From Premade to Awesome #5: Poking a Hornet Nest

Welcome back everyone! Two weeks ago we opened Will of the Masses and looked at the theme of the deck, its strengths and weaknesses, and its best and worst cards. This week I will play the first two rounds of matches and will change 10 cards to hopefully improve the deck. As a reminder, this is the current state of the deck:

At the time of writing, Khans of Tarkir has not yet been released on Magic Online so you will see a lot of Magic 2015 and Theros Block cards.

First round of matches

The first match went rather badly. In Game 1 I kept this starting hand in the hopes of drawing either a Plains or any green creature.
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Sadly that didn’t happen. She surprised me with an Ensoul Artifact, which hit me for 5 at Turn 2. Well, now I know how it is to be on the receiving end of this card. I was able to Naturalize the artifact, though. But that didn’t help much since I drew no other cards that I could cast. In the meantime she played Young Pyromancer, several burn spells and another Ensoul Artifact which let to a quick loss.

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My starting hand in Game 2 was much better and pretty close to the optimum you can get with this deck:

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I played Raise the Alarm followed by Nissa’s Expedition and then summoned the Siege Wurm on Turn 4.

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Afterwards the game took a bad turn when she found a second Young Pyromancer. I decided to attack with the Wurm, which was probably a mistake. A Shock and three elementals finished it off. I followed with another bad play by summoning the Seraph of the Masses with only the two tokens left on the board. That meant the angel was 3/3 and could die to a Lightning Strike, which it promptly did.

The rest of my team then tried its best to battle her elementals. But eventually I died to a 5/5 Darksteel Citadel which was then sacrificed for a Shrapnel Blast. Oh, the irony . . .

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Results Match 1: 0-2 LOSE

Match 2 started better when I got this starting hand with a lot of playable cards:

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She played Hero of Ioras, I played Raise the Alarm and Wall of Mulch. She then enhanced the hero with Hopeful Eidolon and attacked.

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I tapped the Plains and the two tokens and cast Devouring Light. Nice! For the first time I felt like the deck actually was working. I emptied my hand for a couple of soldiers and the Will-Forged Golem while she played Brimaz, King of Oreskos. Like I said last time, this card would fit right into our deck too. But with a price tag of about $17 he would nearly break our 20-dollar budget on his own. Currently our deck stands at about $1 by the way.

But let’s return to the actual game: She tried to mount a defense but I cast Triplicate Spirits. Getting three flyers is very nice, and I beat her down to 6. I played a Selfless Cathar whose +1/+1 ability would have been the victory, so she conceded.

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In Game 2 she was stuck on 2 mana a long time while I was able to build the board up to Feral Incarnation.

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You’ll notice she’s still at 20 life despite not being able to cast much. That shows that our deck is really slow right now. That would have nearly cost me the game. She played Brimaz on the next turn. I attacked her with everything, sacrificed the Selfless Cathar and brought her down to 5. She played Hall of Triumph and used Brimaz to stabilize the board. She managed to hit me down to 10 before I could play Hornet Queen, who could finally kill her 9/10 cat king.

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She conceded shortly afterwards. That shows that Hornet Queen is a really powerful card, but the mana cost is way too high and it doesn’t have convoke. Chord of Calling is starting to look very attractive.

Results Match 2: 2-0 WIN

In Match 3 I was up against a mono-black deck. I had a nice starting hand with Sunblade Elf and Raise the Alarm. She played Walking Corpse and Blood Bairn.

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I used my creatures to play Seraph of the Masses. She played Brain Maggot and sacrificed her creatures to the Blood Bairn to attack me for 6. I finished the game with the help of Selfless Cathar and Titanic Growth.

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In Game 2 both of us started relatively slow. I played Raise the Alarm and Midnight Guard, who instantly died to Quag Sickness while my tokens were held up by her Tenacious Dead.

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I used my tokens to convoke Triplicate Spirits. She played Dreadbringer Lampads in return. On the next turn I attacked with my spirits and used the token to convoke Seraph of the Masses as a 6/6. She played Quag Sickness on it, making it a 1/1 and attacked me for 5 damage bringing me down to 14. On the next turn I attacked with my soldiers and then used my other creatures to convoke Feral Incarnation which was utterly misplayed. Do you see why?:

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Yeah. Playing the Incarnation will boost the Seraph to 4/4. So I should have convoked in the first main phase and then attacked with the angel for 2 damage more than I did with the soldiers. Oh well. She decided to attack me and bring me down to 9. In return, I shoved my creatures to the red line on my turn and finished the game.

