Guest Post: Competitive Casual – Harvest Time!

Celing Dragon is watching you...

I’ve been dabbling in EDH for awhile now; my friend Shawn got me into it towards the end of the summer as a less costly way than Standard to approach Magic players in a new city where I had few friends and needed a way to meet people. Although I’ve built a few decks in that time, my favorite general to work around has definitely been Teneb, the Harvester from Planar Chaos‘s cycle of alternate wedge-colored “younger dragon legends”. Teneb hits a lot of my favorites as a deckbuilder: he’s a strong enough beatstick for multiplayer, he puts me in colors I enjoy playing, he’s reanimation… and he’s three colors. You may not know this about me, but my favorite color of Magic is gold. (The last sixteen months playing with Alara block have been a lot of fun for me.)

I’m going to break my deck down into sections so I can talk about different aspects of it and how I went about designing them. Hopefully, that will be more effective than just dumping the whole list on you and rambling about a handful of random cards.

Flying
Whenever Teneb, the harvester deals combat damage to a player, you may pay 2B. If you do, put target creature card in a graveyard onto the battlefield under your control.

Let’s have a look, shall we?

LANDS (37)

As I said, I enjoy making decks with three or more colors. In EDH though, this can be a problem if one doesn’t own a lot of mana-fixing: whereas in other formats you can pick two or three good lands and run playsets of them, in EDH you need a lot of unique cards that are reliable together. I’m lucky in that my collection (while not particularly strong when it comes to things like Standard) is rather large, and extremely varied. When I went looking for lands to support a three-color deck in singleton, I found that I had actually acquired a significant variety of them over the years.

(Quick aside: A few of the stores I’ve frequented have had “common bins” in the front or the back of the store full of, as you might guess, random commons thrown together in boxes with little to no organization. I cannot promote this idea strongly enough for casual players, particularly in singleton formats like EDH. Commons from the bins are usually there because the store owners don’t care enough to spend time sorting them, and as a result they tend to be dirt cheap–as little as eight to ten cents a card. If you need help finding lands or anything else for your EDH decks, you should see if your local store has one of these bins. They’re like a combination clearance rack and grab bag; you never know what you’re going to find, and you can walk away with a stack of real prizes for the price of the change in your pocket.)

You’ll notice I’m running precious few basic lands–two of each of my colors. Yes, this does make me vulnerable to certain strategies like Blood Moon or Anathemancer, but I find that’s a minor risk that’s very well worth taking. My experience with three-color decks in EDH is that you want a handful of basic lands “just in case”, but beyond that, the fewer basics you’re running the smoother your mana is going to be.

There are reasons to cut down on basics even if you don’t have access to a full spectrum of color fixer lands. (I know, not everybody has a random Vec Townships sitting in their nonbasic land box. Most people probably don’t even have a nonbasic land box.) At the very least, you should think about replacing some basic lands with useful monocolored nonbasic ones, like the Cycling lands and man-lands. Extra little utility effects like these can help you dig your way out of tough spots, such as when you can’t find the colors to cast certain spells.

You might also notice I have a few colorless lands. While I will caution against colorless lands in decks like this, where you need all the multi-color fixing you can get, I make an exception for fetch-lands of all types. Yes, Terramorphic Expanse is going to end up tapping for only one color of mana no matter what you fetch with it; yet having that choice about what color to get can go a long way towards getting a struggling mana base online. New common variants of this sac-and-search effect are getting printed all the time, making them easy to get your hands on if you don’t own any, while pricier options like Marsh Flats certainly have their place if you’ve got them. (As we get down to the rest of the deck, you’ll see I have a few land-tutoring effects there as well, which is why it’s good to keep at least a few basics on the list–just no more than you must.)

CREATURES (24)

I took my General’s cue and made this a fairly simple reanimator-beats deck, and its creatures are its heart and soul. My creature core starts small, and its early game is based entirely around utility. Big guys with cycling (either landcycling or the real thing) should absolutely be ditched early to accelerate my mana or draw; they’ll be nice and safe in my graveyard if I need to reanimate them later on. Cards like Necrotic Sliver, Magus of the Disk and Shriekmaw, meanwhile, help defend my exposed position by keeping the board clear of early threats and also put some bodies into graveyards for later.

The finishers are where the deck gets fun, of course, and where my repressed inner Timmy gets to come out for a bit. (EDH is certainly the format for him to thrive.) As good as Teneb is, he’s hardly the only flagship this deck can ride to victory; in fact, I’ve filled the creature base with viable finishers from Akroma, Angel of Wrath and Scion of Darkness to Windbrisk Raptor and Dread. “Smash and swing” beaters like Angel of Despair and Reiver Demon also let me control threats without slowing down my aggressive game, while Woodfall Primus and friends help me answer other problem permanents.

With all these options, there are many games where I’ve got enough action in hand and on board where I don’t even bother to bring Teneb out. (He tends to get testy when I do that, though; while he’s neither as crafty nor as vindictive as his Red-Blue uncle Nicol Bolas, he shares that dragon’s Black sense of self-importance, and his White and Green sides can make him incredibly self-righteous.)

SPELLS (38)

While the creatures are unarguably the most fun part of the deck (and, after all, the win condition), I like to think the spell base is where it really shines. There are a lot of really cool effects I’m pleased to have been able to work in here, and they’re a large part of why the deck tends to carry out its strategy so smoothly.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the strong arm of this deck and the way it muscles its way to dominance over other decks is in its suite of removal. Now, I’ve been told by other EDH players that so-called “spot removal”–that is, kill spells that target specific creatures–doesn’t really have much value in this format since there are so many scary threats around. I have to politely disagree. While it’s true that running a token amount of removal can be inadequate, I’ve found that–at least in this deck, where every creature sent to a graveyard is automatic synergy with an inevitable reanimation spell drawn later–running a whole lot of removal can be really really good. With that in mind, my strategy here has been–at least in part–to run enough kill spells (both spot and mass removal) that I can answer anything my opponents decide to send my way.

