The Death Gates

When building budget decks, I always pay special attention to uncommons. That group often contains a few of the most powerful cards in a set, and uncommons are rarely expensive enough to put any sort of strain on your budget. Although many uncommons, such as Experiment One and Burning-Tree Emissary, are prime targets for competitive Constructed, some of them have a harder time finding their places. Hold the Gates is one such card. In Limited, it can be difficult to collect enough Gates to make the card worthwhile, and the Gates are rarely played at all in Constructed. However, budget decks often make use of these common dual lands to avoid the high prices of cards such as Stomping Ground and Clifftop Retreat. With a three-colored deck already potentially playing twelve Gates, Hold the Gates seemed like an interesting card to try to take advantage of. Here's the deck I built to do it.

The Deck

Hold the Gates
Hold the Gates does two things for the deck. It gives all your creatures vigilance, and it gives them a toughness boost to make them harder to kill. This boost varies in size depending on how many Gates you have on the battlefield and makes Hold the Gates not useless in multiples. On average, your creatures will be receiving an extra 2 toughness, but it's not at all uncommon to see up to 4 toughness added on. That means that your creatures will often be immune to Searing Spear, and even Mizzium Mortars will only be able to kill your smallest threats. Even a Bonfire of the Damned cast for its miracle cost may not be enough to kill off your larger creatures.

High Priest of Penance is the card that really made me want to abuse Hold the Gates. With a few extra points of toughness, it can block a creature, destroy a permanent of your choice, and survive to do it again. It makes attacking profitably extremely difficult, and it will often force your opponent to spend a removal spell on it. Much like Boros Reckoner, if that removal spell were a Searing Spear or Mizzium Mortars, you'll probably be getting a two-for-one out of the deal. Under the protection of Hold the Gates, the High Priest can also attack with impunity—your opponent won't want to block and lose his best permanent. Dealing 1 damage per turn may not seem like much, but with a few other creatures doing the same thing, it can add up quickly.

Doomed Travelers soak up some damage while you find Hold the Gates, and if you don't have to block a second time, it can leave you with a flying Spirit token that will often provide a free 1 damage each turn.

Typhoid Rats can trade with an early creature to buy time, but once you have Hold the Gates on the battlefield, it will frequently be able to just kill smaller attacking creatures. Giant Scorpion starts out able to kill many smaller attackers, and with Hold the Gates, it can take down just about anything on the ground without dying itself.

Vampire Nighthawk
Vampire Nighthawk is the card you really want to have with Hold the Gates. If you can make it a 2/6, it can take down everything from Thragtusk to Restoration Angel, and it will give you 2 life in the process. It also attacks for 2 each turn, gaining you another 2 life and slowly chipping away at your opponent's life total.

Rhox Faithmender doubles the life you gain from itself and from Vampire Nighthawk, making life very difficult for aggressive decks. It also starts out with a whopping 5 toughness, meaning that with Hold the Gates on the board, it can stand in the way of almost any creature and come out no worse for wear.

Bloodline Keeper gives you another creature that can block flyers, and it’s a great win condition. Although normally, the Vampire would eat a Searing Spear, and that would be that, Hold the Gates makes that play less appealing for your opponent. If it does survive, it can quickly start pumping out flying Vampire tokens that are often 2/4 or larger, giving you a solid defense and a lethal attacking force. Once you have a total of five Vampires, you can transform Bloodline Keeper to make those tokens into massive 4/6 creatures. Your opponent will usually be dead before he has another turn.

Assemble the Legion is another great win condition. It will give you an ever-increasing army of 1/3-or-bigger tokens with vigilance and haste. These can provide an impenetrable wall of blockers for the first few turns, and they will easily overwhelm your opponent afterward. With vigilance, you won't even have to let down your defenses to push some damage in with your token army.

Dreadbore helps you deal with planeswalkers, which can be a major problem if you don't have a Vampire Nighthawk or Bloodline Keeper to fly in and kill them. It's also a catch-all for any creatures you might need to deal with by more direct means.

The Sideboard

Bane of Hanweir
Rest in Peace helps you fight various graveyard-based decks, shutting down your opponent's shenanigans while leaving your game plan unaffected. It stops undying, flashback, and everything in between, murdering the Plan A of any Reanimator deck and severely hindering decks relying on cards like Geralf's Messenger and Gravecrawler.

I'll be honest; a deck like Esper control is not a good matchup for this deck. In fact, it is a very bad matchup. Traditional control decks don't care about deathtouch creatures or extra toughness, so to them, you're just playing a bunch of overpriced Eager Cadets. Thus, I've devoted the rest of the sideboard to giving you a better chance against control.

