The Year of Living Dangerously: Mastering Mastery
- Lee Murphy
Imagine not being able to lose the game. Imagine that every time you gain life, you draw extra cards. (Card advantage is great, right?) …but what’s this? I need to exile some cards in my graveyard? Okay, I can do that. Now my hand? Well, I guess since I drew extra cards, I don’t mind. My permanents too? Uh-oh…
Lich's Mastery is one of those cards that you need to read a few times before it all sinks in. "You can’t lose the game." Can’t beats can. Not even Door to Nothingness can beat it. It even has Hexproof, so it can’t be hit with Naturalize, Forsake the Worldly, Invoke the Divine, or all other cards that are super present in Standard right now. Every time one of these cards sees print, there’s a massive rush to try and take advantage of it. Unfortunately, it hasn’t made massive waves thus far, but let’s see if we can fix that. Here are five Lich’s Mastery decks to help you make friends for life at your local FNM!
Things to Keep in Mind
You can’t lose the game – you can’t die due to damage, you can’t die if your library is empty, you can’t die if you have ten poison counters (which isn't relevant for Standard, but just so you know). You draw cards every time you gain life, so we’re going to want to have lifegain of some description available to us.
However, every time you lose life (damage taken or life lost), you exile one of your permanents from play or a card from your hand or graveyard. If Lich’s Mastery is your last permanent, you're in a lot of trouble. In this article, we’ll want to acknowledge these drawbacks, then use them to our advantage.
Back to Black
We’ll start with Mono Black, black being a colour that hasn’t had much hassle when it comes to gaining life or filling a graveyard.
|3Cabal Stronghold||2Filigree Familiar||2Treasure Map / Treasure Cove|
|2Memorial to Folly||4Gifted Aetherborn||2Karn, Scion of Urza|
|1Scavenger Grounds||2Gonti, Lord of Luxury||3Liliana, Death's Majesty|
|19Swamp||2Josu Vess, Lich Knight||3Fatal Push|
|2Kitesail Freebooter||4Vraska's Contempt|
|2Battle at the Bridge|
Creatures are the traditional means to victory in any deck. Here, they work double time with a mix of lifegain (more cards) and Duress/Bribery in Kitesail Freebooter and Gonti, Lord od Luxury. Liliana’s late brother shouldn't be overlooked either, not in a deck that can generate large amounts of mana through Cabal Stronghold. Resolving Josu Vess, Lich Knight will often lead to victory during the subsequent turn, and in case it doesn’t, his zombie companions will be the ideal sacrificial zombie lambs to the Mastery.
Doomfall keeps the way clear, either as a Thoughtseize or as creature removal. Vraska’s Contempt is everywhere right now, and with the rise of planeswalker-focused decks to hitherto unseen levels, it’s clear we'll want the full set. Vraska enables you to gain life too. That’s two more cards. Battle at the Bridge is a wonderful addition to this deck because it can be a straight-up removal spell or well… a better Braingeyser – a better "Draw X…" sorcery. Fatal Push needs little to no commentary, as it is one of the finest removal spells in current Standard.
Treasure Map smooths out draws. It can either help accelerate into a kicked Josu Vess, or as with the zombies, the Treasure tokens can be exiled should we find ourselves in trouble.
Liliana, Death's Majesty fills the graveyard and creates zombies. Her ultimate is effectively unbeatable here, as she either creates enough zombies to take the win, or she pumps out enough bodies that our opponent can never deal enough damage to get ahead on the board.
Karn, Scion of Urza lets us dig deeper into our deck. He can also create constructs if we need to go down the beatdown route or need blockers or more fodder for Mastery.
Unfortunately, this deck is weak against winged beasts, so hold back Vraska for Heart of Kiran or Aethersphere Harvester and utilize Battle at the Bridge when needed to clean up Glorybringer. Fatal Push can deal with Rekindling Phoenix tokens.
A Grey Area
Next up is the White-Black Orzhov pairing. A Hidden Stockpile deck can provide us the width and lifegain (all those Vampire tokens) required to utilize Mastery best. However, with Goblin Chainwhirler in the format, it’s far too fragile right now. So, to get the best out of Lich’s Mastery, we’ll have to turn to Mastermind’s Acquisition.
|25Lands||21Instants and Sorceries||14Other Spells|
|1Arch of Orazca||4Fatal Push||3Gideon of the Trials|
|4Concealed Courtyard||3Settle the Wreckage||3Liliana, Death's Majesty|
|2Field of Ruin||3Vraska's Contempt||3Arguel's Blood Fast / Temple of Aclazotz|
|2Ifnir Deadlands||3Approach of the Second Sun||3Lich's Mastery|
|4Isolated Chapel||4Doomfall||2Treasure Map / Treasure Cove|
|1Approach of the Second Sun||3Authority of the Consuls||3Bontu's Last Reckoning|
|1Gideon of the Trials||1Lich's Mastery||3Profane Procession // Tomb of the Dusk Rose|
|2Sorcerous Spyglass||1Vraska's Contempt|
This deck is creature-free (barring an animated Gideon of the Trials) to stymie opposing removal suites, while we deal with most of the threats played out against us. The sideboard contains the last copies of Lich's Mastery and Approach of the Second Sun, allowing us to fetch them with Mastermind’s Acquisition as required. Mastery interacts admirably with Approach, as the seven life gained redraws the spell.
