|L to R: Prognostic Sphinx, Xenagos, God of Revels, and Doomwake Giant|
The Journey into Nyx (JOU) promo card for Black (B) is not a card to build around, but I made the choice to go for that color path (Forged in Tyranny) for various reasons that I don't have to discuss here, since I know you want to hear about the cards and deck building that went on at Aero Hobbies and Games this past Saturday! Since JOU is the third set in the block, you get access to packs from the other two sets as well, so before the match I did some extensive research into all the cards in the block to prepare. For those interested, I aggregated the rankings (on a 0 to 5 scale) from my two new favorite magic sites, ThoughtScour and ChannelFireball, into a database also sortable by color, set, type and converted mana cost. Those not interested can skip the preceding sentence.
Doomwake Giant, a 4/6 for five mana, is a powerful, efficient creature on its own that was tied for the best Black card in the block (average 4.25 rating), according to my research. However it's also an enchantment creature, so it can make use of the new Constellation ability to ping all your opponent's creatures for -1/-1 when it enters the battlefield. Not a very effective board clear in a format full of giant monsters and ever-growing heroes, but I did use it to take out a couple of problematic weenies over the course of the tournament.
After opening all my packs and going down the list by aggregate ranking, the next highest upside card I had was Keepsake Gorgon, a classic defensive creature with deathtouch and a fat butt (a term that refers to having greater toughness (5) than power (2)). Then when I saw the two top Black commons in the JOU set - Bloodcrazed Hoplite (although I was noticeably light in heroic triggers) and Pharika's Chosen (in keeping with the deathtouch theme) - and a few top notch removal spells - both conditional (Asphyxiate, Feast of Dreams) and unconditional (Lash of the Whip) - I was content to try my luck in my chosen color. Not just my aforementioned predilection for Blue magic, but also one particular relevant rare, drew me to my second color: Curse of the Swine. Being able to replace any number of my opponent's creatures with 2/2 Boar tokens (read: bacon) could be the benchmark of a U/B control deck - plus it's also flavor relevant. Add to that little trick three beefy sirens (one War-Wing and two of the Cloaked variety) and some conditional counter magic (portmanteau'd into An(Nul)lify) and we were in business.
Pharika, God of Affliction. She sure is cheap (3 mana), but I didn't think I'd have a lot of chances to use her ability (turning creatures from a graveyard into Pharika's Chosens), and splashing a card that relies on devotion to get full use out of it didn't seem to make much sense. So even though I had some good heroic triggers in G (Feral Invocation and Nyxborn Wolf), a nice graveyard synergy in the Nyx Weaver, and a Golden Hind for mana ramping, I decided against it. At the last second I almost splashed some White for the sake of another evasive heroic dude (Akroan Skyguard), the set's only good tapper (Akroan Mastiff), and a couple of the good bestow creatures (Heliod's Emissary and Observant Alseid), but in the end I decided to go with a straight two-color combo.
There were 20 people at this prerelease, more than at any other Magic event I had attended, so we needed to play five full rounds to determine a winner. I ended up in fifth place with a record of 3-2: I won my first two matchups pretty handily, got swept due to mana issues in my third, came back from a first game loss in match four, and then got swept in the final matchup due to some poor decisions. My deck also may or may not have been outclassed in the last one, but honestly, after six full hours of Magic, the fatigue starts to set in. When I had an adequate land-to-playable ratio, I was mostly able to control the board with a combination of my army of fliers and timely deployment of removal and counter-magic. Benthic Giant actually proved to be the MVP of two different games: the first time, his hexproof ability allowed him to stay on the battlefield while fearlessly attack into inferior blockers, and second, I was discarded him to buff my Erebos's Emissary-bestowed Cloaked Siren to fly in for lethal damage. But my favorite play of the afternoon came when I was facing a Cavern Lampad-bestowed Elite Skirmisher who had me on a two turn clock. On my turn, after his second attack, I used my best heroic trigger, Triton Tactics, to UNtap my opponent's intimidating creature, putting it in range of my Asphyxiate, FTW. Needless to say, the really strange look I got after the first part of that combo was justified by the look of sheer disappointment when I completed it.
We all got a bonus booster pack for participating, and what did I pull as my rare but ANOTHER Pharika. Since I'm not likely to build a Golgari deck in the near future (I never was a fan of affliction as a concept), those two Gods are likely to hit the trading block (like the pre-banned Deathrite Shaman I pulled back in the day). However, I'm not entirely sure what I would trade them for. When Phenax, God of Deception (read: God of Milling) first made his debut in Born of the Gods, I went on a quest to build an EDH deck with him as my commander, which kind of scratched my constructed itch for a while. As of now, I'm more interested in exploring more limited play, where players have to rely less on either infinite knowledge of past expansion sets (legacy) or infinite financial resources to buy four copies of all the best cards (standard). Whatever the future holds for my relationship with M:tG, I thoroughly enjoyed playing with others at the conclusion of another fine expansion block.