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Jul 29 2015

A Creatureless Challenge: Continued

I profusely apologize for my lateness to return with more content for MTGCasualPlay.com. Besides personal business in my life, I found it most necessary to get more concrete testing in before I drew any conclusions for an article idea. I want to keep things fresh, and while I do provide deck techs fairly frequently, it’s another desire of mine to keep things varied and fun. I tend to err more toward comprehensive primers for my decks, but it’s frankly not always what people want to read — “Oh, it’s just another Zombie EDH…”

Creatureless Evolved

So, the conclusions we gathered from my previous article with this same name were roughly as follows:

1) Creatures are possibly the most polarized card type in the game of Magic: while the most easily removed (especially in EDH), they are easily the most powerful card type on their own. Many argue (and rightfully) that artifacts are actually the most resilient card type in the game, but as we saw from my Creatureless Damia, Sage of Stone build, a hard control list with at least a couple strong creature finishers seems to fare much better than one without the creatures, and artifacts are usually only as powerful as the artifact support and synergy that’s already represented in the deck. Simply put, we’d rather play 3-5 creatures to round out our control deck win conditions than 3-5 artifacts.

2) Win conditions are actually really, really sparse without including creatures in one way or another. Even barring the prevalence of the combat phase, creatures provide triggered and static abilities that deal damage, drain life, and sometimes outright say “you win the game”. In our Damia iteration of creatureless control, we were fairly limited, with a couple X-drain spells, Planeswalkers, and Bribery. Even taking the other possible X-drain spells in the color, there isn’t much for the Sultai wedge, to be honest. In all of the colors, we’re pretty screwed too: X-drain/damage spells, niche “you win the game”-upkeep oriented permanents, planeswalkers that provide either damage or tokens on their own, mill (eugh), or the son of mill being draw-kill alpha strikes (Blue Sun’s Zenith and kin).

3) The most popular ways to make players concede in EDH is either the revelation of a backbreaking infinite combo or oppressive game play lines: mass land destruction, general stax, or maybe even a particular player that will always target a certain player first and foremost. Concession is actually a very real win condition for creatureless decks and essentially any deck in this format that lacks sound win conditions, so we take an interest (yet usually only a small one, most deckbuilders build to actually have at least *one* win condition in order to “play out” games where a great game is still in the making). Speaking of infinite combos, though, there are no true “infinite” combos without at least one creature. The lack of this luxury puts even more strain on creatureless decks, as it is another avenue for victory we simply cannot press.

New Horizons

Riku of Two Reflections EDH Deck Primer

Since the building of that Damia decklist, I’ve constantly been trying new creatureless builds and reshaping existing builds to sport a creatureless status. Only one really stuck, and with how much wild success it has had in my playgroup thus far, I’m fairly content with keeping it around and closing my investigations on creatureless deck possibilities, at least for now (exciting for me too, because that means I’m looking to rebuild a very powerful Damia control build very soon). Again, I havent really found any creatureless builds with any support in the online community, save for ones headed by Narset, Melek, and Talrand. The only one of those that truly intrigued me was Melek, and like this elegant primer asserts, the typical win condition involves a large storm count or a ludicrous multi-card combo for damage. Melek was interesting because he helped players get twice the value for their instants and sorceries while also provided longer reach for casting the library’s cards when needed. I liked these ideas. Who also gave my instants and sorceries value twofold, without pigeonholing (or, at least guilt-tripping) me into playing 100-card-library silliness-storm?

Another weakness I found in the Damia decklist was its lack of a clock for opponents to experience: the deck could sometimes just win in one turn by draining one or two people, other times it just floundered until being picked off earlier on or at the game’s last game-determining power play. While I’m not sure it’s the most appropriate term for the circumstance at hand, the deck (in addition to a few more win conditions) needed the ability to jack up its own “tempo” while smothering its opponents’. In a deck without critical board presence representation (creatures), there is a lot to be said about becoming “inevitable” or gaining “inevitability” as the game progresses.

I picked up an odd choice. I picked up Riku of Two Reflections and decided that, even while not even using all of his abilities to their full potential, I would have a lot of fun playing my two favorite colors plus one more than would provide much more accessible win conditions. Not only did I have a lot of fun at first with the deck, but it never lost multiplayer games.

If you are at all interested in this list, you can look through list changes and more in-depth explanation on my TappedOut list here, and if you are at all interested in my deck creation and editing process, I’d strongly recommend taking a look through my recent submissions on my profile over there.

