Thran Utopia #2: Sisters of Life and Death

The moment I spotted Glissa, the Traitor on the visual spoiler, I was sold. My weakness for all things legendary combined with my instinctual inclination towards card-advantage to take over my thoughts. Glissa was going to be the latest in a long line of decks around legendary cards I’ve built and there was nothing in the world that was going to stop me, not even me. Today I’ll take you along on the journey from The Pile of Possibilities to sixty cards.

The Pile Of Possibilities

Say what now? A ‘pile of possibilities’? This is how me and my friends jokingly refer to the huge number of cards we want to cram into a deck whenever we cook us up some new deck idea. When I am going to make a deck, I usually write down a lot of cards that could work out in the deck I am trying to build. I usually combine this with a search through some of my cards, pulling out every card that seems worthwhile. This creates a pretty big stack of cards: The Pile Of Possibilities. (One day I’ll delve deeper into how exactly I build the PoP.)

My PoP for Glissa’s deck was huge, I think about twohundred cards, not counting lands. That’s fifty playsets, way too much for anyone looking to build a sixty card-deck. I grouped them together in a few categories, making the first few cuts there and working my way to the first draft of a deck.

The core cards

This deck’s core consists, ofcourse of Glissa, the Traitor. I want to build this deck in such a way that it doesn’t rely entirely on Glissa, yet it can go bonkers with her. This is why I’d like to start with four Glissa, even though I’m gonna have ways to find her.

I envision Glissa working in tandem with a trio of cards, all of which are great with Glissa, but can work without Glissa too. First up is Tainted Æther, a long-forgotten Urza’s Saga-rare that forces a player to sacrifice a creature or land whenever a creature enters the battlefield under his or her control. Note that it doesn’t say ‘cast’, which means a card like Forbidden Orchard presents a tough dilemma for your opponent: you can sac the token, but then I get something back with Glissa. Sac a land and deny me an artifact, but deny yourself one mana in the process. As a player who tries to not annoy his opponents, this interaction seems perfect to me.

The other two cards of Glissa’s unholy trifecta are Jinxed Idol and Attrition. Attrition is a machine gun with Glissa, costing one mana plus the cost of whatever creature you’re recurring. Jinxed Idol forces your opponents to sacrifice creatures to prevent two damage and give you the Idol back. But if you have Glissa out, this means you get back Idol-fuel whenever your opponent attempts to hand it to you. Glissa and her three minion cards form the core of this deck.

Considered but not chosen: Mortician BeetleBraids, Cabal MinionPiston SledgeMind SlashSylvok Lifestaff

The bodies

A deck that runs a sacrificial engine needs bodies to throw into the fire. Since I lack resources to find goats and cultists, I have to make do with cards.

Remember what I said about Attrition, costing one black plus the mana cost of the artifact you’re recurring? Well, with Memnite, that cost remains just one measly black mana. While he doesn’t do anything special, the other cards here do. Myr Retriever serves as a Treasure Hunter when he dies, Perilous Myr deals out a Shock upon death, and Myr Sire makes a token as if he never left in the first place. While they are ideal with a sacrifice outlet, they are also good roadblocks against aggressive decks, especially the Perilous Myr and Myr Sire.

Considered but not chosen: Ichor WellspringChromatic Star

Draw and search

Initially I wanted to run Beseech the Queen, since most of the cards I’d want where low-cost (you’ll see later that Tainted Æther is the only card that costs more than three mana). Then I realised that if I’d be willing to make the concession to only be able to fetch creatures, I could play the single most synergistic card for this deck: Fauna Shaman!

Sure, she can’t pick up an Idol, Attrition, or Æther. But that’s it! She can find Glissa when I don’t have her, and she can fetch creatures for full profit when Glissa is active, because Glissa just gets whatever you discarded right back! Plus, Fauna Shaman just all but spells out ‘toolbox’, and if anything can get me excited, a toolbox is. Basically, Trinket Mage is my favorite creature ever, since it combines my undying love for card advantage with my toolbox flirtations.

With the engine set in place, I figured I wouldn’t need much more draw and tutoring. If I have the place in the deck, I’ll try to squeeze in a couple of Primal Commands, since they supplement the Fauna Shamans just fine. Other than that, I think the recursion in the deck doesn’t need more drawing and such.

Considered but not chosen: Primal CommandProfane CommandHarmonize

The department of removing creatures and other nuisances

Especially in a metagame like mine, I value creature removal highly. I want my deck to be playable against multiple opponents as well, so then creature removal becomes even more valuable. As discussed above, I already have Attrition and Perilous Myr working in this department. This means I won’t need much more. Obviously, Executioner’s Capsule gets a firm nod. E-Cap is Attrition all by itself, but that means I can’t sacrifice my own creatures. Since I want to, I won’t let go of Attrition, nor E-Cap. Both have their uses. I have Gatekeeper of Malakir on my list too, but he’ll be a silver bullet at best, to remove pesky black creatures with toughness above two.