Extra copies of Assemble the Legion and Dreadbore give you more of your best cards in this matchup, making it easier to murder planeswalkers and resolve your game-winning enchantment.

Thraben Doomsayer continuously pumps out threats, demanding a removal spell immediately or a board sweeper later. Hanweir Watchkeep punishes the draw-go style of play, giving you a 5/5 for only 3 mana. That's another deadly threat that requires your opponent to use a removal spell or die. I've also included an extra two Plains to help you cast Thraben Doomsayer early and to make it easier to hit 5 mana for Assemble the Legion without having to wait several turns.

Playtesting

Game 1 – Prime Speaker Bant

High Priest of Penance
I won the roll and took a mulligan, keeping a hand of Orzhov Guildgate, Swamp, Typhoid Rats, Vampire Nighthawk, Bloodline Keeper, and Assemble the Legion. I led with the Guildgate and passed the turn. My opponent played a tapped Temple Garden and passed back.

I drew High Priest of Penance, played my Swamp, and cast Typhoid Rats. I ended my turn. My opponent cast Arbor Elf, played Cavern of Souls naming Angel, and passed the turn.

I drew Bloodline Keeper, attacked for 1 with Typhoid Rats, and then cast High Priest of Penance and ended my turn. My opponent passed the turn with no play.

I drew Doomed Traveler, cast it, and attacked with Typhoid Rats. I ended my turn. My opponent cast Loxodon Smiter and passed the turn.

I drew Orzhov Guildgate, played it, and passed the turn. My opponent played a Cavern of Souls naming Wizard and ended his turn.

I drew Dreadbore, cast Vampire Nighthawk, and passed. My opponent flashed in a Restoration Angel during my end step. On his turn, he attacked with Restoration Angel, and I took the 3. He passed the turn.

Angel of Serenity
I drew Rakdos Guildgate, played it, and attacked for 2 with Doomed Traveler and Typhoid Rats. My opponent blocked the Rats with Arbor Elf and then cast Restoration Angel to flicker it out of combat. He dropped to 17, and I ended my turn. My opponent played a Sunpetal Grove and attacked with both Restoration Angels. I traded my Vampire Nighthawk for one and dropped to 16. He cast an Arbor Elf and passed the turn.

I drew another Assemble the Legion and attacked with Doomed Traveler. My opponent blocked with Loxodon Smiter and flickered it out of combat with another Restoration Angel. I cast Bloodline Keeper and passed the turn. My opponent cast Angel of Serenity, exiling Bloodline Keeper, High Priest of Penance, and the Restoration Angel from his graveyard. He dropped me to 10 with Restoration Angels and passed the turn.

I drew a Swamp and killed Angel of Serenity with Dreadbore. I played my land, cast High Priest of Penance, and passed the turn. My opponent attacked with both Restoration Angels and pumped them with two Selesnya Charms for the win.

Sideboarding:
−1 Giant Scorpion
+1 Dreadbore

Game 2

Loxodon Smiter
I kept a hand of two Boros Guildgates, Hold the Gates, Assemble the Legion, High Priest of Penance, Giant Scorpion, and Bloodline Keeper. I played a Guildgate and passed the turn. My opponent played a Forest, cast Avacyn's Pilgrim, and passed back.

I drew Hold the Gates, played my Boros Guildgate, and ended my turn. My opponent played a Hinterland Harbor and cast Loxodon Smiter. He passed the turn.

I drew a Swamp, played it, and cast Giant Scorpion before ending my turn. My opponent played a tapped Breeding Pool and attacked for 4 with Loxodon Smiter. I took the damage, and he ended his turn.

I drew a Mountain, played it, and cast Hold the Gates. I attacked for 1 and passed the turn. My opponent played a tapped Breeding Pool and attacked with the Smiter. I blocked with Giant Scorpion, and he cast Selesnya Charm to give the Smiter +2/+2 and trample. Both creatures died, and I took 1 damage. He passed the turn.

I drew Typhoid Rats, cast a second Hold the Gates, and then cast my Rats and passed the turn. My opponent cast Cavern of Souls naming Angel and passed the turn.

Giant Scorpion
I drew a third copy of Hold the Gates, cast it, and attacked for 1. My opponent took the damage, and I passed the turn. My opponent played another Cavern of Souls on Angel and cast Angel of Serenity, exiling Typhoid Rats and the Loxodon Smiter from his graveyard. He passed the turn.

