Hello again, Planeswalkers. I am not dead.
Instead, a healthy dose of ‘real life stuff‘ has forced me into a period of semi-retirement. Such things are tough to avoid – but as most of us know, it only takes one special thing to rouse a dormant Magic player.
Well, now. What are we to make of this?…
Context is everything
My first observation is that if I were a sorcery-speed X-spell seeking employment, this would be the ideal time to enter the labour market.
For the last two years, nothing has been able to reasonably compete with Revelation in the scalable spells department; even Rakdos’s Return, a truly brutal and game-winning effect, has been overshadowed in a Standard format where the opponent could always just top-deck a ‘Rev’.
Without that high, established bar, Villainous Wealth looks much more exciting than it otherwise might have; brewers everywhere are free to explore the limits of its power in a shiny new format.
Of course, we don’t know everything about that new format yet… but if you’re reading this article, the chances are that you have the brewing bug in a very bad way and couldn’t care less about uncertainty. So let’s get down to it, shall we?
Why is it interesting?
Villainous Wealth has several things going for it:
Let’s address the first item, Card Advantage. How many usable spells are we going to flip – and cast – from this thing? I warn you, some pretty big and blurry assumptions are incoming:
Let’s assume that:
- The average deck has 24 lands, 36 spells
- 70% of those spells fall in the 2-4 mana range
- The numbers at 2, 3 and 4 CMC breakdown roughly evenly
If these (big) guesses are correct, every mana that you pump into X has a basic 60% chance of flipping a spell.
- Factor in hitting the 2-4 mana ‘sweet spot’ and your chance of revealing a castable spell with each flip becomes 42%
- If you pay for lesser numbers, your probabilities drop further:
So, back to our example: if you fire off a Villainous Wealth for X=4, our numbers say that you’re odds-on to flip 1 or 2 spells that you can cast. That alone doesn’t seem a great deal for 7 mana.
This brings us to our next point: Mana Advantage.
It looks like a 7 mana investment will only ‘draw’ us two cards from our opponent’s deck – but we get to cast them for free, too. How good does our flip have to be to repay us?
Cards will have different value based on the game state, but I can say that I’d probably feel OK about grabbing a Caryatid and a Courser, while I’d be ecstatic to snag Xenagos and a Knucklebade. If I get 5-6 mana worth of useful spells, that’s a decent return for what I paid… although it’s still not the kind of outrageous situation that makes me want to slam together a deck (more on this later).
How does Reducing Threat Density play into the equation?
It’s nice to have, certainly – every Xenagos we acquire is another one our opponent can’t draw – but chipping away at our opponent’s threats is marginal at the level we’re talking about. It’s the kind of bonus that needs a critical mass to become relevant, and X=4 is not going to get us there.
Lastly, what about Milling?
Milling 4 cards is broadly irrelevant. It won’t affect the outcome of a game in all but the most extreme corner cases.
So, for the princely sum of 7 mana, Villainous Wealth promises me a Divination from my opponent’s deck which puts spells straight onto the stack and comes with a couple of incredibly marginal benefits.
Remind me why I was excited by this card again?
Because we can GO BIG, Dave
If Villainous Wealth doesn’t sound appealing at 7 mana, that’s because it was not designed for such paltry things.
Excalibur doesn’t sound great for chopping onions, but that’s because it was FORGED TO SLAY THE DEVIL HIMSELF.
We need to go BIG. What would happen to our example if X went from 4 to…10?
- It would flip 6 free spells on average.
- It would ensure that everything from Soldier of the Pantheon to In Garruk’s Wake was a useful reveal.
- It would give us 18 mana worth of spell value, if the average CMC revealed is 3
- It would end the game in spectacular fashion, 95% of the time
This sounds different. This sounds like a dream worth building a deck for.
Best of ‘Biggest’
There are a handful of established ways to power up our manabases in the new Standard, most of which emerge from the very mana-friendly Theros block. Luckily for us, they all seem to fit nicely together in our deck.
