“Effects on your upkeep,” I said. My opponent looked surprised—those words hadn’t been said to him since Faeries were in Standard. “Return Haunted Dead from my graveyard, discarding Prized Amalgam and Kozilek’s Return. Trigger Prized Amalgam to return next end step. With the Spirit trigger on the stack from Haunted Dead, sacrifice my Haunted Dead to emerge Elder Deep-Fiend. Trigger Kozilek’s return. Target all your lands with Elder Deep-Fiend’s cast trigger.” In one fell swoop I had wiped my opponent’s board, tapped all their lands, and got both a 5/6 and a 1/1 flyer on board at instant speed.
It all started for our group of Seattle players with Michael Bonde’s deck tech on a 4-Color Zombie Emerge deck at the PT. (We started calling it Glint-Eye after Glint-Eye Nephilim—there’s a cycle of them for each 4-color combination.) His entire team had dropped the decks they were going to play because the combo interactions of this deck were so powerful. They said the deck wasn’t finished, but it was good enough unfinished that they preferred to compete with it. We mashed that shell up with the full self-mill engine The Pantheon had showcased in Owen and Huey’s decks top finishing decks, and Glint-Eye Emerge really began to shine.
The Self-Mill Engine
4 Vessel of Nascency, 4 Gather the Pack, 4 Grapple with the Past: These 12 cards are the new heart of every ramp and delirium deck in Standard. They each replace themselves while filling your graveyard with card types and goodies. In general Vessel is your best 1st-turn play, though sometimes you leave it uncracked for a while doing other things. It’s usually better to Gather the Pack before Grapple with the Past to make sure there is a land available in your graveyard, unless one is already there. Evolving Wilds plus Grapple with the Past makes a nice mini-combo to ensure there’s a land to be found.
4 Traverse the Ulvenwald: This is the greatest Evolving Wilds of all time. In the early game you get a color of your choice in exchange for tapping a green, in the late game it’s any creature or land you want. You usually sequence this card after any Evolving Wilds or self-mill cards that could find lands since you want to use this card to find creatures if you don’t need mana from it. That said, this card is fundamentally part of your mana base, don’t feel bad getting lands with it! Especially in matchups where life total matters, a Traverse for Forest or Island can be like a Healing Salve.
Discarding from Your Hand
4 Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, 1 Noose Constrictor: As a graveyard-centric combo deck, sometimes you need to get cards from your hand to your graveyard. Jace is the best way to do that if he lives. He also combos with most of the enablers since Jace + self-milling 4 cards (or playing Evolving Wilds) causes him to flip. Once transformed he can start flashing back your tutors or self-mill spells to further fill your graveyard or find combo pieces. Noose Constrictor is for matches where your opponent is heavy on removal and Jace isn’t likely to untap. We wanted a way to tutor up the option to discard from our hand. Additionally, the ability to discard cards at will is useful vs. UR Fevered Visions decks and it’s a decent blocker vs. Company and Humans.
4 Haunted Dead, 4 Prized Amalgam: The first author I saw talking about the power of Haunted Dead was Gerry Thompson, and boy was he right. Being able to flash a 2/2 Zombie and a 1/1 Spirit into play for 1B is pretty good. It gets much better when Haunted Dead is an enabler for getting cards from your hand to the graveyard. Better still, with all the self-milling you’ve been doing, there’s a good chance that when it comes back from the graveyard it will bring some Prized Amalgams with it. Since costs are paid first, any Amalgams you discard to activate Haunted Dead will be in the graveyard when it enters play. I suggest when Amalgams are triggered you move them from your graveyard on top of your deck so you don’t forget them. Finally, if you return a Haunted Dead on a 2nd main phase, the Amalgams will come back in the immediate end step, but if you return a Haunted Dead on an end step, they won’t come back until the end of the next player’s turn. Either one can be useful depending on what you’re planning.
