Magic: The Gathering 2014 Core Set – Death Reaper Intro Deck
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Release Date: 07/19/2013
Get it Here: Amazon.com
I guess I’m showing my age when I can easily recall when there WASN’T a yearly core set for Magic: The Gathering. The new set comes out tomorrow and features a selection of cards from previous sets, several with new art that I haven’t seen before. Out of the five premade decks from this set, Death Reaper was the one that interested me the most as I have a fondness for old school Black necromancy decks. My favorite deck of all time was a W/B Pestilence & Knights combo from the days of Alpha through Ice Age and I also remember a fun vampire/Hypnotic Spectre/The Rack/Millstone deck too. Death Reaper is an fun but odd deck. It’s a Black/Red dual colour deck, but there are only eight mountains and eight red cards in the deck. That’s only a quarter of the deck that is red. My feeling has always been one half to a minimum of one third of a deck for the second color, otherwise the odds are just too against you that you’ll get to play any of the supporting colour, in this case red. As we go through this I’ll be making a case for turning Death Reaper into an all black deck. I know monochromatic decks are far from the rage these days, but it’s easier to take what is here and make an all black deck than to gut it completely and make a more balanced red/black one.
The theme of Death Reaper is a confusing one. It’s mostly about sacrificing creatures to keep your big guns afloat, yet there’s not really a big supply of creatures for doing such. Because of this, I’d strongly advise adding a Breeding Pit to the deck if you go all black with what is here or a Goblin Warrens if you want to keep this red and black, but again, that means really retooling the red AND black side of this deck, especially since you’ll need actual goblins. Either of these two aforementioned cards would really increase the staying power of Death Reaper and give you a unlimited supply of sacrifices to keep your undead army plowing through another Planeswalker.
Let’s start with land. You have seventeen Swamps and eight Mountains. That’s a LOT of mana for a deck that doesn’t use much of it. If we were going all black, I’d whittle this down to twenty to twenty two mana simply because there isn’t much in the way of upkeep. There are three Sorcery cards, two black and one red. The two black are Corrupt, which for six mana deals damage to a target player or creature where X equals the number of swamps you control. X is also the life you gain from casting this! A great card, if a little pricey, but all the more reason to go all black. More swamps = more life and damage. The red Sorcery is Act of Treason. 2R lets you take control of a target creature and give it haste until the end of your turn. It’s a decent card and it can let you sacrifice a big gun of your opponents to one of your creatures, but it’s not worth basing a dual colour option around.
The two artifacts in the deck are Staff of the Death Magus and Bubbling Cauldron. Both are great for this deck. Bubbling Cauldron costs only two mana to put into play and it’s the cornerstone of a lot of combos in this deck. For 1 and a tap, you can sacrifice a creature for 4 life OR if you sacrifice a Flying Newt, you gain 4 life for each opponent you have and EACH OPPONENT loses 4 life. That’s a nice combo, but unfortunately there are only three Newts in the deck. More on that later. Staff of the Death Magus gives you 1 life each time a black spell is cast or you put a swamp into play. It’s worth having two or even three of these staves in your deck as that life stacks. ANOTHER reason for this to be an all black deck. Hey there 1 mana black spells. Thanks for giving me scads of life! There’s also only a single Enchantment in this deck which is Barrage of Expendables. It’s an okay card that only costs a single R mana to put into play and then for R and a sacrifice, you do one point of damage. It’s okay, but 1) you don’t have an unlimited supply of expendable assets to make this card worthwhile and 2), I could just go U/B and have some Prodigal Sorcerers instead. Now, if you made this a R/B goblins and vampire deck and had that Warrens I mentioned earlier, then HOLY CRAP would Barrage of Expendables be awesome. Same with Breeding Pit, as the deck stands, this is more proof the red side of Death Reaper needs to be excised and replaced with some better black cards.
