Wednesday 7 March 2012

Heads Up Cube Deck Analysis: Necro

Good old Necro. A deck I love but don't do very often as the build doesn't vary all that much. I dug a few classic cards out of the B cube for this version and had a few others from the B cube I wanted to play such as Contagion and Unmask as free spells are the best when you have near unlimited card draw. Having only one copy of the key card Necropotence I played Dark Confidant as well which made me reluctant to play low impact high mana spells and so left the pitch spells out. Necropotence is a deck that cares about its life total far more than any other deck as each point is a far more valuable resource. Every life you lose is one less card you can draw. This makes Confidant quite an inefficient tool to obtain card advantage in Necro and not a card I would always play by any means. In this particular build he fits quite well due to the low curve and decent life gain. I am a fan of cards in black that will effectively cycle for one or two mana as black has a hard time playing the right amount of lands and consistently hitting the ones it needs early while avoiding too many floods.

24 spells

Crome Mox
Zuran Orb

Dark Ritual
Vampiric Tutor
Tragic Slip
Inquisition of Kozilek
Cabal Therapy
Ivory Tower

Hymn to Tourach
Demonic Tutor

Vampire Hexmage
Dark Confidant
Black Cat
Nantuko Shade

Yawgmoth's Will
Liliana of the Veil
Vampire Nighthawk

Nevinyrral's Disk
Abyssal Persecutor
Death Cloud

16 land

Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Hymn to TourachLake of the Dead
Volrath's Stronghold
Barren Moor
12 Swamp

Other considered cards:

Mishra's Factory
Hypnotic Specter
Mind Twist
Innocent Blood

Necro is a deck that is not always appreciated for how it should play. While it is not as misunderstood as red deck wins it is also far less played, both in competitive magic and the cube, meaning people on the whole are less familiar with it. Necro is not a quick deck despite the very low curve. Necro itself gives all your draws a kind of summoning sickness by giving you them at the end of your turn which makes you very slow to respond to things. The curve is kept low so that when you are in necro mode you are able to take full advantage of the ability to draw lots of cards fast. If you continue to curve out after a Necropotence is down you would be better off with Phyrexian Arena. Assuming you play one land and one card a turn thus getting through a total of two cards the Arena will cost you less life, is easier to cast and gets you your cards sooner than a Necro would. Cheap cards allows you to play multiples every turn and then usefully draw three or four new cards and repeat next turn.

Ivory TowerThe components of a Necro deck are cheap threats that can be effective on their own, life gain, answer cards and cheap disruption. The selection of spells are often counter intuitive such as both land destruction and hand destruction or life gain and cheap threats. Necro is all about efficiency but of all different kinds at once. It is an opportunists deck that will be able to take advantage of situations easily. It can snatch the early tempo from a player due to cheap threats and disruption combined with some acceleration. Other times it will play like a draw go control deck keeping the situation calm with answer spells waiting for the right time to pounce. Necro has to be able to retain the tempo as it cannot afford the life loss that is likely to come with losing it. It prefers to not extend too much in any area so as to avoid losing too much all at once. This can be OK with Necro in play but if not then it is ruinous. Generally a necro deck will lay very few guys down, generally just one and try to use removal and disruption to keep the tempo.

I was playing against blue white control and red deck wins, the latter of which is a scary match up and the former makes relying on Necropotence resolving a difficult strategy. I didn't do much however in the way of solving these problems or playing cards that are really good against either match up. Three life gain effects is quite a lot but Nighthawk doesn't often count as one against red deck wins as it is killed on sight and Ivory Tower (from the B cube) generally needs you to throw tempo in the toilet or have a Necropotence in play to be effective. Zuran Orb I pretty much always use to accompany Necropotence, its the best life gain spell for starts, beyond that it is cheap as with most of your spells and so using it isn't as damaging as it is for many decks.

Lake of the DeadTo help resolve my Necropotence, which is basically game over for a blue white control deck, I played three targetted discard spells and two tutor effects. Thoughtseize is not any good against red deck wins and the two life cost in general equates to two less cards later so it did not make the cut however Vampiric Tutor I felt did warrant the life cost. If you don't have a Necropotence the two life is pretty irrelevant, I also figured I would definitely still want to play Necropotence even if  I had to Vampiric to get it. I also had a Yawgmoth's Will as a kind of security, primarily for the Necropotence but also many of the important effects I would otherwise have only one use of in the course of a game. Will is very much a late game card in this deck and a likely Mox target in opening hands. The burst mana from Lake of the Dead and Dark Ritual combined with a very cheap curve make the already powerful card too good to not play despite offering some redundancy on your effects.

