Stark Reality – Martyr for the Cause


In real life Magic, the deck to beat is definitely Zoo. However, on MTGO I am expecting a lot of Zoo, but even more Scapeshift and Mono-Red burn decks. Those 2 decks just aren’t that hard or expensive to build, and just seem to be what people are running more of in the Extended 8-Mans and Premiers. Since Scapeshift versus Red will generally be decided by the die roll and Scapeshift versus Scapeshift is obviously not too much fun, I am not dying to play Scapeshift in the MTGO PTQs. It’s a great deck and I’ve played it a lot, but I think it will shine more in-person where people play more Zoo and less burn.

So, I’ve started brewing. When I was trying to find a deck with a natural advantage against Red and Scapeshift, one of the first decks I came across was Martyr. One card gaining 15 or so life on average is obviously going to trump a deck full of Lightning Bolts and the ability to just gain some life and lock out a combo deck is pretty sweet. Here is the list I am currently running:



So as you could probably have guessed, this is a fun one. I usually go into matchups and sideboarding when I am writing about a deck, but I think for this deck it will be more useful if I talk about the cards in the deck and what our deck does. Sorry if some of that is obvious to some people, but there is definitely a lot going on.

The Maindeck

Path to Exile – Path is the catch-all card of the format. Great against Zoo, Affinity, Dark Depths and just generally curing what ails ya.

Martyr of Sands – With almost the whole deck being White you gain access to one of the most powerful cards in Magic. 2 mana gain 18 life is unreal. Even if you never combo or get recursion going, with the card draw in the deck, keeping your hand loaded isn’t a problem and Martyr gains a ridiculous amount of life.

Compulsive Research – A nice card draw spell for the deck. You don’t have counterspells, so the card drawing being a sorcery isn’t an issue, and you do have 26 lands and Life from the Loam so the ability to discard 1 land or 2 cards works out quite nicely.

Gifts Ungiven – Gifts is the card that allows you to have access to everything: the recursion engines, the powerful one-ofs, and of course, the pile of Witness, Mannequin, and X, which gets you X.

Bant Charm – The Charm is Path to Exile’s big brother, and Saito even went so far as to put it into Zoo. It kills Thopter Foundry, Dark Depths tokens, Chalice of the Void, Baneslayer Angel, Gaddock Teeg, and oh ya, it even counters opponent’s Gifts Ungiven. Want more?

2 Day of Judgment, 2 Wrath of God, 1 Engineered Explosives – Obviously, the variety makes it so you can Gifts for them and be guaranteed at least one. You don’t have any relevant permanents until the late game, so the ability to handle whatever your opponent is doing is paramount to this deck’s success.

Crovax, Ascendant Hero– One of the best White finishers right now, Crovax locks out Thopter Foundry and Vampire Hexmage, as well as being immune to Path to Exile.

Ranger of Eos – Ranger is a sweet way to go get multiple Martyrs or the fog Kami, depending which is better at the time. Gifts for Mannequin, Resurrection, Ranger, and Martyr will often put a game far out of reach for any aggressive deck.

Sphinx of Lost Truths – Much like Ranger, the Sphinx doesn’t do anything that is strictly necessary, but sometimes you end up with excess lands in hand when playing a 26 land deck, and any time I draw the Life from the Loam, I usually Gifts him up and employ that little combo to basically turn him into a draw 3 for 5 mana with a 3/5 flying body.

Necrotic Sliver– Sliver plus Emeria should be able to deal with just about anything.

Resurrection/Makeshift Mannequin/Eternal Witness – This Gifts pile is the way you get back what you tutor up. This really helped break this deck, because now if you need the life gain to seal up the game you can tutor for Martyr, Mannequin, Proclamation, Witness and say goodnight.

1 Kami of False Hope – Sometimes fog is better than Martyr, like against Thopter Foundry, Affinity, a Dark Depths token or just a runaway board in general. There have been many times where I have been very happy to have this one-of.

