Magic the Gathering's newest set, Theros: Beyond Death, is now fully revealed! Among them is our favorite wayward traveler of Asphodel. That's right, Gary is back. And he already has players' minds spinning on all the possible fun to drain their opponents of their precious gold...or, rather, life. For the Standard format, things are about to shake up with a few cards that have players (me included) rubbing our collective hands together in sinister glee.
The first is a new creature at rare: Woe Strider. This card is all a black mage wants in life. For one black and two colorless, you get a decent 3/2 body and when it enters the battlefield, you get a goat token that can act as defense. The real gold is the ability for Woe Strider to sacrifice creatures at will to scry one, setting up future turns. It also has the new escape ability, though for the build we're looking at, this is minimal.
So, what's the game plan?
With the Gray Merchant of Asphodel, there is only one: Build a board of devotion and drain big.
Overall, that's simple. What we need is a wrench. And if you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball. But what about turning to one of the most pushed cards in Throne of Eldraine, Syr Konrad, the Grim? It seemed that every time this card has landed in limited, it was a game ender. Even in draft, when this card comes around, the desire to move directly into black is high. This card really should have been rare!
First, we need to fill our graveyard. Turn one, drop Barrier of Bones to surveil and set up our next turn while getting creatures into the grave. Another possibility is Vampire of the Dire Moon. While this doesn't fit the overall agenda, it stalls the board to give us precious time. The goal is to get a Gary in quick. An ideal turn two is dropping a Mire Triton. Paired with the vampire, this creates a solid defense. For one black and a colorless, you get a 2/1 body with deathtouch, but more importantly, you mill yourself for two cards and gain two life.
We want to be creature-centric in this build, so an ideal turn three would be the new Woe Strider card mentioned earlier. He adds defense and devotion to the board, and most importantly, he allows our game plan to go in multiple directions. You can focus on keeping a devotion build on the board for when you drop Gary, but there's another way. This play method will take precedence against more aggressive builds. Let your creatures die.
Fill up that graveyard!
The secret weapon for this deck, and why we want Gary in our grave early, is The Cauldron of Eternity. This card has seen no action in Standard, as it was waiting for the right shell. By milling ourselves and letting our creatures die, we can cast this powerful artifact fairly early and set up returning Gary. This card will also protect us from decking ourselves if we choose an alternate path described below, not to mention double triggers with Konrad. Yet, even this is just delaying the end game.
A secondary turn three would be a Gorging Vulture, once again adding devotion and filling our grave. Turn four can be either another mill bird or woe upon your opponent creature, or it may be a Vindictive Vampire. Drain and gain, baby!
Beyond these first few turns setting up the board, turn five should be for the Cauldron at a discount (if you haven't already landed it) or dropping Syr Konrad, the nasty drain you from everywhere I need to read that text box again. Oh, it also mills for extra value!
This is the basic game plan. If you land the Cauldron with Konrad, bring back creatures you milled or let die earlier for that one ping of life, and if you bring back Gary, hopefully a lot of ping.
But, we're not playing battle cruiser, and already a newly spoiled card barks at our modus operandi: Kunoros, Hound of Athreos. For one black, one white, and one colorless, you get a 3/3 creatures with vigilance, menance, and lifelink, all wrapped up in a Grafdigger's Cage static: Creature cards in graveyards can't enter the battlefield and players can't cast spells from graveyards. You can see how this would be problematic.
Not to fear.
One of our non-creature cards and silver bullets is Forever Young. If we've enacted a solid game plan and drained our opponent, maybe even got in a few swings, we can close out the game with just one spell. All we need is Konrad on the board and a stocked grave. Cast this, target all creatures, and drain city here we go!
Gary is the center of our recipe, but he isn't the spice. For that, we need to go big: Bolas's Citadel. If you have maintained a relative safe life total and can drop this, that's it man, game over! With the Woe Strider out and creatures to sacrifice, we can scry lands to the bottom, then cast creatures of the top until we hit Gary.
Then there is Clackbridge Troll. This powerful five drop gives goats to your opponent, but with Konrad out, we can either drain them slow or punch them hard with an 8/8 trample haste toll-taking fiend. Likely, this would be a sideboard card to surprise opponents in the next game with some savage aggro.
For mono-black devotion, we probably can get away with running only nineteen lands. But when we do draw those unnecessary lands, we want value with those as well. Enter the Dread Presence! A solid four drop that either draws us cards with each swamp or drains for two damage and gains us two life. Just adding to the game plan!
For some, spice can churn the stomach a bit much, and we might need some soothing flavor. How about adding a little blue to the mix. Even staying mono-black, we have access to Whisper Agent for added devotion, surveil, and sneakiness. How about turn one Merolk Secretkeeper to target ourselves, and then do it again on turn two adding a wall, who will later feed Strider or Konrad. This will also quicken the grave fill for an earlier Cauldron. Even Wall of Lost Thoughts can come in to hasten that process while adding a blocker. Blue also gives us access to hand disruption with Thought Erasure with the benefit of surveil, as well as, counters, including Drown in the Loch. Tomebound Lich can also help filter the deck while adding a solid defense of deathtouch and lifelink.
Midnight Reaper is a must for card draw and Ayara, First of Locthwain, who gives powerful devotion and drain. Aside from Forever Young, our only other sorcery is Foreboding Fruit to draw some cards and create some food to get that life back.
Even Lazav, the Multifarious can come to play for filling the grave and copying Konrad if he is removed from the field by meddling opponents who dare avoiding their Gary taxes.
All in all, Gray Merchant of Asphodel is a welcome return. Would you go mono-black? Would you add some blue to protect your game plan?
How would you build with Gary?
Below you may find a sample decklist. The sideboard is purposefully missing, as this will depend on the shape of the new meta both local and professional.
4x Mire Triton
4x Woe Strider
Kody (@Kody922 on Twitter) is a Magic: The Gathering judge at Big Brother Comics in Sacramento, Calif.