Tactical Metagame: The Tainted Black Planeswalker

Editor's Note: This is our first piece in a series about the newly released Magic: The Gathering - Tactics. As such we're still figuring our formatting, and other utilities for Tactics players. For example you'll see almost no card images in this post as they all refer to paper Magic cards rather than the Tactics cards. Please leave us your feedback so we can continue to improve! -- Trick

As many of you read several weeks ago in Trick's preview, Magic: The Gathering - Tactics is coming out has just been released! I've been playing with a fervor since it's release last Tuesday, neglecting my other passions (including paper Magic and my cats) with a rush that only comes from discovering a new 'format' and throwing yourself wholesale into it.

You can find several previews of the game mechanics here on ManaNation, and reviews of the game across the internet. What I'm here for is for the next level, the deckbuilding and the metagame. Just like in paper MTG, the metagame is a constantly shifting ocean and with a new 'format' to explore, new technology is sprouting up every day. Like MTGO, there is an online market for the cards and there are aspects of collecting and playing the marketplace that can make you e-rich, a desire for many a budding tradesman out there.

MTG Tactics is half paper MTG; your abilities of card evaluation, knowledge of card advantage, and concepts like tempo are highly relevant and applicable in Tactics. The other half has a lot more to do with traditional tabletop miniatures games; concepts like movement jamming, positioning, maintaining line-of-sight, and other concepts you will need to learn. I hope to help you bridge though gaps and soon enough, you too could be dominating the competitive scene and watching scrubs melt underneath your glaring halo of awesomeness.

A complete list of the 180 card first set can be found here on ManaNation.

Let's jump right into it then!

What's the best deck? Well, that's a complicated question, and uh... oh, nevermind. I won't lie to you.

Black Planeswalker Rush.

Huh? Let me explain.

In Tactics, you begin the game with your Planeswalker on the field. He starts with 200 Health (more or less the equivalent of 20 Life in paper MTG) and 5 Attack (the equivalent of 1/2 of a Power in paper MTG, though there are buffs or things like Critical Hits that make increments of 5 instead of 10 more relevant). Your account also gains experience and levels up, similar to systems found in Call of Duty, League of Legends, etc. As you level up, you gain Talent Points to invest in Talent Trees similar to those found in World of Warcraft. These Talents provide color-specific buffs and advantages, which can be as critical to your deck's success as the cards in them!

In fresh metagames, while the control and combo decks are finding their feet, it's generally best to just be fast and aggressive, presenting a variety of threats and tempo plays, killing your opponent before they can ever assemble any sort of gameplan. Thankfully for old-school aggro players, Suicide Black is very viable. The list revolves around one main Talent:

Evil Ritual
Requires 15 Points in Black Talents
(Up to 5 ranks)
Your Planeswalker gets +5/-10 for each point in Evil Ritual

With the maximum five points in it, your Planeswalker is a 30/150 (rather than a 5/200) from turn one onwards. If there was a Legendary Hill Giant that you could tutor out and begin the game with in play (like a Leyline) at the cost of five life, it would probably see play in every format right? That's what this Talent is like.

It requires 15 other Talent points as a prerequisite however, so we're going to take 5 points in each of these:

Bloodthirsty Scream – 5/5
Your Zombies have a 3% chance per level of gaining +10/+10 when Summoned (15% total)

Plague of Vermin – 5/5
Your Rats gain +2/+2 and have a 20% chance to avoid counterattacks per level when Summoned (+10/+10, and 100% total)

Megrim – 5/5
When an opposing planeswalker loses a spell [discards a card], they take 3 damage per level (15 total)

This requires your account to be level 25, which is reasonable to get with the current single-player campaigns and daily missions. With the base Talents laid out, let's look at the deck list:

Mono-Black Planeswalker Rush (40 Cards)
Creatures (20)
4 Shambling Zombie
4 Child of Night
4 Drudge Skeleton
4 Daggerclaw Imp
4 Death Baron

Spells (20)
4 Ratcasting
4 Hymn to Tourach
4 Shadowstep
4 Sign in Blood
2 Last Kiss
2 Doom Blade

The deck is no-frills efficiency, playsets of fast relentless creatures and aggressive spells. Some highlights:

Ratcasting {1}{B}
Summon a 10/10 Rat creature at target space on the map.

With 5 points in Plague of Vermin, you are getting a 20/20 for {1}{B}, a pretty standard and non flashy creature, except it can be summoned anywhere rather than right next to you. Use this aggressively to place a creature right next to the enemy Planeswalker, who will be under pressure right away, taking 20 damage a turn while not being able to counter attack.

Shadowstep {1}{B}
Your Planeswalker teleports up to 5 spaces.

Planeswalkers move at the same speed, so if the enemy has decided to run away to buy time you need a way to close the distance. Being able to reach a Planeswalker up to 10 spaces away and dome them for 30 damage on turn 2 is a huge amount of pressure most decks can't handle.

