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Demon Cat in the Hat: A Look at Harmless Offering in Standard

Written by Joshua Claytor on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Standard

Demon Cat in the Hat:   A Look at Harmless Offering in Standard

Joshua Claytor

Joshua is the current content manager of Legitmtg.com and Puremtgo.com.

On July 30th, 2016, Jesse Savage unknowingly became one of my favorite Magic players. While most people are appreciative of people that put up results on the Pro Tour or SCG tour, I appreciate those that show off really neat decks more. I’m not trying to give degrade Jesse’s play skill, I’ve never met him though apparently we play in the same geographic area (Deck postings show a Tennessee area).  Yes, Harmless Offering is a color-shifted reprint of Donate.  Donate was derided as a bulk rare until Michelle Bush (That’s who Pat Chapin says created it and I am going to go with that) put it together with Illusions of Grandeur and Necropotence.  Suddenly one of the most powerful decks in all of the history of Magic was created and then named after a breakfast cereal because old Magic decks names are weird.  At least Life kinda told you what it did, but no one knew what Fruity Pebbles or Cocoa Pebbles did without actually looking at the decklist, and do not get me started on Full English Breakfast.  WotC clearly missed a promotional opportunity with at the very least, General Mills.

Anyways, Jesse did something really neat with a card combination that while much hyped, had not done much of anything in Standard. While Bant Company showed that it will remain a powerful deck after the Pro Tour, other strategies emerged (did you see what I did there) at the event as well. With multiple SCG events and the Pro Tour behind us, Eldritch Moon Standard is starting to fully take shape and we can start to tune decks with a clear metagame in mind.  It might be time for Harmless Offering and Demonic Pact to make some noise in Standard. But is the list the best that it could be to attack the metagame, or does it need some work?

Demon Cat-Adventure Time

That is what I have been doing with Jesse’s list. After seeing it, playing it, and falling in love with it, I wanted to fully understand where the deck came from, and what I could do moving forward in the metagame with it. Other players have written about the deck already. It was highlighted on Starcitygames in the Daily Digest. Ross Merriam wrote about it here.  Caleb Durward took a modified version (Mardu, for Anguished Unmaking, Angelic Purge, Nahiri, the Harbinger and a third color for Radiant Flames out of the board) through a few matches here. Heck I even streamed it last week!

A 2-3 record is nothing to be excited about. Sure I could make excuses for the deck, like I drew poorly in the fifth match, or refused to take Epiphany at the Drownyard against Esper Dragons which allowed my opponent to get back into and eventually win the match. Something about the deck kept pulling at me, and I felt like I could make some changes to adapt the deck to a post Pro Tour metagame.

Let’s take a look at Jesse’s list. I’ll break it down after that.

Now it’s time to break the deck down. Let’s go card by card and see what is up there.

Harmless Offering: You need this card to win the game. Combined with Demonic Pact you have the combo kill. Do not be afraid to discard this with Tormenting Voice or Collective Brutality as you have Goblin Dark-Dwellers to get it back and Dark Petition to tutor for it. Other than winning the game with the sorcery, there is nothing else to do with the card. Though I guess if you’re really in a generous mood you could give your opponent a land but don’t do that, you’re classy, just win the game with it!

Duress: Against some decks like UR Eldrazi (Countermagic) Black White Control (Anguished Unmaking) and Bant or GW (Dromoka’s Command), this card shines. The information that you gain from this card lets you know what threats you have to deal with and if it is safe for you to start the process of playing your combo. It’s not the worst against Humans, as it can get Always Watching or Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, but it is a dead draw against some matchups.

Collective Brutality: This card is amazing against Humans. While you will not be selecting the first mode often against the deck, you will be killing a creature and gaining two life. That two life can sometimes be the difference. Against Bant it does not kill as much, but you do have another tool in which to take Command.

Transgress the Mind: As a one of it’s not super impressive, but it’s the only discard spell in the deck that does not get Command or Secure the Wastes. It does allow us to deal with one of the new threats in the format, and that is Emrakul, the Promised End. After the Pro Tour, that is a creature we need to be able to deal with.

Languish: Another one of, and with the way the deck is set up, it’s almost not needed. Against Bant, Humans and other aggro decks it is great, but as the deck takes advantage of a lot of one for ones, the situation where you need to kill off a lot of things at the same time does not come up as much.

Dark Petition: I want more of these in the deck. The tutor is very powerful in the format, and with so many spells in the deck, Spell Mastery will almost always leave you with three mana after it resolves.

Demonic Pact: The Illusions of Grandeur to Harmless Offering’s Donate. It buys you additional time with the four life mode. It clears the way with the discard mode, and it draws cards with the third mode. The important mode is the lose the game mode. You never want to control Demonic Pact when that is the remaining mode. I heard your opponent would like it a lot though! If you know your opponent has Emrakul, do not cast this while they can cast it. Wait until you have seven mana and just give it them. You can’t let them control your turn, because when they do, you often times take the worst turn!

Fiery Impulse: Removal, again with the 1 for 1 build set up in mind, this is probably the best 2 damage for 1 spell. It will consistently deal three with spell mastery, which I believe makes it better than Galvanic Bombardment.