The Sideboard

3 Negate – Most of the cards that will give you problems after sideboard are spells, like graveyard hate or stuff like Cranial Extraction. Obviously, it also just counters a lot of cards out of Scapeshift/Thopter Foundry or Blue decks in general.

2 Cranial Extraction – Cranial is a big part of why you play Black. This card just solves things for a deck like this. Great against dredge/any form of combo/ or if your opponent has the right answers to bring in against you.

1 Relic/Crypt/Trap – You run the split on graveyard hate so you can Gifts it up; past that it’s pretty obvious this is a good slot to have in the current Extended.

2 Kitchen Finks/1 Oblivion Ring/2 Journey of Nowhere – While this is the Zoo package, some of the cards have some other pretty important uses. Journey is great against Dark Depths. You need to kill early Confidants, and you always gain life so it can actually kill a 20/20 token even after it attacks you once. The O-Ring is a catch-all card for Planeswalkers or whatever generic permanents decks are running, like Pithing Needle or Blood Moon.

Pithing Needle/Extirpate – Both of these are great generic answers to different combo decks, control decks, or cards other people will be trying to use against you. Extirpate recursion can quickly give decks fits, as well as lock up the game if you can get the right card with it.

Objective One – Gain Life

The Martyr of Sands/Proclamation of Rebirth combo is critical. Activating a single Martyr will almost always win you the game against burn, and it will generally give you more than enough time to set up your midgame against any aggressive deck such as Affinity or Zoo. Oh, and the second time you Martyr will generally finish off the game against Scapeshift.

Objective Two – Traditonal Blue/White midgame

Blue/White control has always moved towards a win in the mid game by gaining card advantage, and this deck has lots of great ways to do that, with five “Wrath effects” to answer your opponent’s threats and Compulsive Research and Gifts Ungiven to blatantly draw cards and set up your late game.

Objective Three – Set up the most powerful end game in the world

Our end game trumps everything. With the ability to recur Necrotic sliver and Martyr you can blow up everything or gain near-infinite life. If you bring back Wrath with Witness then Wrath, you can always bring back Witness + Wrath again. I find once you have Emeria going you are almost always going to win.

Sideboarding Guide and Matchup Notes

Against Zoo:

-1 Sphinx, -1 Eternal Witness, -1 Ghost Quarter, -1 Life from the loam, -1 Gifts ungiven,
+2 Kitchen Finks, +2 Journey to Nowhere, +1 Oblivion Ring

I normally assume they are going to have some sort of graveyard hate in their sideboard, therefore the excess recursion that can bog down your opening hand isn’t really necessary. Bringing back Martyr will be good enough, and with the amount of removal and Wrath ability you have, beating them with Kitchen Finks, Ranger of Eos, Crovax, and Necrotic Sliver will not usually be a problem. You’re just looking to maximize your ability to kill creatures and gain life.

Against Mono-Red Burn:

-2 Wrath of god, -2 Day of Judgment, -1 Sphinx, -1 Compulsive Research,
+3 Negate + 2 Kitchen Finks, +1 Oblivion Ring

I usually bring in the O-Ring and leave in the 1 Engineered Explosives because they are slightly faster ways to kill Goblin Guide and Keldon Marauders, and even though they rarely play Blood Moon, having outs to it is always nice. In this matchup, once you fire off a Martyr, you have pretty much won, so the Negates and Finks can buy you the time to Gifts one up. The main reason I consider Martyr an excellent choice for the MTGO PTQs and an average one for in-person is because I am anticipating a lot more Mono-Red online then in real life.

Against Scapeshift:

– 1 E.E, -4 path, -1 Day of Judgement, -1 Wrath of God, -1 Kami of the False God,
+3 Negate, +2 Cranial Extraction, +2 Kitchen Finks, +1 Extirpate

Since they don’t play any real creatures you’re mostly just boarding out your creature kill. Bant Charm counters an instant so it remains useful. The one copy of each Wrath is just in case they board in Finks or something, or just have a lot of their little creatures out. They will probably be bringing in graveyard hate, which you are ready for with Negates and Cranials. Also once you get your life above 50 or so they can’t really win, which means you usually Gifts up the Ranger package and lock them out of the game. Try and do it when you can have Negate back up or after a Cranial if possible. Don’t let them be able to stop you unless you just don’t have the time. Another reason I think this is the deck to play online is because I am expecting Scapeshift to be considerably more popular than Dark Depths or Thopter Foundry.