Now for the Instants. There are seven here, four red and three black. All of the Instants are decent, but I think there is room for improvement. All three black Instants are Wring Flesh. It’s a nice card where for B a target creature gets -3/-1 until the end of the turn. It’s not bad, but as this is a deck that relies heavily on Sengir Vampires. I’m thinking Weakness might work better as this deck is more of a long game one rather than a short burner. Reducing toughness by one for a round of combat is great, especially when it nerfs the attack of a creature too. I’m just wondering if there might be some better black instances for this deck, ranging from Terror to Dark Ritual. I’m not advocating dumping Wring Flesh though; just perhaps scaling it back to one or two. Three of the four red Instants are Thunder Strike. For 1R, a creature gets +2/+0 and First Strike until the end of the turn. This is a nice surprise to boost an attacking creature with, but again, are they worth making Death Reaper a dual color deck? I just don’t see it. The other red Instant is Smelt, where for R, you destroy a target artifact. Again another nice card, but four instances, an Enchantment that can’t reach its full potential and an okay Sorcery makes me want to gut red out of the picture entirely.
Now for the creatures. There are twenty-two in the deck, thirteen of which are unique. Let’s start with the two red creatures as they are the same card and it gets red out of the picture for the rest of the review. Academy Raiders are 2R for a 1/1 creature with Intimidate. Yawn. Not worth the mana, especially having red in this deck. For three mana, you can get black creatures for the same costs that are more useful. A 1/1 with Intimidate can easily be pinged off, thus making their inclusion as well as red as a whole in this deck not worth it. Sure they are easy sacrifices for the deck, but I could do the same with a Will o the Wisp which is a far better card in all respects, is black so I don’t have to dual color the deck and I can REGENERATE IT BACK TO LIFE. Screw the Academy Raider. How about a Black Knight, one of MANY Thrulls, a Barony Vampire (as this deck is full of vampires), a Big Game Hunter, a Blistergrub, or a Blood flow Connoisseur. That’s only the Black cards beginning with Bs that I can think of off the top of my head! Well, and Thrulls, but I’m always thinking of Thrulls for a sacrifice based deck…
So, black Creatures! First up, the Festering Newt. There are three in the deck. They only cost a single black mana to cast, are a 1/1 Creature and they have some awesome abilities when they die. If one dies, an opposing creature gets -1/-1 until the end of the turn, but if you have a Bogbrew Witch in play, that creature gets -4/-4! Holy crap! See why I wish there were four of these in the deck because, there IS a Bogbrew Witch in this deck and that -4/-4 means an easy +1/+1 for your Sengir Vampires. So since we’re already talking about her, let’s look at the Bogbrew Witch. A 1/3 human for 3B. A bit pricey, but because of her combos with the Newts and Cauldron, it’s not a bad deal. She has some decent flavor text too in that for 2 and a tap, you can search your deck for a Festering Newt or Bubbling Cauldron and then instantly put them into play tapped. That’s a handy feature and it ensures you a guaranteed combo on your next turn of some kind.
Another great creature in this deck is the Deathgaze Cockatrice. For 2BB, you get a 2/2 flier with Deathtouch. Now, that’s nice. I’d strongly consider a second of these and perhaps some Instants or Enchantments that boost stats to keep the Cockatrice in the game longer. As is, she makes an unstoppable blocker, but with higher stats she becomes a merciless attacker. You also have two skeletons in the Tenacious Dead cards. B for a 1/1 creature where you can pay 1B to bring them back to life (albeit tapped) whenever and however they die. These are your unlimited sacrifice cards if you have the mana to burn. Yet another reason why Death Reaper would be better as an all black deck. Add two Will of the Wisps to your deck and these four will pretty much ruin any non-trample attacking attempts by your opponent for the rest of the game. All that for a single black mana each. Go ahead…do it.