Wild Violet

My inspiration for making this build rested comfortably between two desires:

1) My desire to try another color combination to support a creatureless deck, exchanging the okay-but-not-amazing options black offered to end games for the much-more-accommodating color red.

2) Finally have a deck that punishes nonbasic landbases in an effective manner but doesn’t take away from the deck’s ability to win games.

I couldn’t be more satisfied with it. It plays the perfect balance of small, tight-knit control tools and big, blowout control/win spells. It plays a land destruction subtheme that no one can get mad at, and is fairly uncontested in my current playgroup. We get to ramp hilariously hard, draw insane amounts of cards, blow up people’s precious little boardstates, and then finally burn out players after they’ve been roughed up from a game full of unfortunate events — all while not using infinite combos of any sort, and just using sheer power that we’ve gained through resilient landbase construction and conservative control elements.

It plays in a linear fashion most times, too– but this isn’t a weakness at all. We essentially want to see at least one green source by turn 4, hitting our land drops and idealizing our hand by playing cheap cantrip and loot spells. After we hit a forest and a ramp spell, we go “wide” with our new mana, by typically removing problem permanents, casting Riku, and then casting more copied value-type spells. Mid game is usually pretty exciting, because it determines whether we’ll get the ability to close out the game with ease or not. We wrath the board with damage as frequently as we need to, flashback value from our yard, and draw cards until we hit an X-cost spell with a fat stack of lands to do some work with it. From there, it’s simply a game of cat and mouse, closing in on opponents with an oppressive hand size and even more oppressive mana pool to ensure their responses are countered and our burn-outs are unaffected.

There is a prevalent effort to accommodate keywords such as Flashback, Threshold, Spell Mastery, and Delve. This was primarily to seek value out of one of our important resources, the graveyard, as we don’t have a conceivable and “true” board presence. While Threshold and Spell Mastery are both incredibly weak at the moment, however — perhaps further prints will change this.

I really only possibly dislike two things with this current deck: I dislike the feeling of using Riku and only using essentially half of his worth, especially when he is typically regarded at tables as being fairly explosive and combo-tastic (giving me more hate at the onset of a game than what this deck expects); and I dislike the fact that the deck sometimes can just durdle and then fold if the early and mid games do not go at least decently. I concede that these are fair and expected limitations because of my self-imposed creatureless restriction, but one has to fight for ways to make his or her deck not only creative and unique but always powerful (: . On the topic of using Riku fairly restrictively, it actually feels really good because he essentially only gets cast once or twice a game, the first time to just double up on value spells and then the second typically to run opponents into the ground. With how little we need to depend on him, we don’t need to commit card slots to protection like Swiftfoot Boots or Lightning Greaves, unlike our Damia build (where we needed her to stay alive multiple turns at a time to get the best value out of casting her.

Conclusions

Creatureless decks in EDH are no doubt a ton of fun. Perhaps the most resilient and potent creatureless decks one can find in the format are centered around combos or effects that allow players to reorder and combo-through their libraries with little effort (Proteus Staff). However, most of the fun I’ve had creating, destroying, editing, and critiquing these such decks has come with trying to overcome the glaring weaknesses of such a deck, like preventing taking too much damage during the combat step, finding ways to out-tempo opponents, and ultimately find a feasible win condition to close out the game. My love for creatureless decks comes with some bias here too, as a creatureless aggro deck in EDH is simply unheard of, and I’m a sucker for long, calculated games that come with control decks as is. In my specific case, I also realized I had more accessible win conditions when I played red, but also needed the support of green for ramp to actually hit lethal X-cost spells and blue for smoothing in every part of the game’s progression. The novelty of a deck without any creatures besides its commander is one that has been popular since the format’s beginnings, and I’d seriously recommend anyone interested in it to give it a go and examine what about it they either enjoy or don’t enjoy.

Thank you all again for reading! This was a fun list to test around with (and is still being tuned every day, if you check my updates made on the TappedOut page) and even more fun to see how different commanders and color combinations fare with different restrictions. Please leave your comments below on what you think about creatureless as a deck theme, your reactions to my Riku deck, or maybe even curiosity as to what was the inspiration behind this deck’s name :). Until next time!

-cailtis

2 comments

1 ping

  1. Wally D.

    Once again I can only stare at your decklist in amazement. Your self imposed limitations on a creature-less deck build AND your ability to not only make it work, but pilot the deck to produce WINS? Bravo sir.

    I was curious on the absence of Blood Moon. It seems to fit your theme. But, I assumed, it is missing because of the costly price tag OR because of the hate it draws.

    Great primer! Well done!

  2. cailtis

    Thank you, sir!

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