Results Match 3: 2-0 WIN

Analysis and first round of changes

Okay, this deck went 2-1, which isn’t bad for a fresh out of the box Wizards deck. Let’s see what went well and what went badly, and if my first impression of the deck and its cards held true.

Firstly the convoke mechanic did work very well. I was able to cast Living Totem, Triplicate Spirits and Seraph of the Masses with ease. On the other hand, it is also true that the deck struggles to get its biggest creatures – Phytotitan and Hornet Queen – onto the battlefield since they don’t possess convoke. Nevertheless I was able to win Matches 2 and 3 against the two slower decks since I could build up my team and then go for a ton of damage. But I stood no chance against the first deck, which was way too fast and aggressive.

That means that we have to strengthen the early game of this deck. As I see it, we can take two different routes here. On the one hand we can include cheap, efficient creatures that can create early pressure like Sunblade Elf and Fleecemane Lion. On the other hand we could take a defensive approach with Sylvain Caryatid and Hornet Nest. The problem with an aggressive approach is that you cannot attack with your creatures and then use them afterwards to convoke something. But you face the same dilemma with defensive creatures that won’t be defending anything if you tapped them for convoke.

Since I couldn’t decide, I think I will go with a hybrid approach. I’ll include a couple of efficient small creatures that can do some damage in the first rounds. I also include Hornet Nest that can serve as a deterrent when the smaller creatures will be used to convoke something. The neat thing about Hornet Nest is, that while it has only 2 toughness you get hornet tokens equal to the damage dealt, even if it exceeds 2. This can seriously increase our convoke potential.

I also want to include Chord of Calling to have a way to get our fatties into the game. But I won’t do this in this round of changes since I first want to strengthen our token base. So let’s get to the first round of changes. For those of you who are new to this series, a quick reminder: I will only swap 5 cards per round of change and there will be a total of 4 rounds of changes per deck. At the time of writing, Khans of Thakir is not yet available on MTGO so I am restricted to Magic 2015 and Theros Block cards.

(I) Meditation Puzzle -1
(II) Overwhelm -1

In the last article I said that Overwhelm, Meditation Puzzle, and Sanctified Charge were the weakest cards in the deck. I still think that is true for the first two cards mentioned. But some readers suggested that Sanctified Charge was better than I valued it. I never drew it in the 6 games I played so I cannot comment on it. I will leave it in the deck for now, though.

(III) Nissa’s Expedition -1

While this card can improve our mana base, I don’t think we want lands. Instead we want creatures to use convoke.

(IV) Titanic Growth -1

Yeah this card is also nice, but I think we can include better ones. I also like Gather Courage much more in this deck, especially if you play it for free while tapping your defending Hornet Nest. This way you might be able to kill the attacking creature, get some tokens and still have a Hornet Nest for the next round.

(V) Wall of Mulch -1

Okay, it’s the only way our deck can draw cards. But it is a very inefficient way. I rather have other spells on the 2-mana slot.

(VI) Hornet Nest +3

I really want to see this card in action. You don’t want four of these in the deck since they are sometimes useless in the starting hand. But I want to draw one of them every game so three is an optimal amount.

(VII) Fleecemane Lion +2

A 3/3 for 2 mana is very nice and it can get monstrous later. Since it is green and white it can also provide colored convoke mana, depending on the situation. My only concern is that it may be a bit taxing on our mana base. Together with Sunblade Elf we are now dependent on getting a Forest and a Plains in our starting hand.

Okay, great! That’s the first round of changes. Those 5 cards cost about two and a half tickets at the Academy’s sellbots. That brings the total cost of our deck to four dollars, which is very budget-friendly. So here is the current decklist:

Okay, great! Let’s head back to the tables.

Second round of matches

In the first match I was up against a weird UGB deck that sported only flyers. Which was the worst case scenario for Hornet Nest. Oh well.

I got a very nice starting hand and 5 power on the board on Turn 2.

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She played Warden of Evos Isle. I think that is a nice card in limited but it lacks some power in standard. She attacked and played Warrior’s Lesson to draw a card and then played Illusory Angel. On my turn I had a couple of options:

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I could either attack and exile the angel with Devouring Light. Or I could attack and exchange creatures with the help of Gather Courage and then play Hornet Nest. Or I could decide to not attack and instead to convoke a Siege Wurm. Since she played blue I was afraid that she might have Hubris or something similar, sending my Wurm back to the hand. That would have set me back two turns, which would have been unacceptable. So I decided to attack and use Gather Courage, saving Devouring Light for a juicier target. She decided to block the Oreskos Swiftclaw and both creatures died. I played the nest whose only job would have been to convoke something.

She played Bident of Thassa and a Welkin Tern and started to draw cards like crazy. But apparently she didn’t find anything useful and surrendered.