For noncreature removal, I want the tutorable singleton Sylvok Replica. While he’s not that good as Viridian Zealot in the abstract, I like having defensive cards that help me reach the endgame. I don’t have to mention what his being an artifact does in this deck, either.

When all else fails, I want a few Ratchet Bombs acting as safety buttons. While slow, they can bring down ‘walkers. Plus, they are naturally good against small hordes and brutal against token strategies.

Considered but not chosen: Moonglove ExtractAeolipileShriekmaw

The secret plan

The last part of the deck will be my so-called secret plan, originating from the question ‘what do I do with all the cards I get back during another player’s turn?’. Well, play ’em! And with Shimmer Myr, I can. From there, Painsmith was just a stone’s throw away. Painsmith in play and three mana open means no opponent can attack without fear of getting blown out by any deathtouching body. The question is, how many slots can I devote to this ‘combo’, and is it even necessary?

Let’s build, shall we

If you’ve been counting along, starting with four of everything except the singletons, we have:

8 zero to one mana-spells
28 two mana-spells (counting Gatekeeper as a three-drop)
14 three mana-spells
4 four-mana spells
54 spells total

That’s a lot, I’d say, but to be honest, I expected more. Great!

At zero and one, I’m willing to cut one E-Cap (53). At two mana, I will cut the Myr Retrievers down to one (50), since what he does is mostly Glissa’s job. I should mention here that I’m looking at running twenty-three lands. Usually I start at 24 and move up or down, based on the mana-needs of the deck. For this deck, I went down to 23. This means that I need to cut 17 more spells.

I definitely want the four Myr Sires, since the replacement of his body when he dies is invaluable in a deck filled with sacrifice effects. Myr Sire and two black mana take down two creatures with Attrition, for example. I don’t want to touch the four Shamans, but I’ll remove one Painsmith (49) and two Perilous Myrs (47) for now. Also, one each of Ratchet Bomb and Jinxed Idol can leave, leaving me at (45). Good, eight to go.

Three mana: not a lot to trim here. I want to keep Gatekeeper and Sylvok Replica als Fauna Shaman-targets and Glissa as a four-of. Attrition and Shimmer Myr are a bit less set in stone. Let’s try reducing Shimmer Myr to a one-of (42); his threat is worth more than those extra slots. Plus, with Glissa, an opponent is never safe from him. I think Attrition can lose one slot too (41), since Jinxed Idol and Tainted Æther will do the heavy lifting in keeping the board clear. On that subject, Tainted Æther will definitely be a four-of. Let’s reexamine the curve:

7 zero to one mana-spells
20 two mana-spells (counting Gatekeeper as a three-drop)
10 three mana-spells
4 four-mana spells
41 spells total

Four slots left. Looking back, I guess the whole Painsmith-idea is too cute, so I’ll relegate that to just one copy (39); Fauna Shaman gives me that luxury. Now I’ll just eject one Memnite from the deck and one Ratchet Bomb, and I’m all set. Throw in some lands I had lying around, and there’s the final list – for now:

Sisters of Life and Death v1.0

Lands (23)
4 Forbidden Orchard
4 Forest
2 Llanowar Wastes
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Pendelhaven
6 Swamp
4 Twilight Mire
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Creatures (22)
4 Fauna Shaman
1 Gatekeeper of Malakir
4 Glissa, the Traitor
3 Memnite
1 Myr Retriever
4 Myr Sire
1 Painsmith
2 Perilous Myr
1 Shimmer Myr
1 Sylvok Replica

Other spells (15)
3 Attrition
3 Executioner’s Capsule
3 Jinxed Idol
2 Ratchet Bomb
4 Tainted Æther

Beware – this list is not tested at all. It’s just theoretical and I bet a good deal of what you see here is up for debate and could very well exit in later versions of the deck. I’m looking forward to playing the deck this weekend to try if it even works at all. You’ll get the update next week, as well as how my Galvanoth-list faired in it’s new incarnation. I made a few minor changes as well there, with more change looming. I’m just not comfortable changing things around again without even testing the former configuration. Thanks for reading and see you all next week!

