Casual Deck Lists : Portal, Arbor Ramp and Last Stand by Ru Macdonald

M14 Sealed Pre-release Event & Deck Tech and Set Observations by Ruairidh Macdonald

Casual Deck Lists : Portal, Arbor Ramp and Last Stand


Welcome Magic players of all skills and disciplines. You are here because I have summoned you, or because you clicked on this article. Either way!  ‘Casual’ Magic makes up a large portion of Magic games and yet is also the most scarcely covered. This is not playing cards with your feet up, a cigar in your mouth and an Appletini close by. It is sleeving* up a wild concoction of Magic cards that could be from any set, and battling for fun (for Prestige!).

I feel like I have been ‘cheating on’ my Casual decks as I have only managed to play Commander or Standard in the last few months. It is however, still the most unpredictable and unique format.

*I know some people do not sleeve their decks. By not doing so it damages the cards, they do not shuffle as well and it makes people point at you and snicker “noob”. For the small cost of £4.78 you can buy 100 matt sleeves that shuffle like a dream!  There is no excuse for not doing this. You know who you are.

This article details three very different Casual decks of mine. They have been through many wars and have scars to show for it. Like army veterans, they too will pass on their story to you…


Portal Cards

“This was a triumph”.

This deck orgininated as a Gruul ramp deck that wanted to go;

Turn 1 Llanowar Elves
Turn 2 Silhana Starfletcher
Turn 3 Shivan Wurm

My inner Timmy was tickled by the prospect of having a 7/7 trampler on turn 3.  In order to take advantage of the ‘return a creature’ clause the wurm brings with it, I added some Flametongue Kavus and Thornscape Battlemages.

I recognised that Erratic Portal would do some over-time getting value out of these powerful, modestly costed enter-the-battlefield creatures. And so the ramp theme faded into the background and I added more cowbell. In this case, more cowbell refers to ‘enters-the-battlefield themed stuff with 4x Erratic Portal’.

The Decklist:

Arid Mesa
Copperline Gorge
Fire-lit Thicket
Kessig Wolf Run
Razorverge Thicket
Rootbound Crag
Sacred Foundry
Stomping Ground
Temple Garden
Temple of Abandon
Sakura-Tribe Elder
Scavenging Ooze
Aven Riftwatcher
Carven Caryatid
Eternal Witness
Flametongue Kavu
Thornscape Battlemage
Domri Rade
Garruk Relentless
Sarkhan Vol
Blasphemous Act
Primal Command
Swords to Plowshares
Erratic Portal

Although this is technically a Naya deck, which would usually imply the most aggressively costed buff creatures in town, it is instead a control deck. I cannot help myself. I built a Rakdos control deck for Standard the other day (I have a problem).

The deck orbits around Erratic Portal, the lynch-pin of the whole theme. They primarily fire our own creatures back through the portal to our hand. They can catch the opponents creatures too if they foolishly tap out. These only get better in multiples and can cause your opponent to waste a lot of mana to ensure their creatures stick.

Erratic Portal

Every creature’s purpose is quite obvious here. This is also a prime example of how the lack of sideboard warps a deck into trying to battle all decks at once.

Sakura-tribe Elder is one of my all time favourites and, much like Solemn Simulacrum is in the fortunate position of being great against control or aggro decks. Aven Riftwatcher is there to keep me alive or put pressure on an early Planeswalker.

Primal Command does a lot for me and is never an unwelcome draw. More often than not it will find either Eternal Witness or Thragtusk and gain me 7 life. It can however lock your opponent out of draws later on (Search for an Eternal Witness and put their land on top of their deck).

Early game we are just staying alive till we get our engine running. The engine is essentially a kind of soft lock that is created by Eternal Witness & Erratic Portal. Once you have both cards you are able to return any card to your hand every turn, allowing you to recast Swords to Plowshares or Blasphemous Act whenever needed. It is quite difficult for your opponent to disrupt this cycle. If they do manage, we have 3 more each and a Primal Command to help find the elf and shuffle the Portal back in. It is essentially the Naya version of Eternal Command.

