Going Rogue: If I Only Had a Heart
Welcome back to another edition of Going Rogue, where winning isn't the goal but it often happens anyway.
Today we're going to take a look at one of the most interesting build-around-me cards of all time, Heartless Summoning
Laugh, scoff, chortle. What a terrible card. It's a do-nothing Enchantment, playable on the same turn as a Tarmogoyf. Something like this could never succeed in a competitive format, right?
Let's not jump to conclusions too quickly. What if I told you there were two entirely separate ways that this card can enable some obscenely powerful strategies? Make no mistake, the card does not belong in just any deck, but in the right company it can be downright absurd.
First, let's take a closer look at the two things the card does.
- Creature spells you cast cost 2 less to cast. Okay, strong ramp. Got it. What's the catch?
- Creatures you control get -1/-1. Oh great, so not only do my ramp targets get weaker, but it eliminates redundancy by making Birds of Paradise and its ilk completely unplayable. Pass!
This is where most people stop. But I said let's take a closer look. What does its rules text really say?
- Creature spells you cast that cost 2 or less cost zero instead.
- Whenever you cast a creature with 1 toughness or less, sacrifice it.
Things that you can cast for free, and easy access to graveyard shenanagins? Sounds like a combo deck if I've ever heard one. Ladies and gentlemen, this brings us to brew #1.
Alex's Heartless Myr Combo
What is going on here? It's quite simple actually. Assemble Heartless Summoning + Altar of the Brood + 2 Myr Retrievers, then proceed to mill your opponent into the stone age. The Retriever costs zero (thanks to the Summoning), and then dies immediately (thanks to the Summoning), then the next Retriever does the same thing, returning the first Retriever to your hand. Each time this happens, the Altar mills your opponent for one, so repeat until satisfied.
If it seems too cute, take a look at how well the rest of the list supports this strategy.
- Ancient Stirrings finds two of our three combo pieces, while also helping smooth land drops in this greedy 18-land mana base.
- Commune with the Gods and Taigam's Scheming are working double-duty, putting the cards you need into your hand or next-to-draw, and taking advantage of the fact that you can start the combo with the Altar of the Brood or one of the Myr Retrievers in the graveyard.
- You get ten more pieces of digging in Serum Visions, Sleight of Hand, Thirst for Knowledge, and Trinket Mage, who can also fetch the 1-of maindeck Pithing Needle to help fight off things like Scavenging Ooze and Relic of Progenitus.
- Spellskite becomes a zero-mana answer to Abrupt Decay, and Myr Superion is a zero-mana 4/5 to buy you a ton of time (or even add pressure against other combo decks.)
- Your main-deck counter-support in Muddle the Mixture also conveniently tutors for two of your three combo pieces via its transmute effect.
Meanwhile, out of the sideboard, we gain access to a treasure trove of disruption and cheap permission spells, to fight off opposing countermagic or game-enders like Rest in Peace, and extra copies of Pithing Needle.
I've seen many renditions of this deck, and while this one could probably still benefit from some pro-quality tweaking, it's the fastest and most reliable list I've come across so far.
Not a fan of cheeky combo strategies?
Well you're no fun. But I still have another option for you that is jam-packed with value. A ramp deck that puts rushing out Primeval Titans to shame, and can out-grind practically any other deck across formats.
People have played with this deck in the past as a UB build, and even taken it to respectable finished at StarCityGames events. The problem is that without the Summoning in play, your bombs are stuck in your hand. There's only so much work a Serum Visions can do.
The deck needs ramp redundancy, which means we're turning to Green for help.
But wait, didn't we just say that Heartless Summoning is a ramp nonbo thanks to its anti-synergy with 1-toughness mana dorks? Stick with me for a sec, because I'm going to suggest something a bit unconventional in a deck that starts all its ramping a turn late, on turn two. Enter Sylvan Caryatid and/or Wall of Roots.
