Born of the Gods is out and legal for constructed at any live events. Unfortunately, the set does not hit shelves on Magic Online for a few more days, so brewing and, more importantly, testing those brews to see how valid they are has been difficult. Combine that with the fact that Modern is the focal point for myself, as well as many others right now, and you arrive at a person who is excited by the prospect of Standard, but unable to really play it. Still, one of the most fun parts of being a brewer is the act of actually brewing, and a lack of testing won't stop me from doing that!
Phenax, God of Deception is a card that has really been on my mind recently. The card seems very powerful as it is able to both mill your own graveyard, should you be looking to enable yourself in some way. Or, if you need it to be a win condition, you can easily turn it on to your opponent, making short work of their library.
Naturally, then, Phenax made sense in some sort of graveyard strategy. You could easily use it to fill up your yard with a toolbox of options so long as there was enough ways to gain access to them. So, the search quickly became about cards that could retrieve lost goodies from the graveyard.
Rescue from the Underworld is fine, but it requires a little bit of set up and is pretty expensive as well. Cards like Obzedat's Aid seem strong, but how good can a five mana Zombify really be in this format? I wanted access to the cards in my yard, but I wanted a good rate on this selection as well. Enter this innocuous looking Grey Ogre...
Odunos River Trawler.
Like most Gravedigger creatures, you are not interested so much in the size of the body here, but the ability and the cost it comes at. A Grey Ogre is fine obviously, but that isn't why we are here. We are here because this is a Gravedigger that generates card advantage in a different way from the norm. While most Gravediggers rely on leaving behind a small body to put you ahead, this trades in that small body for a second creature later on. That type of value, when coupled with selection, can be very strong.
However, if you look at my older dredge lists that heavily utilize the graveyard, they do not really fit the type of shell that enjoys selection. Sure, you have some choices in the late game with Whip of Erebos or Jarad, but if you had it your way, the game would be over well before any of those options opened up. You want to charge through opposing defenses with early, gigantic creatures. So I specifically did not include Odunos River Trawler in those decks. If I spent a turn and four mana, one of which was not currently in the deck, that would be a huge tempo loss. It might be strong against certain decks, like control, but drawing the Trawler against an aggressive deck or Monoblue Devotion would be a joke.I Keep My Toolbox in this Grave Over Here...
Instead then, I wanted to take a look at what we might have if we embraced a slower version of the deck. Powerful nut draws would still be available to be explosive against an opponent, but you would rely much less on those and instead would be fine taking things to the mid or late game. There were some cards to identify that could fit this slower style of a shell.
Champion of Stray Souls for example is not a card I would ever consider for the faster version of dredge. It is a clunky card with a slow effect and can be easily disrupted, forcing you to try the process again. If the deck were slower, maybe a single copy of Champion would be helpful against control decks. Maybe not, but at least we could entertain the idea in that context. Remember that the Trawler finds a very specific type of card, not just any creature, so plenty of other cards entered the discussion as well:
Herald of TormentReturned CentaurProphet of KruphixGraverobber SpiderChromanticoreFate UnravelerKarametra, God of HarvestsPrognostic SphinxConsuming AberrationMnemonic Wall
But I was less confident in those cards than I was with others. For instance, Satyr Wayfinder is a card that I instantly included into both the following lists, as well as the more aggressive update to black/green dredge. The card is the third enabler that the deck really needed, especially because it did not lower the creature count in the way that traditional Mulch would. Creature count would be more relevant in the aggressive, low land version of the deck, but it could come up here as well.
I worried about the inclusion of cards that I thought were staples in the other list. Deathrite Shaman would theoretically cause some problems if it ate anything other than instants/sorceries and lands because I might later on need whatever creature was eaten. Some amount of food would exist, but I would also be looking to make my land drops more often, so I would not be able to as easily ignore them on things like Grisly Salvage. I wanted to see where I could go with a slightly more controlling deck. Ultimately, this is where my first draft led me:
This list slows things down quite a bit and looks to win off of the back of the inevitability of Phenax. Unlike most Gods, Phenax can allow you to win the game the instant that you play him. While it takes some setting up to properly execute, this does mean that Phenax can get around cards like Revoke Existence, Detention Sphere, and even Unravel the AEther. If anything like a Counterspell interrupts his hitting play, Odunus can recover The Fallen god and return it to power once again.
