Every now and then comes a card that just screams “Build around me!” They’re the kind of sleepers that I absolutely have to buy a playset of the day they’re released in order to break them in half. In Zendikar it was Summoning Trap. For Mercadian Masques, Delraich. Apocalypse gave me Ice Cave and a classroom full of enemies. It’s a fun exercise in creativity and lunacy that I relish every time a set comes out, and back when Innistrad was shiny and new the card for me was Heartless Summoning.
At the time, I used it with Glissa the Traitor, Myr Superion, and Perilous Myr for some serious shenanigans, but with Scars of Mirrodin block a somewhat fond memory, I’m turning my attention to abusing Heartless Summoning in the current Standard. There’s no shortage of broken, abusable four- to seven-drop creatures that can warp entire games when they come down for two less mana.
Narrowing down the best color combination is tricky, but I knew that I wanted to be based in black and green. Green is pretty much the best color in Standard right now, because Farseek is basically the only ramp spell and Thragtusk/Acidic Slime are a brutal midrange tag team. This meant I had four options: BG, Junk, BUG, or Jund.
Going straight BG was my first foray into the new Heartless Summoning world, but I was losing too many long games to Sphinx’s Revelation and dealing with planeswalkers like Liliana of the Veil and Ral Zarek was difficult outside of just attacking. I then attempted BUG, splashing blue for some countermagic and Sphinx of Uthuun. It worked out fine, but I generally wasn’t happy with the aggro matchup. Far too many times I was just dead on Turn 4 or 5 to a swarm of little x/1 creatures. The deck played too slow for my comfort. Junk gave me a lot more options for creatures. Having Restoration Angel and Angel of Serenity to compliment my Thragtusks was great, and being able to run Unburial Rites was a fine Plan B. After a few practice games, it dawned on me: “Why the hell aren’t I just playing Junk Reanimator?” This was basically a Junk Reanimator deck without mana dorks and my guys are smaller in the mirror. Was that really where I wanted the deck to be? After some soul searching and losing a LOT of Restoration Angel fights, I decided that it wasn’t and turned my attention to Jund.
First and foremost, I realized I couldn’t run the same creature suite as traditional Jund midrange; with Heartless Summoning giving my guys -1/-1, Huntmaster of the Fells and Olivia Voldaren seem downright puny. What I had to do was come up with a bigger game than regular midrange. Heartless Summoning accelerates me two turns, effectively making my Turn 5 plays into Turn 3 plays, my Turn 6 plays into Turn 4, and so on. Theoretically, I could run eight-drops with relative ease, because Jund regularly plays Sire of Insanity. I decided not to be that greedy and settled on maxing out my curve at six mana like regular Jund, but having a slightly higher curve since I could afford to do so.
Now it became a question of what creatures to play. I had to rationalize each creature with the question: “Would I play this effect/body for this mana cost?” If the answer wasn’t a resounding “FUCK YEAH!,” then it wasn’t worth including. After a couple of minutes on Gatherer, I came up with the following effects that I absolutely had to include:
- A 5/5 flier for BB that grows as it becomes The Abyss.
- A 4/2 for 2G that gains me five life and leaves behind a 2/2.
- A 1/1 for 1GG with deathtouch that is generally a Stone Rain, but can also kill my Heartless Summoning if necessary.
- Literally Phyrexian Arena with a 4/3 flying body.
- A 5/3 for 2BR that strips everyone’s hand each turn.
- A 5/5 for 2RG that can attack, defend, and dome a player when they play a noncreature spell.
That’s right, Desecration Demon, Thragtusk, Acidic Slime, Bloodgift Demon, Sire of Insanity, and Ruric Thar, the Unbowed. Each of those effects are insanely broken at those mana costs, but at the same time they’re all perfectly reasonable to cast if I don’t have the Heartless Summoning on Turn 2. Between four Farseeks and four Heartless Summonings, I have eight ways of casting Desecration Demon on Turn 3, which either becomes The Abyss by eating an opposing creature every turn or puts them on a three-turn clock. With that kind of early pressure, I can begin using Acidic Slimes and Sire of Insanity to strip away my opponent’s resources, or lock an opponent out of casting their spells with Ruric Thar so Desecration Demon can fly over and finish the job.