I drew Rhox Faithmender, cast it, and ended my turn. My opponent cast Prime Speaker Zegana, drawing six cards. He played a tapped Temple Garden and dropped me to 10 with Angel of Serenity before ending his turn.

I drew Doomed Traveler, cast it along with High Priest of Penance, and attacked for 1 with the Faithmender. My opponent blocked with Zegana, and I gained 2 life and passed the turn. My opponent attacked with Angel of Serenity again and passed the turn.

I drew a Swamp and played it. I attacked with Rhox Faithmender, gaining 2 life, then cast Bloodline Keeper and passed the turn. My opponent played a land and passed the turn.

I drew a Swamp, played Assemble the Legion, and passed the turn. My opponent played Gavony Township, cast Thragtusk, and passed the turn. I made a 2/8 Vampire token with Bloodline Keeper during his end step.

Assemble the Legion
On my turn, I made a Soldier with Assemble the Legion and then drew Orzhov Guildgate. I played the Gate and attacked with my Vampires. My opponent blocked the Keeper with Angel of Serenity. He took 2, and I passed the turn. My opponent put counters on everything with Gavony Township during my end step. He played a land and passed the turn, and I made another Vampire.

I made two more Soldier during my upkeep and then drew a Plains. I attacked everything. Angel of Serenity blocked Bloodline Keeper, and Prime Speaker Zegana, Thragtusk, and Avacyn's Pilgrim each blocked a Soldier token. My opponent dropped to 14, and I went up to 11 from the lifelink. I ended my turn, and my opponent put counters on everything with Gavony Township and then exiled his Prime Speaker with Selesnya Charm. On his turn, he played a land, added more counters with Gavony Township, and then cast a 9/9 Prime Speaker Zegana to draw nine cards. He ended his turn, and I made another Vampire.

Assemble the Legion made three more Soldiers during my upkeep, and I drew High Priest of Penance. I attacked with everything. Angel of Serenity blocked Bloodline Keeper, and the other creatures each blocked a Soldier. Before damage, I tapped Bloodline Keeper to make a fifth Vampire and then transformed it to make my tokens 4/13s, which gave me enough damage to win.

Game 3

Orzhov Guildgate
I kept a hand of two Swamps, Orzhov Guildgate, Rakdos Guildgate, High Priest of Penance, Dreadbore, and Typhoid Rats. My opponent started off with a tapped Hallowed Fountain and passed the turn. I drew Dreadbore, played my Orzhov Guildgate, and passed the turn.

My opponent paid 2 life for Breeding Pool and then cast Farseek, fetching a Temple Garden. He ended his turn. I drew Giant Scorpion, played Rakdos Guildgate, and cast Typhoid Rats. I passed the turn.

My opponent played a tapped Temple Garden, cast Loxodon Smiter, and ended his turn. I drew Rakdos Guildgate, played it, and passed the turn.

My opponent attacked with Loxodon Smiter, which I blocked, and he then played Cavern of Souls naming Wizard and cast Garruk, Primal Hunter. He made a Beast and passed the turn. I drew Rhox Faithmender, cast Dreadbore on Garruk, and passed the turn.

My opponent hit me for 3 with the Beast and then cast Thragtusk, going up to 23, and he ended his turn. I drew Orzhov Guildgate, played it, and cast Rhox Faithmender. I passed the turn.

My opponent played a land and cast Prime Speaker Zegana as a 6/6, drawing six cards. He attacked with Thragtusk and the Beast, and I blocked the latter with the Faithmender, dropping 3 life overall. He ended his turn. I drew Boros Guildgate, played it, and cast High Priest of Penance and Giant Scorpion. I ended my turn.

My opponent attacked with everything. I blocked Prime Speaker Zegana with High Priest of Penance and the Beast token with Rhox Faithmender. I lost 3 life again after Thragtusk's damage and the Faithmender's lifelink, and I killed Zegana with the Priest. My opponent cast another Thragtusk and passed the turn. I drew Doomed Traveler, cast it, played my land, and passed.

Rhox Faithmender
My opponent attacked with everything. The Faithmender blocked the Beast again, and Doomed Traveler blocked a Thragtusk. I lost 3 once more, dropping to 8, and the Traveler became a Spirit. I drew Rhox Faithmender, cast it, and passed the turn.

My opponent cast two Restoration Angels at end of turn, flickering both Thragtusks. He attacked with everything. The Faithmenders blocked two of the Beasts, the Scorpion traded with one Thragtusk, and my Spirit token blocked the other. Thanks to lifelink, I survived with 7 life left. My opponent passed the turn, and I drew Doomed Traveler. I cast it, killed a Restoration Angel with Dreadbore, and passed the turn.