Due to the knowledge that everything in the graveyard will come home at some point, we do not need to treat our Blasphemous Acts or Swords to Plowshares sparingly.

A lot of wins have been opponents scooping once I have the ability to return Swords or Blasphemous Act indefinitely. When this does not happen, we rely on Kessig Wolf Run to fireball any creature at our opponent till they die.

The trio of Planeswalkers work well with each other (and they get upset if they remain in my cards folder, unused and unsung). You can steal an opponents creature with Sarkhan Vol and use Domri Rade to fight it off against another of their creatures. Alternatively, you can Erratic Portal their creature back to their hand after attacking them with it, or sacrifice it to Garruk, the Veil-Cursed. Option town!


The mana base is a merely a collection of all my on-colour dual lands for Green, Red and White. For me, this is epitome of a Casual Magic deck. It has a high power level as the game progresses, but would be crushed by any competitive aggro deck. There is a miser Scavenging Ooze (because I only have one!) which is another sign of being in the less serious side of things. More relevantly though, is how the deck has main-deck anti-aggro, control, artifact and mass removal.

“The cake is a lie.”


Garruk Wildspeaker (2)

This deck makes all the mana. If you have ever been mana-starved during a game it is because this deck has your mana. For that, I apologise. I had bought a couple of Garruk Wildspeakers and was chomping at the bit to get them settled into a deck.

It occurred to me that the +1 ability to untap lands works well with Ravnica bounce lands (e.g Simic Growth Chamber) or lands with Fertile Ground type cards on them. I have always had my eye on Utopia Sprawl because it is a cheap and effective way of casting a Turn 2 Woolly Thoctar (before I obtained Birds of Paradise!) .

So I weighed in on the aura-land theme with Arbor Elf and Garruk ramping us quickly into some big threats…

The Decklist:

16 Forest
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
Arbor Elf
Overgrown Battlement
Wall of Blossoms
Utopia Sprawl
Wild growth
Dreamstone Hedron
Gilded Lotus
Kozilek, Butcher of Truth
Wolfbriar Elemental
Crush of Wurms
Garruk Wildspeaker

A pretty typical start is to go:

Turn 1: Forest & Arbor Elf
Turn 2: Forest & Utopia Sprawl on untapped Forest. Tap for 2 mana, untap with Arbor Elf and tap for 2 more. Cast Garruk Wildspeaker and untap both lands. Cast Overgrown Battlement and Wild Growth on the Utopia land.
Turn 3: Untap, make a land drop (or not) and have access to 12+ mana

Garruk Wildspeaker card

I have split the mana ramp across a few different kind of permanents. We have Artifacts, Planeswalkers, Creatures and Enchantments providing our mana boosts. Voltroning up on a single land is dangerous if your opponent is playing Acidic Slime, and so we need to spread the wealth in that situation.

A Wrath of God may catch Arbor Elf and Overgrown Battlement but Garruk, our Utopia land and Gilded Lotus will survive. This diversity helps keep the deck more resilient.

Wall of Blossoms AKA “Wall of Awesomes” is one of the few certified Walls of Magic. This is because it replaces itself with a card, as well as providing a pseudo life gain from preventing futile attacks. It pairs well with Nykthos by adding to devotion, and with Overgrown Battlement by adding to the defender count. Earning it’s keep!

There are thirteen card’s in the deck that draw us cards, which helps us burn through our deck and avoid flooding. Six of these cards are ‘draw 3’s and three are ‘draw 4’s – they ain’t no slackers! A turn 2 Harmonize is another relatively common play off Arbor Elf + aura’d land.

None of these things will kill them though. Actually, Kozilek, Butcher of Truth is one of the card draw resources I just mentioned, and it does it’s fair share of killing. It ticks all boxes as something you would want to ramp into; It’s massive, a must kill threat, restocks your hand and even provides your deck protection against milling.

The rest of the gang of heavy hitters are Wolfbriar Elemental and Crush of Wurms. The elemental was partially the other reason the deck came into fruition.

The power and toughness per mana investment is always above curve for Wolfbriar, but it is a very green hungry card. It presents your opponent with a “Wrath the board, or die” situation. With Garruk’s Overrun ultimate you can make sure that combat is not even close, even if your opponent has a couple of roadblocks and some life gain.