There are other subtle tricks that Shadowstep allows, such a teleporting to the far side of an enemy planeswalker and then summoning a creature next to them, effectively blocking off a path for them to run. If they choose to run left or right, you can get on the side that pressures them against a wall, restricting their movement and making every creature you summon that much of a faster clock.

Child of Night and Last Kiss there to provide a bit of a health buffer. Even though you have an impressive 30 Attack, starting at 150 Health makes you vulnerable to other aggro decks, not to mention Red decks packing tons of burn and hasty goblins.

Hymn to Tourach is just ridiculous and one of the “What?! They printed that?!” cards in the set. While you can't snipe random victories by picking out lands and mana-screwing your opponent (as mana is generated automatically in Tactics), the other side is that you're always hitting spells. With the Megrim talent maxed out, you are hitting them for 30 Damage on top of it! Hymn basically reads: “{B}{B} – Blightning, but it's random. And a turn earlier. Trolololol.”

Death Baron tops out your curve at 3 mana, and provides a few synergies. First off, him and Shambling Zombie have a chance to be affected by Bloodthirsty Scream, granting them a +10/+10 bonus when they enter the battlefield, conviently putting them out of Pyroclasm and Last Kiss range, as well as out of being one-shotted by Elvish Archer, Elvish Warrior, Goblin Fodder, and other aggressive 2-drops in the format.

Secondly, he buffs both Shambling Zombie and Drudge Skeletons, and helps out your swarm by NOT being a melee character. Normally you want a lot of melee characters to surround the enemy and making it difficult to cast creatures (especially difficult ones like White Knight, that needs a 2x2 square to be summoned in), but often this leads to clogged board states and your slowish melee creatures can end up stepping on each other's toes. Having one solid ranged figure becomes a huge boon, making the combat much smoother and allowing for your creatures to gang up and kill a recently summoned figure before it gets a chance to attack.

Overall, it's a pretty fast and cutthroat deck, but let's say you want something a little more... how shall we say, 'combo-tastic'?

U/B Time Warp
Spells (40):
4 Black Lotus
4 Necropotence
4 Ratcasting
4 Shadowstep
4 Hymn to Tourach
1 Underworld Dreams
4 Time Warp
3 Ray of Command
2 Unsummon
1 Time Ebb
1 Teleport

If you haven't played Tactics before reading this article, some of those names might pop out to you... Necropotence? BLACK LOTUS? Yes. And Yes. They exist. Black Lotus isn't as broken as you think, because it requires you to end your turn without moving or attacking, and you get the mana NEXT turn. Still insane, still enabling over-the-top combos, but at least it's vaguely approaching 'fair'.

Necropotence however, is the stone-cold lock of the century. You see, it's not actually Necropotence. It's Yawgmoth's Bargain. For {B}{B}{B}. Oh, and it doesn't require you to skip your draw step. Yeah. Like Necro and the Bargain, it's a broken combo enabler only kept in line by the fact that your Planeswalker starts with 150 Health instead of 200. The upshot is that with 30 Power, you can rush to chaining Time Walks and take a safe-feeling opponent from 100+ Health to dead out of nowhere.

Your ideal start is Black Lotus, use it to end your turn. Next turn with 5 mana, you play Necropotence and one of your 2-drops (either Ratcasting or Hymn ideally to put early damage on the opponent), not being afraid to take a few points to refill your hand. From turns 3-5 or so play a tempo game, moving in close and bouncing or Ray of Commanding their freshly summoned creatures to soften them up while running directly towards them.

Before you 'go off', you want to be within running range or have a teleport spell, pop a Black Lotus and pass. Next turn you Time Warp, ding them for 30, and take another turn. On that turn you can take damage for more cards, ideally drawing into more Time Warps. As you plan to take enough consecutive turns to kill them, you can draw yourself down to 10-20 Health, as most enemy Planeswalkers aren't going to be Black, and thus only have 5 Attack, so their counterattacks will be mostly negligible.

As your mana constantly grows in Tactics, you don't have to worry about your mana situations on future turns. You can play out exactly how your hand will go, and as your mana scales beyond 6 or more, you can toss in Hymns, Ray of Commands, and other pseudo direct damage spells to aid your Planeswalker's massive attacks, and easily do 140+ damage in a series of turns.

In a lot of ways this deck is similar to Ad Nauseam Tendrils in Legacy, where due to the natural engine of trading life for cards, early Lightning Bolts can hinder it's progress. However, it's very strong against nearly all mid-range decks, and early attempts at control and Tooth and Nail combo. Most control decks are running lots of Pacifisms and Doom Blades to try and manage the board state, and are totally befuddled by a Planeswalker dealing them nearly all the damage in a game.

While these two decks are far from the only strategies available in Magic: The Gathering Tactics, the abuse of the Evil Ritual talent is so far the primary defining strategy of the early competitive metagame. I hope this introductory article got you nearly as excited as I am about MTG Tactics, and feel free to check it out and download the game (for free!) at www.magicthegatheringtactics.com.