With the creature suite out of the way, I have to develop my manabase. I opted to only run 24 lands; with eight ramp spells and a relatively low curve, I felt it was more than enough. I had experimented with running 25, but it was ultimately too many and I flooded in some pretty key moments. Considering the high concentration of black and green mana symbols on my creatures, I made the amount of red closer to a splash. The color-fixing in Standard right now is damn near perfect, so it was fairly easy to build a well-balanced manabase that reflected my color density. The two Cavern of Souls also help fix my mana, because naming Demon can give me my double-black for Turn 3 Desecration Demon or red for Sire of Insanity if I don’t have any red duals. I also decided to throw in one Kessig Wolf Run simply because it gives my ground creatures evasion, and it is a fantastic mana sink once Sire of Insanity is in play.
Sans Ann & Nancy Wilson
I wanted the sideboard to be fairly creature-heavy, while also having answers for some other problem decks. For example, Sepulchral Primordial is a card I absolutely adore in the Junk Reanimator and Prime Speaker Bant matchups, but that’s about it. For other midrange decks like Naya or Jund, I try to fit in the fourth Acidic Slime, Vraska the Unseen, and the Lilianas, because they allow me to set my opponent back a turn or two by blowing up lands or killing their guys. Since those decks generally tap out in the early turns, my planeswalkers often act as miniature Time Walks. Against more aggressive decks and decks with tokens I like to bring in the Dreadbores, the fourth Abrupt Decay, and my three sweepers to just clear the board every turn and stabilize with Thragtusk and Elderscale Wurm.
So how does this thing actually play? Well, suffice it to say that it has been an absolute blast. I’ve casually dropped Sire of Insanity on Turn 4 against Bant Control and just locked them out of the game. In my last FNM, Ruric Thar went all Hulkamania on my friend’s Bant Hexproof deck, and forced one poor Esper control player to scoop on the fourth turn. He simply looked at his hand of cantrips and counterspells and picked up his cards. But my absolute favorite match was against the Cedric Phillips “Unfriendly Skies” deck (Jund aggro, for those who don’t watch his stream), where by Turn 5 I managed to Acidic Slime both his lands, trade those Slimes for two of his creatures, and Abrupt Decay his Arbor Elf. When I passed the turn back, he had zero permanents in play.
While Heartless Summoning is the engine for the deck, it is not necessary to have it on Turn 2 in order to win. At no point would I recommend mulling a slightly slower but serviceable hand just to have a Heartless Summoning. I also have Farseek should I need to ramp on Turn 2, and against some aggressive matches I’d actually recommend using those first few turns to develop your lands by playing a little slower and not shocking yourself. In this scenario, I try to use as much removal as I can draw to slow down the opponent’s gameplan, later locking down the board with a fatty. In this case, should I draw a Heartless Summoning I would also play it with removal mana open, then start dropping multiple creatures the following turn. This lets you set up some particularly nasty pairings with enough mana, such as dropping Ruric Thar, the Unbowed and Sire of Insanity on the same turn, which can be a soft lock against a lot of slower decks.
After weeks of testing, I’ve come to two conclusions as far as bad matchups go. (1) Monored/Gruul Aggro is really rough if they have a nut draw, and (2) That’s your only bad matchup. You’re a full two turns faster than the midrange decks, you can shut off control and countermagic-heavy decks just by resolving a six-drop, and you have enough sweepers postboard to handle any token decks with ease. But that monored/Gruul match, just wow. If you don’t have Turn 2 Farseek into Turn 3 miracle Bonfire of the Damned or Heartless Summoning into back-to-back Thragtusks you’re often just dead on Turn 4. I’ve tried to mitigate this with the extra removal in the sideboard, but if they nut draw you’re most likely dead regardless. I tend to just take the Modern/Legacy approach and accept that the matchup is out of our favor while hoping to dodge it all day.
The other weakness I’ve experienced is that, like traditional Jund midrange, you run the risk of drawing the wrong half of your deck. I recently Top 8’d a GPT in Niagara Falls and my only loss in the Swiss and my loss in the quarters was because I either drew all my spells when I needed land, or drew all lands when I needed spells. It’s a somewhat unavoidable risk given how little card draw and deck manipulation there is in Jund colors, and should the problem persist, I might consider adding a third Bloodgift Demon, or possibly even a Griselbrand.
There is a PTQ coming up shortly, and I have no doubt that this is the right deck for me to run. It isn’t often that I have this much faith in a brew before a big event, but my consistent performances in smaller local events have got my hopes up. If you have a GPT or a PTQ coming up and you’d like to start smashing faces with giant monsters on Turn 3, or if you just want something fun for FNM, this is the deck for you.
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