Tormenting Voice: Turns dead cards into additional hopefully useful cards.

Read the Bones: Digs potentially four deep to help you find the important cards in the deck.

Grasp of Darkness: Removal that can consistently deal with Sylvan Advocate and Archangel Avacyn. It also deals with Selfless Spirit on the board, which is important because -4 does not get saved by being indestructible.

Oath of Chandra: More removal, and it makes your opponent’s Dromoka’s Commands bad. You can cast this, take out a creature, and just leave it around to protect your Demonic Pact. Of course you’re still going to need to find a Command answer, because they can command after you offer it up to them, but it does help against Command.


Goblin Dark-Dwellers: This card is amazing in this build of the deck. It normally allows you to recast a piece of a removal for free. However it does offer protection for your Harmless Offerings if it gets discarded to a Tormenting Voice, and an opposing piece of discard.


This deck would really like a creature land, but as there are none on color, and splashing blue for Wandering Fumarole or white for Needle Spires would dilute the deck in my opinion it will just have to go without. We have ten dual lands in the deck with Cinder Barrens, Foreboding Ruins and Smoldering Marsh, and a mix of basic lands and ways to find them. The mana here is easy, and while I think 23 is just a bit low, it works more often than not. Tormenting Voice and Read the Bones really do work in regards to finding mana for your spells.

I’m not going to touch on the sideboard because after Regionals and the Pro Tour it is a little bit out of date. Things have changed a ton since the 30th! As the metagame has evolved and things have changed (sometimes exploding out of other creatures!), I believe that the sideboard would need to make some changes as well.

That’s a breakdown of the deck. It performed well for me in the stream, and I was happy with it, even if I did get ghosted while I was playing. That was weird. I’m not good enough or important enough to ghost! After I finished up that short stream I did record the rest of the league matches.

This deck also caught the attention of my longtime friend, Jacob Beal. After tearing up some matches against Bant Company to get a feeling for we had a long multi-day Facebook discussion about the future of the deck. He felt that the 1 for 1 build was fine and could compete, and it very well might be true.

I however, cannot very well keep alone. When I fall in love with a deck, I make it my own personal pet project, as one could see when I went through incredible lengths to play Magnivore in Modern. It started off ok, and by the time I was done with it, it turned into a Splinter Twin deck that had mana disruption to deal with the Eldrazi. I had to tinker with this deck as well, and by tinker, I mean completely tear it down and rebuild it. I looked at old Demonic Pact decks for inspiration. Of course old Pact decks where Blue Black based and used Crush of Tentacles. I scoured gatherer for any means possible to gain an edge. I paid incredible attention to the Pro Tour to see what was being played and how I could attack that, and after more hours than I am willing to admit, came up with my first build of the deck.

Let’s take a look at that!

How does this matchup to what we saw at the Pro Tour? We want to pay attention to the Day Two Metagame, and we want to pay attention to the decks that were posted. We also want to pay attention to the top eight, because as I have learned in many years of playing Magic, players will become hyper focused on those lists. With the Pro Tour using six rounds of limited some really great decks can get overlooked!  Finally we may also want to look at decks by notable players.  While Efro or Sam Black did not make top eight, the influence that popular players hold does have a bit of an impact.

So what decks should we be concerned about? Well let’s start off with the most played decks from day two. All of these archetypes had ten or more players on then with a conversion rate from day 1 to day 2 over 50%. You can check out that list here.

Black-Green Delirium
Bant Company
Four-Color Emerge
White-Black Control
Blue-Black Zombies
Jund Delirium

Those seven decks are ones we should at the very least be aware of.  Out of those seven, I believe that I would want to be prepared the most for Black-Green Delirium, Bant Company, White-Black Control and the Emerge decks.

Let’s move on to the decks that were posted by match wins.   I am also not going to list decks that have been listed in the metagame recap, because well we’re already at least aware of them.

At 9 wins

UR Thermo Burn

8 Wins
Bant Humans

7 wins
Esper Control
Mono Red Eldrazi
Naya Legends
RG Ramp

Notable players
Sultai Control – Eric Froehlich
UB Zombies – Ondrej Strasky

The top eight rounds out the deck types we need to be aware of.  Thankfully there was nothing surprising about the top eight in terms of decks.  Yes there were two Bant Company lists, and two Temur Emerge as well.  After that we have the WB that won, a Delirium deck and two Ramp decks.

Why did I not lump in the ramp decks together?  I feel like you could, but the decks while ramp in nature are fundamentally different decks.  Reid’s deck was a more Delirium focused list that looked to take advantage of Ishkanah, Grafwidow and Emrakul, the Promised End.  Kens list, while featuring the same two creatures looks closer to a Red Green Control list over a ramp deck.  When your only ramp spell is Nissa’s Pilgrimage, I think that calling it ramp is a little silly.

I’ve made an effort to be aware (which is different from being prepared for) 17 unique lists.  This is a little over half of the day two metagame decks, as there were 32 unique archetypes.

Let’s take a look at the rebuilt deck, and how the cards apply to this potential metagame.

