that combos with Crypt Champion. As we start adding interesting creatures to the deck you’ll see more and more uses for the little gal. The same is true for Crypt Champion – it doesn’t just have to be for the combo. Something that’s completely new to me is being able to resurrect small creatures with more than two power. Reveillark never did that! That’s right, for once we can put Kitchen Finks back into play.
Ok, you caught me, Noble Hierarch wasn’t in the old Project X deck. Birds of Paradise was, and if I’m running all five colors isn’t Birds of Paradise better? So far I’ve found Noble Hierarch’s exalted to be exceptional. Sometimes you’ve got to start beating down, and Hierarch is there for you. Especially when you cast Crypt Champion with Red mana and get a 3/3 or 4/4 with double strike, you can actually attack pretty well. As long as you make sure one of your lands makes Black, the Noble Hierarch only making UWG hasn’t been a big problem. It does mean that you are less likely to “kick” a Crypt Champion, but the exalted has outweighed that so far.
Chord of Calling and Wall of Roots are a team. Chord of Calling is a pretty expensive spell if you’re not convoking, and Wall of Roots does double duty. Wall of Roots is so good in this deck anyway. You’ve got cheap enough creatures and instants that you can get a lot of useful mana out of one card. It’s a way to cast Gifts Ungiven on turn three and still block their two-drop. Meanwhile, Chord of Calling assembles any missing piece of the combo. It’s actually pretty fast in this deck when you can Crypt Champion, bring a creature back from the graveyard before sacrificing the Champion, and then tap your creatures to pay for convoke and grab the missing combo piece.
Once the deck got more and more involved the options for Chord of Calling kept expending to exciting possibilities. Chord of Calling isn’t relegated to just helping the main combo – it also facilitates Reveillark, Mirror Entity, and Body Double shenanigans just fine later in the game. I’ve also won plenty of games by bringing in a Mirror Entity at the end of the turn and then attacking with a bunch of 5/5 Noble Hierarchs and Essence Wardens. In addition to the combo, Chord of Calling is great for finding small utility creatures like Meddling Mage or Qasali Pridemage (out of sideboard).
I mentioned the combo of Reveillark, Body Double, and Greater Gargadon in the opening of this article. Eventually people replaced Greater Gargadon with Mirror Entity. Step one to that combo is getting a Body Double to copy a Reveillark. Then, with Mirror Entity, you put a whole bunch of triggers where X=0 onto the stack. That will let you kill your Body Double/Reveillark a lot of times, bringing itself back each time along with a friend. If that friend is Aven Riftwatcher or Venser, you’ve done something pretty cool.
I knew that I wanted Reveillark, and if I was going to play Gifts Ungiven there was no way I’m not playing Body Double, too. Then the deck was just one Mirror Entity away from the combo, so why the heck not? The deck already has Essence Warden and Soul Warden for the other combo, and they happen to work here just as well.
Now the Exciting Part
4 Gifts Ungiven
1 Meddling Mage
1 Eternal Witness
1 Kitchen Finks
1 Aven Riftwatcher
1 Loxodon Hierarch
1 Raven’s Crime
1 Life from the Loam
1 Path to Exile
1 Temporal Isolation
1 Makeshift Mannequin
What’s cool about Gifts Ungiven in a deck like this is that the normal cards work so well with one-ofs. Once you draw one of the above cards it’s likely you’ll have access to it for the rest of the game. With Body Double, Reveillark, and Crypt Champion you can usually keep your favorite coming into play. Add in Makeshift Mannequin and the hits never stop. That’s why one Meddling Mage made its way into the deck because it’s so easy to get to and to keep around. Heck, even Life from the Loam keeps your lands coming back. Most decks can’t combo through a Meddling Mage and a Saffi in one turn, giving you enough time to untap and bring the Mage back into play if you need to.
The lifegain package is pretty good, with Kitchen Finks, Loxodon Hierarch, and Aven Riftwatcher. I love this package because the cards are pretty good when you draw them naturally, though admittedly Aven Riftwatcher can be loose in some matchups. Still, cards that overlap like this make the deck operate much smoother than it might look at first. A common Gifts pile that locks Zoo or Red out of the game is these three creatures and either a Path to Exile or Makeshift Mannequin. Note how well these creatures work with Saffi.