I think that those will pretty much be the most popular decks online and there are way too many decks to cover each matchup, so I just want to talk a little more about the deck. You basically have answers to everything and really sick card advantage with Gifts, Research, and Wraths. All the creature decks that did well in the first MTGO PTQ are pretty easy matchups. You don’t want to run the deck if people are playing a lot of faeries or Rock/Death Cloud type decks. If you expect to face a focused metagame of the most played Extended decks, then it is an excellent metagame call.

I pretty much always try and board in the Negates and board out whatever cards I think are luxury Gifts targets in the matchup, because most people will be sideboarding in graveyard hate, so you are looking to play more like a Blue-White control deck and less like a reanimator/recursion type deck after sideboard. I strongly recommend practicing a lot before you play this deck in any tournament. You pretty much always have to know exactly what you want to Gifts for, as well as on which turn you want to do things. You win some easy games with all the extra life and removal, but the hard games are very hard. I have wanted to go up to 4 Kitchen Finks in the sideboard since I made the deck, but all the cards currently there do some pretty cool things and I haven’t been able to figure out what to remove.


33 thoughts on “Stark Reality – Martyr for the Cause”

  1. I am not sure I’ve ever seen a crazier deck list, I can’t wait to casual with this just to piss people off lol. Hope it does something because it’s so absurd

  2. have you thought about boarding Pull From Eternity to fight Extripate and to a lesser extent (because of your negates) Cranials/Thought Hemos?

  3. This looks like a really fun deck. Nothing like gaining 16 life against a burn deck!!

    Still, isn’t this essentially a remake of Shouta Yasooka’s Gifts Control deck from Extended pro tour Austin 2009?

    While there are certainly differences, the main components (unsavory gift packages, graveyard recursion, life gaining recursion, and a lock with Emeria) are basically the same. It seems you’ve essentially replaced his pulse of the fields and Yosei, The Morning Star with your Martyr and Necrotic sliver, and made a few card swaps accordingly.

    If you borrowed some of his ideas, I’d mention it in the article, if only in passing.

    Definitely a cool deck, though!

  4. i like this deck a lot, but feel like the proclamations of rebirth are a bit underwhelming. with emeria, you have your infinite engine to recur martyr, even it if takes a while. your first martyr should buy you plenty of time to set up emeria, so it is redundant. I could see playing a singleton to gifts for, but 3 is just far too many. with the two open slots you could add the singleton yosei and the miren, or possibly miren instead of another land and add a singleton of something useful.

    crovax is an amazing idea. my friend thought of potentially playing 1 thopter foundry and 1 sword of the meek to add a different combo to the deck.


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  6. BallingOutOfControl

    Nick, your post was like “This deck looks similar to that deck, except all these different cards”.

  7. difference being that “all these cards” is just 2 or 3.
    i have to agree the deck is very similar and a reference to it was overdue.

    i still don’t see advantages in running this over straight Wb or Wbr martyr though. and depths ain’t that easy. crovax is a nice tech against the worst matchup (tezz)

  8. I really like this deck. Currently I’m looking at a martyr deck similar to conley wood’s deck from Austin. As far as i can tell what it needs (and what more decks need) is more Gifts Ungiven. so this is an interesting list to see.

  9. after closer inspection i’ll concede that it is more different than i thought… it shares the gifts package and removal, different creature base.

  10. Maybe a few Celestial Purge in the side against AIR because it deals with Blood Moon and Deus/Demigod (obviously mainly for blood moon as the only real answer you have is 1 oblivion ring).

