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.
"Hold the Gates"
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.
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.
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.
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.
Game 1 – Prime Speaker Bant
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.
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.
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 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, 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.