4 Elder Deep-Fiend, 4 Kozilek’s Return: From my perspective, Elder Deep-Fiend is the most powerful card from the new set. I loved Mistbind Clique back in the day, and this is pretty close to a reprint that doesn’t have tribal restrictions. Being able to trigger Kozilek’s Return at instant speed is very, very difficult to play around. The fact that Deep-Fiend has 6 toughness means that you can create asymmetrical board wipes where your previous Deep-Fiends stay around. Zombies are great sacrifice targets, they keep coming back and you often get them on the cheap to begin with (though don’t be afraid to hardcast your Zombies to set up your Deep-Fiends.) You also don’t mind wrathing your Zombies too much—they’ll be back.
The Mana Base
We tried to maximize the number of lands that came into play untapped. The deck is very hungry for mana, and cards like Lumbering Falls didn’t make much sense given Evolving Wilds and Traverse the Ulvenwald represent 8 enters-the-battlefield tapped lands already. We’re playing the minimum number of basics to match each card in the deck’s casting cost, plus all the G/x painlands, since we need at least 15 green sources to consistently have one in most openers. The Sunken Hollow helps with our color counts, but is also a Traverse target in case we’re in need of both black and blue mana. Your goal is to get UUBG in play, so fetch and search accordingly.
I’m confident that the above 57 slots of the main deck are correct. I’m still doing a lot of experimenting with the last 3 slots. At GP Portland we played Gnarlwood Dryad as a metagame choice against Bant. It’s already a good matchup, but we expected it to be 20-40% of the field, so we figured we may as well push it. In my current build on Magic Online I have 1 Geralf’s Masterpiece as an additional way to trigger Prized Amalgam but also as a high-impact flyer (it’s usually a 5/5 or better in this deck). I have 1 Ishkanah, Grafwidow to stabilize vs. Bant or Humans if I get behind and can’t make Kozilek’s Return go off. Finally I have 1 Decimator of the Provinces to Overrun opponents if there’s a stall. I’ve also experimented with Sanctum of Ugin, Corpse Churn, and Lashweed Lurker in these slots and thought they each had merit. Looking through Top 32 lists from GPs last weekend, I see that mostly people have opted for additional Noose Constrictor or Collective Brutality.
Your general game plan is to dig as deep as possible with the self-mill cards to maximize your access to Haunted Dead, Kozilek’s Return, and Prized Amalgam. Note that you want to get your 1st Haunted Dead into the graveyard, even if it means choosing nothing with a self-mill card. You usually want to keep Elder Deep-Fiend in hand. Deep-Fiend is either an upkeep play if you’re going to wrath their board and tap them out, or an end-step play if you just want to tap their creatures and then swing back.
Games can be rough on the draw, but access to lots of sweepers help.
It seems weird not to bring in Kalitas, but he always dies to one burn spell. 5+ toughness or ETB abilities are better. Remember that you can only Call the Bloodline once per turn, so you’ll often want to activate it on your own turn to get below 3 cards in hand as fast as possible should Fevered Visions come out.
The Winnower is there to kill Kalitas, who is the bane of this deck. Be careful not to discard Amalgams if you’re planning to wrath and Kalitas is on the board. Kalitas’ Zombies are a replacement effect, so if you emerge they will be on the table to target with Deep-Spawn’s cast trigger or swept by Kozilek’s Return. A fun trick with Haunted Dead is to discard your expensive card in response to a discard spell like Transgress the Mind.
Often it is right to let them cast Emrakul, and then in response tap her and any other blockers they might have. Her extra turn isn’t worth much if all your tutors are used already and there aren’t any blockers to punish bad attacks.
There are a lot of decision points and triggers to keep track of. Everyone I talked to who played the deck at the GP said that it was incredibly powerful, but that they racked up losses due to their own play errors. I strongly recommend getting lots of reps in if you want to take this deck to a major tournament. I think it’s worth it. The deck is a lot of fun to play, and winning often doesn’t hurt either. I look forward to playing this one until it rotates.
I’m curious what everyone else is playing in their “special sauce” slots, or if there are some sweet sideboard options I’ve missed. Let’s discuss it in the comments.