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In Game 2 I got another aggressive starting hand. A fierce race started when she buffed a Welkin Tern with Eternal Thirst.

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I hoped for Naturalize or Devouring Light to deal with the bird but was disappointed. Instead I played Selfless Cathar, Raise the Alarm and Living Totem. I probably would have lost the game but I drew Sanctified Charge. Hey look, the card is not that bad after all!

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Results Match 1: 2-0 WIN

In Match 2 I was up against a Wizards of the Coast employee who played . . . something?

I mulliganned to 6 and got this starting hand:
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I got a Plains on Turn 3 and played the Oreskos Swiftclaw. It was stopped hard by Anvilwrought Raptor. Since I couldn’t attack into the first strike bird, nothing happened for a couple of turns until he played Liliana Vess and used the -2 ability to tutor a card. I attacked, killed the planeswalker, and lost a spirit token in the process.

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I continued to play the Phytotitan and on Turn 9 I finally found Devouring Light and attacked. I exiled the bird and brought Kevin down to 15. He played Ring of Three Wishes, which didn’t help at all and he died the next turn.

In Game 2, I decided to keep this starting hand despite the lack of spells, since his deck didn’t seem to be fast.

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The game lasted 5 turns, then he surrendered.

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Well, it was about 11pm in his part of the US when I played this match. He was probably half asleep. I hope.

Results Match 2: 2-0 WIN

In Match 3 I played against a WB Orzhov deck. My starting hand was okay and I played Fleecemane Lion on Turn 2.

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Annoyingly she played Stab Wound on it, turning it into a 1/1 self-killing kitten. I used a Living Totem to beef it back to 2/2 and also played a Hornet Nest. She played Nightveil Specter. What’s the matter with all those flyers? My nest was still good enough to convoke Seraph of the Masses who instantly died to Orzhov Charm.

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But that didn’t matter because I drew another one and played it. It died to Doom Blade. Great. My own lion then proceeded to kill me.

In Game 2 I probably should have mulliganned because you don’t want Hornet Queen in your starting hand.

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I played Fleecemane Lion on Turn 2. On Turn 3 I decided to not attack but instead to Raise the Alarm and convoke a Living Totem. To my utter annoyance the lion acted as a magnet for Stab Wounds again.
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Both of us built up our boards and I proceeded to attack with the lion, which, to my relief, was finally killed by Typhoid Rat.

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My vain hopes of getting back into the game were destroyed when she played Bile Blight on my Living Totems. With only one soldier token left I went down to 10 before I found a Siege Wurm to cast. Obviously it died to Doom Blade as soon as it hit the board. Two turns later and on 2 life, I finally found a third Forest to play the Hornet Queen. She played Sign in Blood and I was already typing “good game” before I realized that she played it on herself. She noticed it too.

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While the queen itself died to Orzhov Charm the tokens were enough to stabilize the board and I brought her down to 6. Which was when she played Congregate to get back to 20. Another Bile Blight on the tokens then sealed my fate.

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Results Match 3: 0-2 LOSE

Analysis and second round of changes

While we went 2-1, I am not hugely satisfied with the performance of the deck. Especially Hornet Nest didn’t block a single creature in three matches. Of course that was mainly because every opponent was sporting tons of flyers. I still have hopes for the card and maybe next week, when Magic 2014 and Return to Ravnica Block rotate out of Standard, we will see fewer creatures with flying.

Another thing I sorely missed was enchantment removal. There are a ton of enchantments in the Theros Block and this deck only has one Naturalize. Normally these are sideboard cards but since I don’t have the option in this format to include a sideboard, I think I want to raise the count of Devouring Light to four to function as a makeshift aura removal. It can also helps against gods, even if I didn’t encounter any in the last 6 matches.

That Hornet Queen nearly turned the last game around shows that this card is a huge boon to the deck. That it sat about 5 turns in my hand while I waited for a Forest also shows that it is not made to be hard-cast for me. I think it is high time to include Chord of Calling.

I feel slightly positive about the aggressive setup with Sunblade Elf and Fleecemane Lion. They can really put out some early pressure. There have been some situations where I decided to attack instead of convoke but that was when I could cast the creature on the next turn anyway. So I think I want to further pursue this way by adding more aggressive creatures to the deck.

So lets see which changes we make here.

(I) Feral Incarnation -2
This isn’t necessarily a bad card. It provides you with 9 power and 9 toughness for 9 mana and convoke, which is a very fair deal. But I would rather draw Chord of Calling instead and bring Hornet Queen into play.

(II) Naturalize -1

Off you go.

(III) Midnight Guard -2

I like Hornet Nest more in the 3 mana slot, and 2 power for 3 mana is not very exciting.

