Kick ’em to the Keranos – Grixis with Dave Shedden
Before we get started, let’s tackle the Elephant in the room.
I’m here to tell you it’s OK and, hopefully, to lift your spirits.
How, you ask? Why, the unifying sparkle of Spoiler Season, of course!
Santa comes but four times a year
It’s widely accepted that the Magic community is a rare and lucky demographic.
Firstly – and obviously – we are united by the greatest game ever devised; but secondly, we get to enjoy a sensation of innocent, giddy excitement (which most people associate only with the Christmases of their childhood) on a quarterly basis… and for days at a time.
Waking up each morning in the knowledge that, out there on the internet, someone is unveiling new and amazing cards feels phenomenal. A proportion of the new treasures may ultimately disappoint, but within the glow of spoiler season, optimism reigns.
Could I make this work? I could make this work!
Theros block has presented a somewhat unique spoiler experience for me. Ordinarily, I have few fixed ideas about what a set might contain before it’s revealed; this time, we’ve been presented with an epic cycle of cards – the Gods – which built up our expectations in a particular direction whilst simultaneously keeping us guessing over the details.
I had a lot invested in the Gods of Journey into Nyx – or rather, one particular God. Allow me to explain.
Don’t kick a Grixian while he’s down
It’s no secret where my Magical loyalties lie. My colours have been nailed to the mast for a very long time – colours I share with Nicol Bolas, Thraximundar and a host of other uber-cool bad guys from Magic’s mythology.
This in mind, I was hugely excited to learn that Born of the Gods would contain two Grixian Gods: Mogis and Phenax.
Excited until I saw their actual text boxes, of course.
An awkward punisher card and the latest in a long line of dreary milling effects? Give me a break! We used to get work done in these colours, folks. We used to wreck hands, tear down life totals and instigate painful sacrifices – and that ain’t the half of it.
Dejected, I trudged onward, kept afloat only by the promise of the last, unrevealed member of the indestructible Grixis enchantments club: Keranos, God of Storms.
Could he heal my broken heart?
Just look at this fella. There are a few reasons I’m so pumped for the God of Storms. Here’s the highlight reel:
#1: He’s spell-friendly.
Blue and Red (AKA Izzet) are, in combination, the traditional ‘spell’ colours. Much of their power is centred on Instants, Sorceries and permanents which interact favourably with them.
For this reason, the Izzet God was destined to be inherently weaker than the others as a Devotion card. That mechanic is hungry for permanents; the colour combination pushes players away from them. In order for Keranos to succeed, he was going to require powerful abilities which didn’t rely on his becoming a creature.
Well, we got there, folks.
Drawing an extra card a turn is a superb effect for any deck, but it’s particularly valuable in the kind of controlling strategies beloved of Izzet players, which look to neutralize opposing decks and win by amassing long-game advantages.
Similarly, a free Lightning Bolt each turn is a powerful ability for a deck focussed on wearing away opposing armies and/or life totals.
#2: He doesn’t need to ‘wake up’ to be good.
There is another enchantment in Standard which costs 5 mana, does nothing on the turn it arrives, and creates an inexorable advantage which eventually wins the game.
When Assemble was printed, it was widely considered too slow to impact on Constructed play.
It takes ages to get going, internet sages moaned. It doesn’t even do anything the turn you play it!
If there’s one thing our subsequent experiences have taught us, it’s that there are cards powerful enough to be worth waiting for – provided your deck is set up to wait.
I see Keranos as occupying a similar kind of slot in the cardpool. It’s plain to see that, once he gets going, he’s all upside. We just have to be prepared to get him moving. My podcasting crony, Paul, put it best when he described the gods of Theros as lethargic, “…needing a coffee to get the day started.”
I would happily build a deck around Keranos in which he was simply an indestructible enchantment. In fact, given that there are an increasing number of ways to despatch Gods once they wake up – I’m looking at you, Silence the Believers – it might actually be safer never to turn his devotion on.
#3: He love-love-LOVES scrying
Keranos’ ability offers value every turn, but there’s an element of uncertainty. No matter the situation, there will always be a mode which you’d prefer to get – there’s just no guarantee it will materialise.
You know what’s a really great way to mitigate that uncertainty? Manipulating the top of your library.
You know what’s a really great way to manipulate the top of your library? Scrying.
I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.
Helping the Storm God to shine
We have our Captain – but who deserves a slot on his team?
Let’s begin with some basic principles.
I want to scry a lot in this deck, to maximise my control over Keranos’ ability. For that reason, I’m going to want a large number of temples. This is the perfect excuse to ‘go Grixis’ and load up on the full 12.
A dozen lands which hit play tapped mean that we are going to be slow out of the gates. We’re going to need cards which enable us to compete even when we’re behind on mana: cheap, efficient spells which provide a catch-up mechanism against faster aggro decks (which will probably become more popular and diverse with the arrival of Mana Confluence), but also do work against slower strategies.