Ob Nixilis Reignited: A solid Planeswalker, it gives us an alternate win condition with its ultimate, trades life for cards, which helps us find our combo, and another non instant piece of removal. This is important as Emrakul has protection from instants.

Collective Brutality: A leftover from the previous build of the deck. It takes away key spells from several decks, kills several important creatures, and gains us a little life. So many great options!

Transgress the Mind: We removed the Duress, because it feels like decks have gotten more expensive, and have cut back on non-creature non lands. While we have to save our Brutalities for Secure the Wastes and Dromoka’s Command now, I believe Transgress hits many more relevant cards than Duress does.

Grasp of Darkness: Needed a cheap way to deal with Sylvan Advocate and other Delirium threats. Moving away from damage based spells but still needed a way to deal with early threats.

Flaying Tendrils: A concession to humans. A nice tutorable mass removal spell.

Read the Bones: Same as the previous list.

Ruinous Path: Another non instant way to deal with Emrakul, and it helps out against the threatening Planeswalkers in the format.

Harmless Offering: Same as the previous list.

Dark Petition: Increased the number of these because it’s a great card. We’ve moved to more of a tool box list, and having this increases the count of our tool box cards.

Infinite Obliteration: This may actually move to two copies. It’s awfully hard for them to cast Emrakul or Elder Deep-Fiend if all of them are exiled. Also gives us a way to deal with Ulamog, who is still a threat to the deck.

Languish: Sometimes everything in Bant Company needs to die. Where Flaying Tendrils fails, Languish does not.

Tormenting Voice: I added a 24th land to the deck as well, just to have another to discard to Tormenting Voice, but I also want the 4th one as well. It’s very good at trading in cards that are not good in the moment for cards that could be, and they do a great job of feeding our Dark-Dwellers.

Demonic Pact: When I built this list I really wanted to do something unique, something I had never seen before, and I figured Demonic Pact as a way to kill my opponent was something that no one had thought of before. Ok, I really I wanted to type something besides same as the previous list.

Goblin Dark-Dwellers: Sighs. Same as the previous list.

With the metagame more fleshed out we can build the sideboard to really make a difference. As it stands now here is the sideboard.

Flaying Tendrils: Another mass removal spell for Humans.

Murder: An uninspired removal spell. This may be better as To the Slaughter. Delirium is tough for the deck, but you’re still taking out at least a creature in the worst case scenario.

Languish: Fourth copy of the spell.

Ruinous Path: Extra removal is never really bad is it?

Collective Brutality: This may be better as a Pick the Brain, but I really love Brutality.

Infinite Obliteration: Another way to deal with the problematic Eldrazi Titans.

Sinister Concoction: I like diverse ways to take care of threats, and who really thinks of Sinister Concoction? It might help in case Delirium is needed, and it might stock the yard for Dark-Dwellers. Also a concession to Dromoka’s Command, and gives us a way to protect the Pact.

To the Slaughter: A way to possibly deal with a Planeswalker or Emrakul at instant speed. Delirium really makes this card shine.

Duress: Again another card that might be better as Pick the Brain, but it messes up controls game plan.

Chandra Flamecaller: More removal, but more importantly a way to win the game either by damage or drawing into the combo pieces needed.

Other cards considered.

These cards have been ruled out for now, but as more games are played, and the metagame changes, that may find a home in the deck.

Pick the Brain: Sure it’s expensive, but if you get to cast it with Delirium it comes with a Cranial Extraction effect. It’s fairly easy to get a Land, Sorcery and Instant in the graveyard, but not really want to dump a creature, enchantment or Planeswalker into yard to help turn this on. Exiling is really nice though.

Collective Defiance: Removal and card filtering seems really nice. The damage to the opponent will rarely matter. This taking out x/4s is nice.

Shreds of Sanity: Returning a sorcery and instant is nice.

Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet: Chandra is currently taking this cards spot, but if we needed a way to gain more life this would be looked at.

Rending Volley: Not enough Dragonlord Ojutai seeing play right now, and we have enough tools for the aggro decks.

Bedlam Reveler: More card draw, has the potential to be expensive, and I do not think it really fits the deck.

Incendiary Flow: Exiling stuff like Hangarback Walker is nice, but we should be well equipped to handle that threat.

Oath of Chandra: It’s main use was for Dromoka’s Command, but with Sinister Concoction filling that role it was not needed.

So what happened when I took this version into a league? I did slightly better and got to watch in abject horror as my deck found a puddle of mud and thought to itself, “I should roll around in that” against humans. A mulligan to four was not the best start, and never seeing mass removal did not help either. It happens sometimes. The Sultai control matchup I think I made a few mistakes, and had I played a bit tighter, may have played way to be in a position to do better. I think we did pretty well against Bant Spirits, BG Delirium and BW Control.

Where do I go from here? Right now, I am happy with 57 of the 60, and 70 of the 75. Murders are so uninspired as a sideboard choice, and may be redundant. I need to look into the format a bit more to be sure. I’m going to keep playing the deck, and tomorrow I plan on being here with a sideboard guide to the deck.

After three thousand words though, I’m gonna take a break.

Enjoy the deck, and thanks for stopping by!

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