(IV) Chord of Calling +3

In you go. Now please be as good as I think you are. You want three copies of Chord of Calling in your deck and one copy of each creature you want to convoke with it. That way you lessen the chance to draw a fat creature in your starting hand while Chord is acting as copies 2 to 4 of that creature. So currently it is like we have four copies of Hornet Queen in the deck.

(V) Devouring Light +2

I really want more removal. And if it is only to remove my own Stab Wounded Fleecemane Lion from the game.

So this is what our deck looks like now:

Chord of Calling is quite expensive at over 2 tickets per copy. This brings the total cost of our deck to about 11 tickets. That is still within our budget and leaves 9 dollars wiggle room for later additions.

Conclusion

Our deck performs, but I think it can do better. I am still positive on Hornet Nest but it has to show some value in the next set of matches or it will be thrown out again. I hope our creature base proves strong enough to cast Chord of Calling regularly. The deck also built some resilience against sweepers. Hornet Nest is a very good card against Anger of the Gods and Fleecemane Lion has the option to become indestructible. While not yet perfect I think the deck will perform better in the next matches when Khans of Tarkir has rotated into Standard.

What do you think? Is Hornet Nest the worst choice ever? Do you think that taking the aggressive approach is good? Please use the comment section or write me under the screenname Gurkengelee on MTGO.

 
  1. I think you should really either take the full “long-game” road or the “full-aggro” mode, the deck looks somewhat undecided in between.

    I guess all the convoke things do tend to be a bit more late-gamish because you first need to drop your things on the table before you cast your big stuffs, but I have to admit I never really tried convoke decks so my opinion might not be so relevant ^^”

    Assuming it’s a bit more late-gamish deck, i think you could and/or SHOULD keep the hornet nest. I tried it this card out in various more or less budget defensive decks (the two funniest being Purphoros-Nest-burn and GB graveyard) and it performs wonders.

    I think it’s bad luck you hit decks with so many flyers, in the 10-15ish matches I played, it happened only once or twice!

    Something that works rather well too is to find <

  2. oops, sorry, small pb while typing.

    Something that works rather well is to find something to deal direct damage to your own nest. In RG it works a lot better though.

    I think in GW your only possibility is Nessian Wilds ravager, and only if the opponent doesn’t want to give you a 12/12 :(

    Not sure on what route to take from here tbh!

  3. I am, again, impressed with your dedication and your writing style. I really enjoyed this article.

    Regarding the content:
    Convoke into creatures has some pretty restrictive demands on your tempo and your play style. I found that a good convoke deck is per se midrange, as you need build-up to power it and you lack long term win conditions besides one or two large creatures. I agree with your changes and I would’ve answered the aggro vs control question the same way you did.

    The Sanctified Charge has to stay to enable another win condition against single removal. In limited, I was able to win with convoke decks simply because if they deal with my convoked creature, I can use the small stuff to overrun them with Charge or Selfless Cathar. Otherwise you just lose when they Blight your Hornet Queen tokens and you have nothing except ground fodder left in your deck.

  4. (quick note while I was browsing through card to change my budget GB deck: i was mentionning only Nessian Wilds Ravager to fight your own creature – that was wrong. There is also setessan tactics, nad it’s much more reliable at that task!)

  5. Hey Magikado, hey Edward,

    a huge thanks for the feedback! I really appreciate it. I will probably add another Charge to the deck as back-up winning condition as you suggested Edward. Even the threat of a combat trick can force your opponent to play too safe.

    I really like the idea of the Nessian Wilds Ravager or Setessan Tactics. I am more drawn towards the Hydra though. In contrast to other Hydras you don’t have to pay X in order to make it big, which means it can be convoked with Chord of Calling. On the other hand Setessan Tactics and a Fleecemane Lion would allow to make 4 Hornet Tokens on turn 3. That would be great but we would need at least 3 copies to make it worthwile.

  6. Ah, the debacle of the GW convoke deck…to be quicker or pack a bigger punch — or both, as the article described. Honestly, I don’t feel there’s any necessity to choose because sometimes being able to do both will actually win more games against more match-ups and more styles of decks.

    If enchantment/artifact removal is wanted, I would think a single Reclamation Sage (esp. with Chord of Calling) wouldn’t hurt, if those types of permanents are causing trouble.

    Hornet Nest seems fine enough, good for card advantage as well. Maybe the answer is to bump it down to just two in case of another wave of flying creatures comes your way.

    But this series is best when somebody plays an archetype with expensive cards and they get beat by the “Premade to Awesome” list (and in this one, it was just a Starter Deck! my goodness)…very enjoyable to see. Nice article!

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