Shrine NythosCrush of Wurms may seem like an under-powered choice of card to ramp into at first, but hear me out. We don’t want to play one massive threat that can be 1 for 1’d by a Doom Blade.

This splits our threat into three, and makes an impressive total power of 18. Flackback means that we have a second chance if the first attempt gets countered or the wurms get wrathed.

I urge you to try this deck out, it is so much fun! Not many changes have occurred since the original line up either. Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre and Kozilek, Butcher of Truth were both two of’s and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx were Axebane Guardians.

I found that Ulamog is un-answerable for a lot of decks. This meant that the deck had a very un-climactic finish of “Oh, I can’t do anything about that. Scoop!”.

Seeing as I want the games to to be at least semi-fun, I took them out and replaced them with a third Kozilek and a fourth Crush of Wurms.

The Axebane Guardian two-of slot was also changing between things like Regrowth and Overgrowth. I’m happiest now that I have Nykthos in this slot – the interaction between it an Garruk is quite impressive.


Last Stand Edit

Revolving around Last Stand, this deck is a slow but powerful burner. Originally dubbed “Plane Pain” by one of my friends due to it having a handful of Planeswalkers at the time, and because it caused PAIN!

When unsure of what deck to bring to a gunfight, this right here is a safe bet. With Damnations and cantrip’y creatures like Solemn Simulacrum and Etched Oracle you should be able to stay alive to fire off a game winning turn.

In a sense, this is what my Domain deck of old eventually evolved into. I had disregarded Last Stand back then as it would have had very little impact with only one basic land of each type. During May 2008 Shadowmoor had the decency to print Prismatic Omen.


The decklist:

Forest (0)

Godless Shrine (2)

Misty Rainforest (0)

Mountain (4)
Overgrown Tomb

Plains (0)

Scalding Tarn (0)

Stomping Ground (0)

Swamp (0)

Temple Garden (2)
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Watery Grave (8)
Search for Tomorrow

Demonic Tutor (29)
Prismatic Omen
Solemn Simulacrum
Etched Oracle
Beseech the Queen
Abrupt Decay
Last Stand
Pact of Negation
Primeval Titan
Sorin Markov

This deck lulls the opponent into a false sense of security before draining them for 20 life with a massive Last Stand boosted by Prismatic Omen. Everything up to that point is setup and shuffling. Prismatic Omen’s effect also makes Last Stand boost our life total and draws us into our next Last Stand. This deck may just be an excuse to use and abuse Etched Oracle, and I am fine with that. Etched Oracle and Solemn Simulacrum smooth out even the most awkward draws while blocking at the same time.

Prismatic OmenUrborg, Tomb of Urborg is a more resilient method of ensuring our Last Stands remain over-powered. People go after Prismatic Omen like a demon possessed, and right they should.

Sorin Markov plays and important role as an alternative win condition (in a pinch) but more often to reset someone’s life total to 10 so that an underpowered Last Stand can mop them up.

The miser Abrupt Decay is tutor-able to dispose of unwanted artifacts or enchantments, like a Detention Sphere on our Prismatic Omen. 

I recently altered the deck to incorporate Ravnica shock lands as they net better results for Last Stand’s not backed up by Prismatic Omen or Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. The balance of shock-lands, fetch’s and basics still needs tweaking, but I think the benefit is worth it.

The old version of the deck played my beloved Sakura-Tribe Elder in place of Farseek and  Liliana Vess instead of Primeval Titan.

Seeing as we really need our Last Stand’s to stick it feels best to protect any interference with a straight up counter-spell. It seems unlikely that we will have that much spare mana during that turn, so it is convenient that Pact of Negation is free! I did use to play Delay in this spot because I needed a cheap, straight up counter-spell but could not afford a double blue mana cost. With the improved mana base, we can splash out on the powerful denier that is the Pact.

The copies I play of Damnation are the full art textless Foil versions. What is really annoying is that due to the warping effect foiling can have, they often clump together when shuffling. First world problems right?


Till next time nerds!


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