  11. Have you considered Magus of the Disk. with an active Emeria it’s a free Disk every other turn.

  12. It is similar to the yosei deck and definitely borrows some ideas, so I probably should have mentioned that. That said, it doesn’t want yosei or miren. Recurring Witness with a crovax out or martyrs or necrotic sliver will win you the game you have no need for miren and yosei which are way inferior cards.

    2 Proclamations could be cut and it would be fine, if you think you have something awesome for the deck. Each proclamation can generally gain around 30 life though so I am not sure you don’t want them. Since this is a gifts ranger deck, you frequently – gifts for ranger martyr mannequin and resurrection. Then you just play out all the martyrs and if you have hard cast a proc on 3 martyrs then frankly that is a lot of life. It may not be necessary or it may be game winning.

    Purge seems like a good idea faeries is a pretty big problem for the deck mainly because of bitter blossom so purge would help that too. Pull from eternity also seems like a good idea. All the cads in the sideboard are pretty useful so you just have to find the space.

  13. Actually, adding a 1 of Felidar Sovereign could be cool. Could be an easy turn 7 win, or he’s a nice fatty to attack with, and something to punish attackers. He compliments the life gaining aspects of the deck, and he’s another white card. Also, putting him in a gifts package would make your opponent very unhappy.

    I know people see Felidar and think he’s too cute for competitive play, and maybe he is. But if he belongs in any deck, it’s probably this one. I don’t see having 40 life by the seventh upkeep to be much of a challenge for this deck.

    Then again, it could be he’s just completely unnecessary, since Ben said that if he gets Emeria online the game’s basically over.


  14. nick – It seems like the only reason to add felidar sovereign would be if you have trouble winning within the time limits – more applicable in real life ptqs rather than the online version. If you are able to get to 40 life, play a six mana dude, and untap, then you probably already have the game won.

  15. Also, Ben great article.

    Given how complicated this deck is, I think it would be the PERFECT opportunity to do a couple videos of you playing this deck in the 8 man queue’s or a daily event to show people some of the nuances of the deck and how to play it correctly.

  16. Could Esper Charm be considered in place of Compulsive Research, since it’s white, instant, and provides other options?

  17. esper charm actually sounds amazing.

    i’d look into that, as i’m not a fan of compulsive research, and esper charm gives you additional outs to blood moon (float mana etc), as well as instant speed against faeries, and discard option against combo decks that use rituals.

  18. Your mana curve is has a big glut at three and four; do you ever struggle against aggro decks when you don’t draw Martyr or Path? I remember giving Zaiem infinite grief after a PTQ where he lost to Burn with Martyr because Ranger for Martyr was too slow. Would Sakura-Tribe Elder be a reasonable addition? Or moving Finks main?

    Are you mostly just kold to Thopter Foundry unless you can sneak in a Bant Charm on their Foundry?

  19. @mbmccall read the article. he plays crovax maindeck, and has a bunch of sb answers to the combo.

  20. dowjonzechemical

    whee….looks kinda weird.

    IDK if we need U here, what was wrong with the Phyrexian Arena card draw engine?

  21. Felidar is a pretty good card but a bit of a win more card, so i like the sphinx over it but its close.

    The blue card draw has big advantages over arena. Activating their pridemages sucks, and after sb most people have some access to enchantment kill. Also esper charm would be amazing if it were more castable. You don’t always have access to black on turn 3.

    I am not sure where we run into problems against aggro on turn 3 and 4, we have 3 bant charms on turn 3 , along with our 4 paths, then an engineered explosives, and 4 wraths for turn 4, so you should always have something.

  22. If you are able to cut 2 proclamations, would adding Iona and a Pridemage or a 4th Compulsive help? It seems like being able to sneek an Iona into play would be good against every deck. Blue for Thopter, black for depths and dredge, green for scapeshift and hypergenesis, white for zoo.