That said, I’ve taken a shrewder approach to the removal suite than simply throwing in every “kitchen sink” kill spell I can get my hands on. For this deck I handpicked only those removal spells that caught my eye by offering some special perk: the added utility of also addressing other permanent types, for example (like Mortify and Putrefy); or a substantial life swing as a bonus (the best example is Phthisis). It’s also worth pointing out that nearly every single one of my kill spells can at the very least kill whatever sort of creature I decide is necessary; there are no pesky “nonblack” effects here.

I am not indifferent to the appeal of the two-(or-more)-for-ones promised by mass removal, either, and cards like Punishment and Decree of Pain back up the simple “Wrath and Disk package that others might have stopped with.

I also pride myself on including a few answers to cards that might defy most forms of removal. I’ve circumvented the color-hosing blind spots my opponents might be packing (looking at you, everybody-else’s-Akroma) by spreading my targeted spells across all three of my colors. For Darksteel Colossus, I have Mercy Killing; for the Simic Sky Swallowers of the world, Extinction. (There’s also Condemn for negating the recursive capabilities of opposing Generals. I recommend cards like this for every deck that can run them. Hint to blue players: Spin into Myth.)

Finally, the purpose of this deck is of course to reanimate, and I have a full suite of strong options there: Animate Dead, Profane Command, Rise from the Grave, Hymn of Rebirth, Crime, Beacon of Unrest, Liliana Vess, all the way up to Debtor’s Knell. Like my versatile removal package, you may notice that a lot of these have alternate modes or bonus effects besides simply reanimating, in case I need them for something else along the way. There’s also one thing nearly every one of them has in common: they let me steal creatures from my opponents’ graveyards as well as my own. Since I’m putting all that effort into killing things, I certainly want to be able to capitalize on that when I can.

(Another aside for a quick caveat about this kind of “aggressive reanimation”, or about stealing enemy creatures in general: Remember that when you kill off a player, cards they own get exiled (unless your friends have some house rule that says otherwise). As a result, my plan tends to be to keep the people whose guys I stole technically alive as long as possible, but to use removal to keep them as pushed out of the game as I can. I can’t have them making a comeback while I’m sparing them, after all.)

I should mention one other category of spells, because it finds its way into most decks I make–and most decks other people make, I would guess, whether they categorize this way or not. These are spells that are, simply put, too good not to run. Examples in this deck include Tooth and Nail and Phyrexian Arena. I don’t have much to say about cards like this other than to point out that they do come up, and that generally speaking they’re worth the space they take up, so don’t be afraid of them.

Click here for the full decklist compiled.

So there you have it: Teneb the Harvester EDH. I have a few other decks cooking, and I might break them down for you at a later date. Until then, have fun playing with your enemies’ creatures.

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9 responses to “Guest Post: Competitive Casual – Harvest Time!

  • Alpha-Black

    I just finished up my first EDH deck, and I also used Teneb. However, rather than focusing on reanimation (despite the obvious connection), I decided to go with i deck that likes to sacrifice the same creature nine times with Grave Pact on the table. It’s interesting how a seemingly straightforward card can be taken two very different directions. Great article, definitely a good idea to reprint it here.

  • Guy Russell

    A small point, but you can’t use Mercy Killing to have an opponent sacrifice a creature with shroud, because the only think Mercy Killing targets is the creature.

    • MtGColorPie

      You’re correct. Both he and I missed it. But what it does do is allow you to get rid of Darksteel Colossus and other indestructible creatures (because it causes it to get sacrificed, not destroyed). Small detail, but good eye.

      • Guy Russell

        Oh yeah, it’s still a good card to have in the deck, no doubt about that.

      • Jake Kessler

        Actually, as I said in the article:

        “For Darksteel Colossus, I have Mercy Killing; for the Simic Sky Swallowers of the world, Extinction.”

        @MtGColorPie: Any chance you can change the “by MtGColorPie” at the top of the article to “by Jake Kessler”? Thanks!

  • farizhilmi

    my first deck was teneb but my sub theme is discard so that i can get my teneb out fast and recur all opponent’s creatures. and besides i also have lotsa ‘steal-opponent’s-creatures spells’. it was cool deck but i dont have enough accellerators i just dismantled last week

  • Harvest Time article on 99EDH « Game Design Blog

    […] My article, entitled “Fear the Reaper,” is a deckbuilding piece about my Teneb, the Harvester EDH deck. I originally wrote it for my Magic blog, http://competitivecasual.blogspot.com/. You can read it on 99EDH here. […]

  • ELPsteel

    Why on earth would you run desert twister when you are playing the colors for vindicate? And why Rise from the Grave over Zombify?

    Also, there are many cards that have much better synergy than some of the cards listed here. Karmic Guide is a great example. Someone already mentioned Buried Alive. Other good ones include Corpse Dance, Recurring Nightmare, Entomb, Yawgmoth’s Will, Sun Titan, Puppeteer Clique…there’s really soooo many more desirable cards. Not sure why Dread is here, because he will literally never be in the GY and that’s not what Teneb (and your other recursion) wants. Pernicious Deed would be a great addition – you could easily afford to lose weak cards like Weed Strangle, Brainspoil, and Phthisis.

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