Next up – four different zombies; two human and two minotaur. The two Gnawing Zombies aren’t bad. 1B for 1/3 creatures. Sacrifice a creature and spend 1B and target player loses 1 life while you gain a point. They’re not great and you can probably think of some quality replacements, but they make decent early game blockers. Again, a Breeding Pit would be wonderful to use with these and let you slowly whittle down your opponent’s life. Liliana’s Reaver is the other human zombie and it is glorious. For 2BB, you get a 4/3 creature with Deathtouch and whenever it does combat damage to another Planeswalker, that player has to discard a card and you get a 2/2 zombie token out of the deal. Why aren’t there more of these in the deck? Even better, find a way to give this flying, Intimidate or a landwalk ability and watch your army swell. You have two Undead Minotaurs as well. They’re pretty standard. 2B for a 2/3 creature. Nothing fancy and decent enough shock troops. Then you have the Minotaur Abomination. A 4/6 killer for 4BB. That’s a lot of mana, but it’s a big gun. Part of me would rather have a Skeletal Wyrm for two more mana as it’s a 7/6 regenerating nightmare, but that’s just me.
Finally we have the four vampires represented though seven cards. Yes, this deck is vampire heavy; no wonder this is the one Wizards wanted me to review. Ho ho ho. You have two Children of the Night. These are 2/1 creatures for 1B with the Lifelink ability. So these are cheap little vamps which can get you some extra life in the early game, or if they are able to sneak through in the mid to late game. They’re cute but nothing special. Blood Bairns will costs you an extra mana and give you a 2/2 vampire who gets a temporary +2/+2 until the end of turn when you sacrifice a creature to them. That’s okay, but I think you need far more sacrifices to make that worth it, especially with this deck where you are sacrificing all the time. Again BREEDING PIT. Perhaps multiple ones. I like 4/4 creatures, don’t you? Next up are the two Sengir Vampires, still sporting the same bad art since Ninth Edition. These are awesome as always and if you’ve ever played Magic: The Gathering, you know what these are and how versatile and powerful they can be. These are the lynchpins of your deck and also why I’d love to see a Dark Ritual or two in this deck. Like many an old geezer I remember the hilarity of having a Sengir Vampire out on my first turn. MUHAHAHAHAHA! Finally we have the Vampire Warlord. He’s no Baron Sengir, that’s for sure. For 4B, you get a 4/2 that regenerates if you sacrifice something to him. Meh. For the same mana I could get an Arrogant Vampire which has Flying and is a 4/3. I could have another Sengir. I could have a Bloodflow Connoisseur (which is awesome when a Breeding Pit is also in play). I could have a Bloodlord of Vaasgoth, a Captivating vampire (which would be amazing with this deck), a Driver of the Dead, a Fiend of the Shadows, a Krovikan Vampire or a Skeletal Vampire instead. Serious, Vampire Warlord is not very good and there are so many better options.
So as we can see, Death Reaper is a good start to a truly playable deck, but it needs a lot of work. What’s here is a decent start, but either gut red out completely or rework it from the ground up by overhauling it to be a vampire/goblin deck. Of course a lot of the cards I’ve named that would do wonders in this deck are no longer in any current sets, making obtaining them potentially hard and/or pricey. So what from the Cored 2014 set would I put into Death Reaper? Vile Rebirth is a nice Instant, giving you a 2/2 zombie for a single black mana. Several Doom Blades would be nice as they are basically Terror without the artifact restriction, making them EVEN BETTER. A second Deathwing Cockatrice as I mentioned earlier. Nightwing Shades are pretty nice as they are pumpable black fliers of doom. A Corpse Hauler might be good for control and returning a lost big gun like a Sengir. All in all, it’s not a bad start to a deck, but nothing you’d want to bring to a tournament or that couldn’t easily be picked apart by most homebrew decks.
Remember Death Reaper and all the other Magic: The Gathering premade decks go on sale tomorrow, July 19th, at any store that carries CCGs. Let me know what deck you’d pick up and what cards you’d add/subtract from the deck we looked at today.