  23. Ok Listen ! Please read this & Let it be know that this is a completly new and innovative breakout deck for this Extended Season. I cringe to give you guys all this list but its HOT! There is so much recusion in this dek it is off the charts. The rock with Death Cloud is a bad matchup before siding in Glen Elendra. The others it has been doing Extemely well. Please examine this closely! The sideboard is also very well mastered.

    Gifts of the Lark Martyr by V John Baker

    4xMartyr of Sands
    4xPath to Exhile
    4xSakura Tribe Elder
    1xRuned Halo
    1xLife From the Loam
    1xSword of Light & Shadow
    2xEternal Witness
    1xProclamation of Rebirth
    1xRanger of Eos
    1xMakeshift Mannequin
    2xGifts Ungiven
    1xElspeth Knight-Errant
    1xWrath of God
    1XDay of Judgement
    1xBody Double
    1xRude Awakening
    1xYosei, the Morning Star
    1xEnginered Explosives
    1xMiren , the Morning Well
    1xEmeria the Sky Ruin
    1xGodless Shrine
    4xTemple Garden
    4xHallowed Fountain
    4xArid Mesa


    3xGlen-Elendra Archmage
    1xGhost Quarter
    1xIvory Mask
    1xRuned Halo
    1xPithing Needle
    1xRavenous Trap
    1xYixid Jailor
    1xEthersworn Cannonist
    1xQasali Pridemage
    1xKitaki, War’ Wage
    1xFracturing Gust
    1xCranial Extrction

    PS…. Please pass this along to LSV

  24. John, you aren’t running enough white cards to make Martyr any good. There’s lots of neat little packages but with no real plan for the early game and weak Martyr’s I think you don’t have a strong enough chance to reach the end game where your deck looks to take over. You are relying completely on Path (and a couple chump blockers) and are pretty dead to a Chalice on 1 without other low cost creature removal spells. And you don’t have any disruption either.

    I’ve had a quick test with Ben’s build and I still think it’s light on white to make the most out of Martyr. I’ve adjusted the mana slightly and cut Compulsive Research for Esper Charm, and it’s seemed fine so far. With all the fetches there’s no reason not to have B by turn 3, as you can search out G Shrine easily. Martyr for 6 is just a bad lightning helix, we need to make sure it’s always firing for 9+.

    Love this archetype though. Having such explosive lifegain hurts so many decks, and we can concoct a sideboard with powerful hate for the matchups which don’t care so much about our life total.

  25. Relequarius> This Deck has NEVER lost to either Zoo matchup and Iv’e played countless games. The Martyr just helps to set up the Revilark locks. Chalice of the void will lock nothing very long. it locks path ONLY. This really isn’t a Martyr dek. It’s a Revilark dek that uses martyr to stabalize. AND its small 2 gifts package has Silver Bullets. You could swap Rude for another white card…. but it just flat out wins instantly. You have to understand and know how to play revilark to understand. if you live long enough to cast revilark at a decent total with 2 drifters etc. It’s super hard to lose. Most games i win I only need to Matyr once. By the time the Revilarks go online the game ends pretty fast. And if You play it you will see that it’s late game is better then ANY deck I have tested vs. Once my revilarks and grave is setup vs meek/thopter I managed to witness my explosives 8 times to finally kill his army to get in the damage. Miren on Yosei! PHAT. Emira/Yosei/7 plains/Miren = LOCK OUT. Gift for Life from the Loam and both lands. You draw SOOOO many cards with this deck Loam, witness, gifts, mulldrifters, Revilark! Your Martyrs most always have plenty of white. And my white spells are not all defensive. If you want Martyr to work on MTGO and you dont want to tie a lot of games you have to have explosive finishers.

  26. I cutted 2 Compulsive Research for 2 Mulldrifter and 2 Proclamations for Lark + Double and it works fine for me. Maybe it’s worse against blue Decks (esepcially Faeries) but a thousand times better against everything else.

  27. wouldn’t qasali pridemage be good enough for the sideboard ? it’s better than a 2nd necrotic sliver but maybe not worth the sb slot?

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