I’ve come to a conclusion. Out of the few decks that I’ve created from scratch, there is one that has risen to the top. I’ve shared a couple of my original decks in this column before, but those were merely ideas, and in some cases they worked (the Werewolf deck is gimmicky but fun) and others they didn’t (the Trinketeer idea was turned into a 3-color deck and hasn’t been tested much). I never shared the deck I want to talk about today, mainly because it was the first one that I put together, and it has seen many revisions. At this point I consider it done, and it has been the deck I’ve had the most success with by far. Despite being a deck originally based around the Aetherflux Reservoir artifact card, it seemed that utilizing that as a win condition was simply not working. However, since I had built around life gain to trigger the ability of the artifact (pay 50 life, deal 50 damage to target player), I already had a good base down. After some research into existing standard legal cards, I found other win conditions and tweaked the deck to the point where it can stand up to even some Modern and Vintage decks that my friends occasionally play with. For this, I am proud. First, let’s get into the card list:
Black/White Life Gain Deck
x1 Sorin, Grim Nemesis (Planeswalker)
This is basically win condition #1. Sorin is a fantastic Planeswalker, fits perfectly with the life gain theme, and has a fantastic ultimate, where subtracting 9 loyalty tokens allows you to play X 1/1 tokens with lifelink where X is equal to your life total. I used this ability once to spawn 36 1/1’s. Fantastic. He does cost a bit of mana so he’s definitely a late game play, which is why I’ve added plenty of control and sustain through various means so you can get there.
x1 Kambal, Consul of Allocation
This card is so good I’ve actually swapped it back and forth between this deck and my Black/White commander deck. In commander it’s even more beneficial, but it still does its job in standard games. Being able to do damage and gain life every time your opponent casts a spell is amazing. If nothing else, it usually gets some form of removal out of your opponents hands.
One of my favorite Kaladesh cards, the Angel of Invention is a white weenie, but packs a nice punch. I have never created servos with it, always spawn it as a 4/3, but it has flying, vigilance, lifelink and buffs all of my other creatures. It almost always gets destroyed, but has also helped me win games. I just wish it was a 4/4, but I suppose that would be too powerful.
The Gearsmith is a nifty tool to get some of your more powerful (or situational) creatures back onto the battlefield.
This card was added mainly because it fit my devotion (black/white) but is a healthy flying threat. It will also ping opponets every time one of my other life gain sources triggers. This deck is all about sustain and whittling the opponent down.
x4 Aerial Responder
If you are playing any standard legal deck and are using white, I don’t see how you couldn’t add this card into your deck. For 3 mana it is such a good card. I’ve included 4 in the deck because it usually draws hate, but typically gets in a swing or two netting some lifegain. It’s one of the most important pieces in the deck.
This card has been in from the start, but I had to collect four of them as I went along. At 3 mana for a 1/3 body and the exile trigger, it’s a great card. Excellent for early control, or to get rid of late game big bads. I ran Panharmonicon in this deck for a time just to get double triggers, but eventually took it out in favor of other cards.
x2 Lone Rider/It That Rides as One
What a fantastic find. This was the type of creature I didn’t pay much attention to until I started searching for lifelink options for the deck. A 1/1 for 2 mana isn’t great, but it having first strike and lifelink means you’ll either get at your opponent for 1 and gain 1, or you’ll be first striking other 1 toughness creatures and staying alive. The real kicker is that I have so many ways to gain life it’s almost impossible to not trigger the transformation effect, which then adds 3/3 to the body and the trample ability to the creature. It’s best played when you can drop him and gain life during your turn so he transforms at the end of your turn. Great card.
Finding the right mana curve for your deck is crucial. After having run some rather expensive cards, I started toning it down and finally found a good mixture of mana efficient cards that still fit the theme of the deck. This common is rather good, because each time you attack, you hit for 1 along with doing 1 extra damage and giving you a life. Even if you tap the creature to fuel something else (which I don’t believe I have the option to do, but a good example would be a vehicle) the effect still triggers. It’s a nice little drop for 1 mana.
The cutthroat is another creature that serves the same purpose as the lookout. 1 mana, 1/1 but has lifelink and skulk. Skulk is nice just because nothing but another 1/1 can block it, so it’s basically free life and damage to your opponent every turn.
One of the only new cards I recently added from Aether Revolt, this creature is nice. 2 mana for a 2/3 body, deathtouch and lifelink. Essentially, this guy either gets through and gives you 2 life while doing 2 damage, or your opponent blocks it and their creature dies no matter what life total they have. It’s a cheap win win, and I’m sure you’re starting to see the synergy by now.
I’ve only artifacts that are creatures in the deck, so I’ll include those here. The Cataclysmic Gearhulk is one of the mythic artifacts from Kaladesh. There are five, one of each color. This one is a 4/5 with vigilance, but also a semi-board clear when he comes into play. The players get to keep stuff, but if they have multiple stuffs, some stuff is going bye bye. It’s not great but suits its purpose.
By far the better of the two gearhulks in the deck, the Noxious (black) version is a 5/4 with menace, and destroys a creature when it hits the board. Then there’s some lifegain to boot, so it’s a very good card. Triggering this twice with a Panharmonicon was fun.
Cheap and effective. A 2/2 isn’t great, but lifegain plus drawing a card when it’s dead is a great deal. Let’s move on to spells.
Definitely not the most amazing card, but I love the synergy and how well it slows down aggro decks. Plus, not everyone packs a bunch of enchantment hate, so it’s possible to drop this on turn one and slow the game down indefinitely. Bonus: more life gain!
Some instant removal, and a bonus scry. Not too expensive, but limits you to killing bigger foes. Probably best used that way anyway, so not really a limitation.
A nice recent addition via Aether Revolt, Decommission is artifact and enchantment removal rolled into one. It also has the revolt trigger that gets you some life as well.
Sometimes you need a particular card. In this case, you can pay some mana and get that card (and sometimes that shuffle will help out your topdecking to boot). I typically save this to grab Sorin or a Fumigate from my library, but have used it for other less powerful cards as well. Situational, but handy.
The best board clear white has at the moment from what I know. Expensive, but clears out those pesky creatures and gives you some life. It does kill your own creatures, but sometimes that’s the best move. You’ll get life for your own minions as well, so it takes a bit of the sting out of it.
x1 Concealed Courtyard
x1 Warped Landscape
x2 Forsaken Sanctuary
I’ve added a couple dual lands, 1 warped landscape to search for a land, and the regular swamp/plains for mana sources. Overall this deck has performed really well for me. I’m not sure how it would do in a more competitive environment, but let me know what you think if you try it out!