Path to Exile plus Temporal Isolation is a removal package that will be refined a bit in the sideboard. I want to find room for a third kill spell for when you really need to remove something, but I can’t come up with any I’m happy enough with. Must it be Doom Blade? It’s possible that just adding more removal spells to the deck is the way to make it smoother, but they are the cards that interact the least with the rest of your deck. I might start by adding a Maelstrom Pulse first because it provides a maindeck answer to any permanent.
I knew Eternal Witness was a good card. I knew you could gifts for Witness, Mannequin, and a card you absolutely needed. I knew that Reveillark could bring back Eternal Witness, perhaps one of the most useful creatures to return with the White elemental. But what I didn’t know was that even Crypt Champion can bring her back! That’s when I felt like the synergy was going over the edge. Suddenly I was recurring spells like Gifts Ungiven or Chord of Calling with ease. Cards seemed to be flowing from my hand, to my graveyard, to play, and back again almost at will. It’s like the planets had aligned.
Raven’s Crime and Life from the Loam were the last pieces to the deck, giving you a great engine of inevitability. It crushes slow midrange decks since you have enough time to demolish their hand, leaving you free to combo off. (The combo is unfortunately vulnerable to a well-timed Lightning Bolt.) It’s also a good way to pressure a control deck and force their hand a bit. Urborg has the added bonus of turning your sac lands painless and lets them tap for mana even if they’ve run out of targets in the late game.
The manabase is still a little shaky; I’m sure one of those Ravnica dual lands isn’t completely necessary. The deck has some awkward hands that usually look contain few too many expensive spells, no green sources, or no accelerators. Fixing the manabase will help at least one of those problems. If you get a Noble Hierarch on turn one it’s hard for the rest of your hand to not work out. Maybe there’s a better way than sac lands and duals to fix mana.
I haven’t completely fleshed out the next 15 cards of the deck, but there are some pretty obvious places to go. First, expanding the maindeck life-creature package will make your Zoo and Red matchups probably pretty favorable. More Kitchen Finks, Aven Riftwatchers, and Loxodon Hierarchs should do the trick. Also, more Meddling Mages should help against combo.
Qasali Pridemage works really well with the rest of the deck, and I could see that cool cat finding his way into the maindeck if need be. Yixlid Jailer is also a natural fit as it’s a great anti-dredge card that’s also full of synergy. Heck, it even cuts off Punishing Fire for a while, at least until they find another removal spell.
I would also add more removal spells to the sideboard. Gaddock Teeg can be annoying, so having more ways to kill it would help. Also, something like Baneslayer Angel can be a problem, as the deck relies more on blocking creatures than killing them.
Cranial Extraction is great against combo, and this deck can cast it pretty early most of the time.
Infinite life doesn’t automatically win the game, and a control deck is probably right to try to deck you. If they’ve got something you can’t power through like Thopter Foundry or Vedalken Shackles it’s hard for you to actually win. I haven’t come up with the counter strategy the deck can employ to win the game post-infinite life, but I’m sure there’s got to be one out there that should be in the sideboard.
The Gift that Keeps On Giving
I’ll sure be sad when I can’t play with Gifts Ungiven anymore. I hope you guys don’t mind me talking about it so much, but it’s full of so much possibility. I will be so happy if I can cast Gifts Ungiven at Grand Prix Oakland, so wish me luck. I’m still searching for the right deck for that event, and like I’ve said before this format is pretty hard to crack. This deck sure is fun, and it has pretty good matchups against Zoo and Red, and generally can’t lose to midrange decks. I haven’t tested a lot against combo and control, though, so I’m worried that a Dark Depths deck just blows me out. What I like about this deck though is the speed added by Wall of Roots and Noble Hierarch, cards that do things besides just accelerate. That gives the deck a lot of room to attack the opponent’s strategy early, a problem I have with other Gifts Ungiven decks.
Unless I hit a major breakthrough I’ll be putting Gifts Ungiven up on the shelf for a while now. And perfect timing, there are shiny new Worldwake toys to play with! Hopefully I’ll be building something spicy with those in the near future. A one-drop that makes a 5/5 dragon every turn? Sign me up.
Thanks for reading,
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