Thoughtseize may be the only one-drop in the deck, but an added number of lands that enter the battlefield tapped fill in that gap as well. Elvish Mystic is a card that might want to be in the deck though. It does not have the impact in the late game that it used to, but it does enable the streamlined play of it into Courser of Kruphix, which is a very strong opening. Ultimately that is probably not enough though, but testing could prove otherwise.
Speaking of Courser, he is one of those new cards I was speaking of. First of all, he is an enchantment creature which means that the Trawler can go picking up as he sees fit. Second of all, he has four toughness, which makes him pretty solid on defense and pretty good with a Phenax on the table. The fact that he comes with some life gain and deck smoothing is really nice as well. Those things allow you to go to the late game more easily. Keep in mind that with cards like Grisly Salvage and Satyr Wayfinder, you can often get multiple chances to look at a new top card for the turn to hit on land. Keep this in mind and often hold your land drop in the turn until it is necessary for mana.
Most of the numbers are 100% theoretical of course. Until Born of the Gods hits Magic Online, I won't be able to actually do much testing with the list. In theory, the deck stalls and fills up the graveyard throughout the early game while it gets its resources online. From there, threats like Nighthowler put pressure on the opponent while toolbox plays set up things like Phenax or Nylea for later. Trample on a giant Nighthowler is scary. Phenax fills up the yard very quickly which turns out your Trawlers and finds cards like Jarad which you can cast and then kill the opponent with as they are likely to be gigantic.
There are not really any other decks using the graveyard for anything useful right now, so you don't need to worry about enabling a deck unless you happen to run into the mirror match, which is probably a completely different way of playing the deck altogether.Slowing Things Further...
There may be an even slower, controlling style of build that takes advantage of Phenax though. While traditional control might not have any interest in this new god due to his desire for creatures to really take full advantage, you could build around that in a way that has not really been done thus far. For example, this list uses some early defensive creatures to help make Phenax a strong card later on, possibly even as a 4/7 creature himself.
This list could certainly use some work, but it also does some neat things. While the first list was more interested in milling itself to get what it wants, this deck very much just uses card advantage engines that draw off the top to get what it needs. Underworld Connections and Jace are both pretty strong at making sure card flow is happening. Nightveil Specter pitches in whenever he can as well.
And it is actually pretty reasonable to get a Phenax into creature form in this list. Remember that he supplies two pips of devotion for free, meaning you need to only contribute five more. Most of our creatures are supplying two or more pips whenever they are out, assuming Pack Rat is cloning himself. Jace and Underworld Connections both contribute two more pips as well. So with just a Jace and a Specter out, for example, Phenax gets to be alive and kickin'.
I think there are enough ways to push through a victory with the deck, but it is something I have thought about. Pack Rat is obviously a legitimate threat to end any game and the milling strategy seems viable for the most part. That said, you only have 16 creatures and two Mutavaults to actually have Phenax connect. If he were something like Jace, Memory Adept, would the deck just be better? Obviously I hope not, but we do need to make sure we are not just doing something cute because it is cute. Again, once these cards make it on to Magic Online, testing can help me figure out just where we stand.
Once you get past the creatures though, most of this is what you would expect to see out of a normal blue/black control deck. Some solid creature removal with some hand disruption to slow down the opponent. All of those walls also act like creature removal, making the need for things that deal with cards like Mutavault not as high of a priority.
Outside of Wall of Frost though, those creatures do apply pressure on the opponent. You might know that Frostburn Weird delivers some beatdowns if you have ever played with or against blue devotion before. Of course, you are still going to want to sideboard the majority of your dead cards, like some of the removal and the Walls, for spells with a bigger impact postboard, which is why there are so many strong cards against control there. You will probably end up taking out 10 cards for this swap
-2 Frostburn Weird-4 Wall of Frost-2 Bile Blight-2 Far // Away+4 Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver
+1 Duress+3 Negate+1 Mutavault+1 Hero's Downfall
That said, even though we are making a big shift, those cards in our starting deck still do something in the match up, for the most part.
Modern is still my number one priority as I will be leaving for Spain before you hear from me again here. Team TCGplayer and I are meeting in Valencia starting next weekend. So with that occupying most of my time, I will see what I can do with the Phenax lists. Until then, wish me luck! Thanks for reading!