Also, remember in the beginning when I mentioned the "can’t beats can" aspect of Magic terminology? Gideon’s ultimate means you won’t lose the game even if you need to exile Lich’s Mastery to its own ability. This is only likely in matches where you’re at risk of losing Gideon. If you happen to find yourself in this boat, take a screenshot or photo, and send it to the Cardmarket Twitter account.
Better Red than Dead
We’re going to "cheat" here a little when it comes to a red build, and plump for a Mardu version. Of course, this is perfectly reasonable, given the success that combination has had in recent years. When Lich’s Mastery was spoiled, the one red card that sprung to my mind was Glorious End. Being able to effectively Time Walk your opponent with no drawback is too good an interaction to pass up.
In this deck, you will have the best creature removal available to you, while gaining life as the game progresses. You can delay playing out Sunbird’s Invocation until you’re ready to cast Approach of the Second Sun, which can potentially dig you up another copy. No creatures, no planeswalkers. This means, as with the Abzan version afterwards, your opponent will be sitting on dead cards.
|3Aether Hub||4Abrade||4Approach of the Second Sun|
|1Clifftop Retreat||3Fatal Push||1Battle at the Bridge|
|4Concealed Courtyard||2Glorious End||3Doomfall|
|1Dragonskull Summit||2Moment of Craving||4Fumigate|
|4Inspiring Vantage||3Settle the Wreckage||3Lich's Mastery|
|3Isolated Chapel||4Vraska's Contempt||2Sunbird's Invocation|
Abzan by Moudou
Green gets two spots, Abzan and Golgari. The first build, courtesy of fellow CMer Moudou, ramps to our legendary enchantment. You gain life as needed, prior to casting Mastery or afterwards in order to draw additional cards. Thaumatic Compass helps fetch additional lands and when flipped gives you a Spires of Orazca to help stabilise your position. Mastermind's Acquisition on your sideboard is another tool which you can access when needed, although this won't be as likely as in the Orzhov version.
Your land base has a selection of Deserts, which can be utilised as required: pump attacks, -1/-1 counters to help deal with opposing gods, or graveyard removal. Our win-con will be Approach of the Second Sun. Again, zero creatures and zero planeswalkers, which means your opponents will be sitting on removal spells which have no use. It’s even possible that there won’t be enough cards in the sideboard to bring in against you.
The Immortal Sun on the sideboard can provide additional card advantage. At the same time, it can put an end to any ‘walker problems… and there are a lot of them in Standard right now.
|1Approach of the Second Sun||1Dispossess||4Duress|
|1Lost Legacy||1Moment of Craving||2Naturalize|
|1Profane Procession // Tomb of the Dusk Rose||1Slice in Twain||1The Immortal Sun|
|1Walking Ballista||1Wildest Dreams|
It’s time to give some love to the Weatherlight’s bumbling walking-not-talking mushroom. If Flash is the Justice League’s most important member (A Better World), then it stands to reason that Magic’s fungal friend is equally as important.
|4Blooming Marsh||4Llanowar Elves||3Lich's Mastery|
|5Forest||4Slimefoot, the Stowaway||4Fatal Push|
|3Ifnir Deadlands||3Torgaar, Famine Incarnate||2Fungal Infection|
|2Memorial to Folly||1Verdant Force||3Spore Swarm|
|6Swamp||3Yavimaya Sapherd||3Vraska's Contempt|
|2Vraska, Relic Seeker|
This version, above all, is probably the most fun. It’s a simple Golgari deck that also happens to run Lich’s Mastery. The goal is to get some early creatures into play, and then crank out Torgaar, Famine Incarnate into an empty board, dropping your opponent's life to 10. If you’re pushed into a longer game, each dead Saproling with Lich's Mastery and Slimefoot, the Stowaway in play will get you a card. This allows you to be in a position where you can creature multiple Saprolings per turn, running them into the opposing creatures. Vraska, Relic Seeker’s ultimate puts an opponent's life total to 1, and surely there can’t be anything sweeter than swinging with a solitary Saproling at this point, knowing full well that victory is assured!
Blue Blue Electric Blue
Blue and Black go together in Magic like David Bowie and saxophones. It’s the ultimate control package. Blue for countermagic, Black for creature removal, and The Scarab God as a cherry on top. But at the risk of sounding like a defeatist, Dimir Mastery doesn’t work in Standard. There’s no real argument, even for the sake of an article, to deviate wildly from a traditional UB shell, even if you want to ditch TSG, or don’t care too much for Gearhulks.
Check back at a later date and maybe we’ll look at how the card works in Modern and Legacy.
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