Everyone knows the tag-team; they were utterly dominant in Block and are the baseline for non-aggro strategies as Khans of Tarkir becomes legal. Not only do they bring us the colours of mana we require and help us hit land drops with greater consistency, they put the brakes on aggressive opponents. If I proposed a ramp strategy that didn’t include them, I’d be guilty of both poor judgement and remarkable contrariness.
Another marvellous way to churn out mana, Nykthos (the latter-day Tolarian Academy) asks only that we find mana symbols on the battlefield to do its explosive work. In a world where the Tag Team are auto-includes, I’m fairly sure we can oblige.
Oh, and Nykthos has chums: some mix of followers and satyrs will give us a consistent expectation of using Nykthos twice in a turn – crucial if we’re to generate seriously large Villainous Wealth events.
Nissa untaps forests, of which I believe our deck will have an admittedly limited supply – but she’s also a superb win condition. I reckon I’d be crazy not to include her, even if only as a singleton. Kiora is a quintessential Ramp Planeswalker, with the capacity to start churning out Krakens if required.
Last of all, we have the most…’out there’ of the options. Dictate hasn’t yet caught on, but I think this could be the deck for it: it offers us a huge increase in power, with a nice little built-in surprise factor.
A little support
While the meat of this deck is a fairly well-established ramp shell, we can’t simply build up our mana and hope to hit a Villainous Wealth, which then resolves unmolested. We need some interactive elements to help the medicine go down.
The best possible play before a large Villainous Wealth is the most efficient, proactive countermeasure in the format: Thoughtseize. Take that counterspell and place it delicately in the bin, thank-you-very-much.
We won’t have space to run a huge number of removal spells, but it’s critical that we have access to pinpoint elimination. The fact that our new pal, Sultai Charm can hit multiple permanent types and dig us toward Villainous Wealth is simply gravy.
Finally, a dash of impressive card selection. The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that I didn’t include Murderous Cut in our removal suite; while it’s a very strong spell, I wanted to save our delve fodder for Dig through Time.
In decks like this one, which is set up to assemble a combination of ramp and one ‘business’ card, whilst disrupting the opponent’s gameplan with a thin layer of answers… let’s say that I believe Dig will help us get exactly what we need with surprising consistency.
We have our ingredients – now, to the cauldron!
There are a few observations I feel obliged to make.
Firstly, I only have three fetchlands – incorporating a split between two different cards – because in Sultai, I don’t have overlapping fetches as I would if building for Grixis, or Esper. Furthermore, my two Windswept Heaths can only grab one of my five forests. Despite these limitations, I think it’s still worth having them, because of the contribution they make to filling my graveyard (for Dig through Time) and regulating my draws (in concert with Courser of Kruphix).
Next, I don’t have the same number of devotion generators as more dedicated Nykthos decks: there’s nary an Arbor Colossus to be seen around here, for instance. That’s something that I’m aware of and, given time and games, it might turn out that committing to the Dictate of Karametra direction is more appropriate.
Nissa looks slightly lonely in here with only 6 (virtual) forests in the deck. It might not turn out to be the deck for her, but she’s so effective at bringing pain with 4/4 lands that I want to give her a whirl; if she doesn’t work out, I’ll likely replace her with the final copy of Kiora.
Our deck doesn’t put an outrageous number of cards into the graveyard for Dig through Time, but I’m OK about that for now. Our mana production is excellent, so it may be that we can get away with paying closer to retail for such a powerful card selection spell.
Thanks to the power of Scry-lands, the Courser/Fetch synergy and our copies of Dig through Time, I think we can get away with only including 3 of our signature spell in the list. We’ll see a good deal of cards over the course of the average game – and I trust that this will be enough to deliver us a Villainous Wealth which we can transform into a game-winning advantage.
Of course, it’s all theory
…for now, at least. But the feeling of standing on the frontier of an undiscovered country is what makes post-rotation Standard so exciting.
Brewers of the world, we’ve hardly begun to play with Khans; enjoy these first few, wild-west weeks for the festival of creativity that they inevitably are. If that involves building a deck like this one, taking it to FNM and sending Manaleak.com (info@Manaleak.com) your photos of what you flipped for an X=17… so be it.
Join me next time, when I discuss the only way to manage the boredom of awaiting the rotation on MTGO: total, utter silliness.