My opponent attacked with everything again. The Faithmenders blocked tokens, and Doomed Traveler blocked Thragtusk. I took 9 from the unblocked creatures, but I gained 8 from lifelink. I made a Spirit token, and my opponent ended his turn. I drew Hold the Gates, cast it, and attacked with everything. My opponent took 3, and I went up to 14. I passed the turn.

My opponent attacked with everything again, and I blocked Thragtusk and two Beast tokens, taking a net loss of 1 life. He ended his turn. I drew Typhoid Rats and attacked with everything. My opponent flashed in a Restoration Angel, flickering Thragtusk and making a Beast token. He blocked a Faithmender with all three to kill it. When all was said and done, I was at 21 life, and my opponent was at 39. I cast the Rats and ended my turn.

Restoration Angel
My opponent attacked with everything, and I blocked Thragtusk with the Faithmender and Beast tokens with my Spirit and Typhoid Rats. I dropped to 8, and he passed the turn. I drew High Priest of Penance, cast it, and attacked with everything. My opponent took 3, and I gained 2 life and passed the turn.

He attacked with everything again. I blocked Thragtusk and three Beast tokens, dropping to 3 life. Typhoid Rats killed one Beast, and High Priest of Penance shot down a Restoration Angel. My opponent cast Arbor Elf and passed the turn. I drew Vampire Nighthawk and attacked. My opponent dropped to 32, and I went up to 5. I cast Vampire Nighthawk and passed the turn.

My opponent attacked with everything. Rhox Faithmender blocked Thragtusk again, Vampire Nighthawk blocked Restoration Angel, and the other three blocked Beast tokens. My opponent flickered Thragtusk with Restoration Angel, gaining 5, making a Beast, and preventing me from gaining 2 with the Faithmender. I dropped to 5, killed Restoration Angel and a Beast with deathtouch, and I killed another Beast token with High Priest of Penance. My opponent ended his turn. I drew Assemble the Legion and attacked with everything. My opponent blocked Rhox Faithmender and the Spirit token and took 4. I went up to 11 from lifelink and then cast Assemble the Legion and passed the turn.

My opponent cast Thragtusk and passed the turn. I made a Soldier token, drew a Mountain, and attacked. My opponent blocked the Faithmender and the tokens, taking another 4. I passed the turn.

My opponent cast Garruk, Primal Hunter and used his −3 ability to draw five cards. He cast Angel of Serenity, exiling Vampire Nighthawk, the High Priest of Penance, and Rhox Faithmender. He attacked with everything, and I blocked the Thragtusks and killed a Beast with Typhoid Rats, dropping to 10. I made two more Soldiers and drew Giant Scorpion. I attacked with everything to drop my opponent to 29, and then cast the Scorpion and ended my turn.

Selesnya Charm
My opponent attacked with Restoration Angel and Angel of Serenity, and I blocked the latter with Spirit, dropping to 7. He passed the turn, and I made three more Soldiers. I drew Vampire Nighthawk and attacked. My opponent blocked four of the Soldiers and dropped to 24. I cast the Nighthawk and passed the turn.

My opponent cast Prime Speaker Zegana, drawing six cards. He cast Thragtusk, played a land, and cast Garruk, Primal Hunter, using the −3 to draw another six. He passed the turn. I made four Soldiers, drew Bloodline Keeper, and attacked with everything. My opponent blocked eight Soldiers, dropping to 17. I went up to 9, and then cast Bloodline Keeper and passed the turn.

My opponent cast Angel of Serenity, exiling Vampire Nighthawk, Bloodline Keeper, and the Spirit token. He attacked for 8 in the air, and he used Selesnya Charm for the last point of damage.

Wrap-Up

Although Angels proved to be my demise in the end, this deck was a lot of fun to play. Hold the Gates really gives you a lot of power over combat, making your creatures nearly unkillable. Although it can struggle a bit against decks loaded with flying creatures or decks that don't win through creatures at all, any deck looking to win on the ground is going to have an incredibly hard time beating this. Aggro decks in particular often simply can't deal with Hold the Gates, regardless of what creatures you have on the board. Giving that massive toughness to all your blockers makes it nearly impossible for your opponent to deal any significant amount of damage. If your area is flooded with creature decks or if you just want to try something a little silly, give this deck a shot.

As always, if you have any questions or comments, you can find me on the forums under Twinblaze, on Twitter under @MTGCannon, or simply leave a comment below.