Lake of the Dead was rather a high risk luxury card that, other than Death Cloud, had nothing to ramp in to. I wanted the ability to have really powerful turns that could totally swing the game which Lake offers but only effectively in the mid to late game. Essentially I was playing Lake as a Dark Ritual that is of little or no use early in the game. Without Will it is completely unplayable in this build and possibly not worth it any way, lots of fun though!

Nevinyrral's Disk
Nevinyrral's Disk is a classic Necro card used for its ability to basically reset the board, deal with the permanent types black cannot other cope with and remove the Necropotence from play to resume a draw step after having refilled your had. Disk is a bit slow and expensive and has become worse since the arrival of planeswalkers but it is necessary in this deck in which it is at its best.

I never made use of Volrath's Stronghold and would have preferred a man land in hindsight. Playing even one colourless land can be real pain with both double and triple black cards you want to be casting and so the basic swamp might have been optimal. While it didn't help me it also didn't screw me which was something at least.

I have not done a proper Necro deck since Liliana donned a Veil and became good. She seems to fit the theme of the deck as a cheap threat that hits creatures or hands and was pretty decent. Thinking on it now she probably took the slot normally filled by Mind Twist (another card the makes Lake of the Dead lots better). While Mind Twist will outright win games here and there it will also be a dead draw too, it does just one thing that is done well too by other cards in the deck. Liliana is a much more robust card that can be just as game winning despite being a lot slower and faced with that choice again it will be pretty easy.

Nantuko Shade
Nantuko Shade was another B cube card I brought back for this deck. The card is not the power house it once was nor is it much good against red deck wins but it fits the bill where so many others fail. Cheap good black monsters that have impact late game are hard to come by. Black also has trouble efficiently making use of all its available mana from turn to turn. The Shade is a fantastic mana dump, a late game finisher and an early game speed bump. At two mana or less it is Shade, Nezumi Graverobber or the weak attempts at black levelling monsters for filling these roles. Shade is both the most powerful (being a mono black deck) and the coolest.

The other dorks I played but have not mentioned were the speed bump disruption cards; Black Cat and Vampire Hexmage and the pure finisher Abyssal Persecutor. Without some stand alone big guy there was every chance I would never get round to killing people and would let them back into the game after gaining complete control and card advantage. In terms of bigness to cheapness without life loss penalties the Persecutor is the best going and was very good in the games I played. Black Cat has continued to impress since its recent addition to the cube and was good in both match ups. Black has very few monsters that can block but that you don't want to kill. Often Solemn Simulacrum is recruited to fulfil this useful speed bump role but at 4 mana he is a bit unpleasant for this deck. The cat provides excellent Cabal Therapy fodder and nasty trades for their early attackers. Vampire Hexmage is the fourth 2 mana dork with one toughness which are pretty bad, particularly against red decks however there is redundancy in vulnerability too. I can only eat so many Fire (/Ice) or Arc Trails before monsters start to stick around and get good trades. Black doesn't have much else to offer in the two slot that is tough and good so we accept this and carry on as best we can. Assuming it dodges the Lava Darts etc Hexmage is the best blocker I have in the deck at two or less.  His disruption is useful here and there but primarily he was in the deck as planewalker removal as I don't have a huge creature presence nor any other way to deal with planeswalkers once being cast.

I find it hard to play black decks without Death Cloud cause it is just so good. It doesn't have the best synergy with Necro but not the worst either however I felt the deck lacked much actual power. Death Cloud can bring you back into a game you are stupidly far behind in, far more so than Disk can, but it can also decisively end games which can be tricky in a threat light cheap deck.

I did have another deck along side this but I spend so long working out what this deck needed to round it out perfectly, which turned out to be the Barren Moor, that I threw my second deck together really quickly. Consequently it was ugly and bad and an example only of how decks should not be. It was a four colour Opposition deck that will not be getting a feature, or even a list.

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