About the author
Stijn is a Magic-player from Holland, starting around with Portal and getting a bit more serious around Prophecy. He is a casual player at heart and likes control and carddraw more than anything else. Except for a prerelease of each new set, Stijn avoids tournaments and likes to hang out with friends, slinging cardboard at the proverbial kitchen tables for quite some time now. Stijn has a masters degree in Communications and can be found on his twitter handle @stidjen or at his own website,


Posted on April 8, 2011, in Articles, Thran Utopia and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. I think what I like most about your decks is that you are creating them yourself. I have been away from the game so long that my knowledge of cards is not nearly as vast. However, you remind me of days when people didn’t netdeck and instead devised their own creations. I once read an article that said “you can’t break the format,” but I think what it was really saying is that “someone must have thought of it before you and lost, so no one is playing it, so don’t bother creating decks, they’ve all been made.” Given the amount of possibilities available, it is still possible that you could create a deck that no one else has played and that it could be incredibly effective. Aside from this possibility, the inherent fun that comes from building your very own deck cannot be beat. I like playing casual games at FNM and surprising my opposing Planeswalker with cards they would never expect to see from a deck that no one is playing. All of a sudden, I have become an unpredictable danger and the playing fields are evened. I commend anyone who is creating decks of their own free will to continue to do so.

    • Thanks for the kind words! I’m always looking to build my own decks. It’s not to say that I don’t peak at tournament decks; for example, I played the Grove of the Burnwillows – Punishing Fire combo in a deck once. No Zoo-deck, but a R/g Undying Flames deck, using Punishing Fire as Stormbind-fuel after I played the epic spell.

      To me, casual players stick to their decks for a long time. Casual isn’t like Standard, where one deck can be useless the next weekend. Building them yourself gives you not only gratification, but also longevity. You get to discover the deck for yourself, as opposed to reading what others discovered about it online.

      I’m glad you like my decks – there’s a lot more where this came from.

  2. Have you thought about Grave Pact? It seems to combo well with Attrition and Glissa. Maybe is too much black, but you play Urborg for that.

    • Yes, I thought about it, but I dismissed it before I wrote this article. You see, I don’t really like this card. Sure, it’s powerful, but I hate seeing the card across the table, and my usual opponents think so too. And yes, the manabase doesn’t really support it right now. That one Urborg won’t make a lot of difference, unfortunately.

      • I suppose every play group have his banned cards. We hate to see ensnaring bridge for example, it usually make the game so long 😀

      • We don’t really ban any cards unless it gets out of hand. Luckily, this hasn’t happened yet. And besides, artifacts and enchantments are pretty easy to deal with if you’re willing to submit some slots to Naturalize-effects.

  3. Everyone between us play something like naturalize, but the thing is…playing multiplayer free for all nobody wants to use it before the others! It led to very silly situation where everybody was waiting to have a dominant board position before dealing with it…
    Playing against 4 other players you have to manage removal of every type like gold or else you don’t have them when you need them.
    Every card has is favorite enviroment, and we usually use some that you’ll never play in 1 vs 1. Like Fracturing Gust.
    One good thing about magic is that it’s adaptable to many, many variants. For example we tried archenemy about one year before it became ‘official’, obviously without the plan card but with other advantages for the boss (yeah, we called it boss).

    • You can still use Naturalize the turn before yours, so that way, while you were the one blowing it up, you were the first to benefit from its absence from the table.

      I just got back from a few games trying the deck against a friend. To my dismay, I have to conclude that it didn’t run the way it was supposed to go. While my mana wasn’t great (in all three games I played I got stuck on three lands; I never drew more in two of them, and eventually got flooded in the third), the mana isn’t entirely to blaim. My opponent called the deck lacking focus, and I see his point. I’m going to overhaul the deck in the next week and trying out some different things. As that’s probably too much to work out here, I’m gonna write about it for next week’s column. That would also be the place to discuss how my Galvanoth-deck works right now.

  4. I like this deck. It’s pretty cool to see your decision making process for selecting synergistic cards, than cutting them. For me, it’s always difficult to cut non-obviously bad cards, so this should help.

    • It’s really just a matter of killing your darlings. Try not to get too attached to any card and analyse each card for what it does, nog for what it is supposed to do in Magical Christmasland.

      Tools to help you are your mana curve and card categories. I always find it helpful and clear to lay the physical cards in front of me. Offline deckbuilding works best for me.

  5. Have you already lead this deck onto the field? I would be curious about experiences. At first glance, the synergy between Glissa, Memnite and any sacrificing outlet seems brilliant to me, but I keep wondering whether this deck is too self-concerned. Meaning, it pulls and pushes cards to and from the graveyard, keeping the opponent off his creature supply meanwhile but getting through in the red zone does not seem to be top priority.

    Another addition: As you’re playing the Shimmer Myr, Alara’s Glaze Fiend might be a nice addition when popping up a Memnite out of nowhere 🙂

    • Check a few posts above for a brief summary of a few games 🙂

      The deck did not do what I wanted it to do. I did a bunch of searches yesterday and have a lot of new ideas for the deck. Next week I should be able to give a new list, changes and reasoning included.

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