With a full playset of one of the above, Heartless Summoning, and Serum Visions, the deck will have a turn 2 ramp option over 80% of the time. And once you're able to hit your first 5+ drop, you're off to the races with little hope of being caught. Let's take a look at the full list.
Alex's Heartless BUG
In my last article, Going Rogue: How To, Part 1, I emphasized the need for synergy in a rogue deck to upgrade its value game to that of typical Tier 1 deck. While claiming that this deck "makes it" is a bit of a stretch, I have stolen more than a handful of matches from Jund/Junk-tier opponents. Meanwhile, if it's fun you're after, the deck is so jam-packed with synergistic mini-combo plays that it also feels like playing EDH in Modern. Let's look under the hood a little.
- This deck likes creatures that like to die. Chump blockers buy you the necessary time to get set up, and recycling outs like Sidisi, Undead Vizier, Havengul Lich, and Evolutionary Leap make great use of friends who have overstayed their welcome. Conveniently, the deck has a ton of important role-players that are quite happy to die for the benefit of your next play. Perilous Myr, Solemn Simulacrum, and Thragtusk are the most obvious, but even Mulldrifter, Shriekmaw, Wall of Roots, and Wurmcoil Engine wear death well.
- Speaking of Evoke creatures, yes, Heartless Summoning lets us Divination your Mulldrifter for just U, and Terror your Shriekmaw for just B. And yes, we can sac them to Evolutionary Leap while their sac-to-Evoke trigger is on the stack. And yes, we can Evoke them from the grave with Havengul Lich. Yes we can.
- Got a card in mind? This deck digs with the best of them. Between Serum Visions, Evolutionary Leap, Sidisi, Undead Vizier, and Rune-Scarred Demon (and even the extra card drawing from Solemn Simulacrum), it's not hard to find what you want. Which is great, because sometimes it's the right time to go off:
- Havengul Lich is an overall great role-player, bizarrely borrowing abilities from Tasigur, the Golden Fang, Spellskite, and Wall of Roots, but he's really there to shock your opponent into oblivion by recurring Perilous Myrs over and over until you're onto the next game. With Heartless Summoning in play, its 2-drop 1/1 graveyard-gatling gun effect rears its ugly head again. The Myr dies to state-based effects, you pay 1 to target it from the graveyard with the Lich, and then cast it for free. Lather, rinse, repeat. Need to do 10 damage? That's 5 mana please. Pleasure doing business.
- And then there's just the good old fashioned beat-down. Rune-Scarred Demons, Wurmcoil Engine(s), and Frost Titan are outrageously high-value creatures in their cheaper forms (which don't lose much from going down -1/-1), and are downright oppressive when your go-to board sweeper (Languish) spares them all, even in their shrunken forms.
I could go on about all the possible interactions in this deck, but I'll just simplify it visually:
The fun isn't quite over, either, as there's still a sideboard to consider.
- Got a problem with Splinter Twin? One maindeck Spellskite helps (albeit not that much since the Summoning puts it into Lightning Bolt range), but a tapout deck sometimes needs to lean on Slaughter Pact to get out of a nasty situation. Normally removal isn't a huge priority, as we just out-size them on everything, but I'll make an exception for free spells. Duress helps preempt these problems as well.
- While the deck can be incredibly powerful from turn 4 onward, heavy damage in the first three can be an issue. Brindle Boars and an extra Wurmcoil Engine help keep the life total high, Drown in Sorrows and more Shriekmaws help clear away things like Goblin Guide and Qasali Pridemage, and Silent Arbiter is absolutely crushing to any deck that thinks its collection of 3/3s is relevant against your singleton 5/5.
- And finally, Massacre Wurm is an outstanding pivot player against tribal or token decks.
So there you have it. Two completely different ways to take a ridiculous looking card like Heartless Summoning and turn it into the most dangerous card in the deck.
Tune in next week when we look at some other underrated cards with a look at the Top 10 build-around-me cards in Modern.
Until then, have fun, and make the force be with brew.