While it’s an expensive and ubiquitous card, there are damn good reasons why that’s the case. Stripping an opponent of the card which could finish you off before you get into your rhythm, or cutting off the late-game trump they hope to ride to eventual victory… both of these are good things. Since we’re lagging a turn behind on mana, we need that kind of power to even the odds.
I’d also like some cheap removal – the kind I can cast to stem the tide of damage, but ideally something that will still be useful later. That opens me up to another Journey into Nyx card…
Spite of Mogis is a card I’m not sure about yet, but which clearly has the potential to be a bit nutty. While it’s not going to do anything on Turn 1, it will work nicely with our other one-mana spells, becoming a reliable Shock or Lightning Bolt by turn 3. If I can successfully stretch out the game, I expect Spite to turn into a Flame Slash or better with great regularity.
I don’t want lots of these, since when they’re dead they’re absolutely miserable, but I’ll certainly pop a couple into the list to try them out.
I’ll pair them up with a couple of regular Shocks, to ensure I’ve got an absolutely dependable alternative – and some Quickens, for those instant-speed blowout moments. The blue cantrip also plays nicely with some of the other sorceries I plan to include.
The next one I have in mind is Dreadbore. Folks play a lot of Creatures and Planeswalkers these days; I’d rather not die to them.
While Dreadbore has an instant speed analog, in Hero’s Downfall, I definitely prefer the sorcery in this deck. I think that, in our 3-colour monstrosity which has early plays in each colour, it will be easier to come by BR than BB much of the time; I also think that our Temple-focused manabase pushes us toward the cheaper option rather than the more flexible one – it could be turn 4 before we can cast a Downfall, by which point an early threat might have chomped up rather more of our life total than we would ideally like.
While we’re in Rakdos colours, I’m going to skip up the curve and select the guild’s most famous high-end spell: Rakdos’s Return. This spell does a lot of heavy lifting in Standard these days; I see it as a means to wipe opponents out in the midgame, or apply the finishing touch after a couple of Keranos-bolts to the face later on.
We have quite a mix of cards on the table already, with only so many spaces in the deck… but I’m not worried. One of the benefits of playing a heavy-scry deck with decent card drawing is that we can afford to run lots of single and double-copy spells, rather than the full four of everything. We’ll still have a good chance to pull the spells we need in any given situation, because our overall card-flow will be excellent.
With that in mind, I’m going to throw in a few more single copy spells just to give us outs to situations which might otherwise be difficult.
Nobody expects the singleton Psychic Strike. NOBODY.
Now, despite my earlier musings, I’d still like to find space for some permanents in the deck which could contribute Devotion to Keranos. I don’t need many, but a few useful cards which give me an outside chance of waking the big guy up would provide the deck with an extra dimension.
These cards are all powerful in the right situation, have nice interactions with Keranos, and kick in a couple of mana symbols each. I’ll be running some mix of them as a 3-5 card package.
This will be slightly more controversial. In the last Standard format, Augur of Bolas was a popular control card which shared many of Omenspeaker’s attributes – but crucially, it provided card advantage a reasonable majority of the time.
Omenspeaker will never net raw card advantage. However, it will fill some important holes for this deck.
#1: Improve card selection and set up Keranos
Scrying gets better the more of it you have. Omenspeaker will help us ensure we have the right card on top at the right time.
#2: Brick wall small aggro creatures
If I’m right – and Journey into Nyx promotes aggro strategies – this will be a very relevant point. I played a deck with Omenspeaker late last year and it shone against the Boros aggro decks which were circulating at the time. They ran a large number of X/1 troops – and I think we can look forward to a similar pattern emerging in the Black or Rakdos attack decks of the near future.
#3: Chip in some Devotion
Hey, every little helps, right?
What it all looks like
This deck looks a little fragmented, I grant you, but I want to experiment.
I’m interested to see just how far our scrying power will go in smoothing out draws, so I’m including as wide a variety of effects as possible; as the deck plays out, I’ll start to understand where it needs more consistency, which cards are performing or underperforming, and make changes accordingly. I’ve included Elixir specifically to ensure that, should we need to, we can have more than one bite at the cherry with our singleton effects.
Of course, it’s possible that this is a little durdly for your tastes…
Dammit, Dave, I need something FOCUSSED
Alright, alright – keep your hair on.
If Keranos has another natural home, I think it might well be in another flavour of ‘spell-friendly’ deck: the Young Pyromancer strategy.
Next week, I’ll be back to talk all things Pyromancer – and to work out whether ‘Big Kerry’ has what it takes to play a part in making the deck a contender post-Journey into Nyx.
Until then, Planeswalkers, keep living the Grixis deckbuilder’s mantra: brew straight, brew true, brew Black-Red-Blue.
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