January 22 2016 Friday at 11:42 AM

Weapon of Choice - CRATS - The search for the best Husk deck

Nantuko Husk is a better card than it appears to be.

Killing a Husk is not a trivial matter if you surround your zombie insect with plenty of food.  Husk can be really hard to burn.  Reave Soul and Complete Disregard rarely hit it.  Fleshbag rarely hits it.  Languish rarely hits it.  Since you play it with a board, Celestial Flare doesn't really do the job.  The card is a scary pain-in-the-butt.  Within a few turns, it must be chump blocked or you could just die.  My finest Husk hour so far was a 20/20 Husk that killed an opponent on turn four, and it didn't even involve a Whirler Rogue.

All of this probably isn't a mystery, so why don't we have any copies of Nantuko Husk in our XB1 Invitational decks?  Why is it the most underrepresented deck archetype week in and week out in my metagame data spreadsheets?  Why don't we all get 20/20 Husked on the daily?

While it is easy to see Husk's potential, I think the average and the above average Dueler run into a number of pitfalls when building and playing Husk decks.  Here are just some musings -

(a) There are too many decent card choices.  This is a good problem to have, but it takes a lot of focus to find the best list among a number of decent options.

(b) There are many color choices.  Jund, Golgari, Dimir, Rakdos, Sultai, 4 Color, Mono Black and Grixis are the colors I have seriously tried so far.

(c) The deck can be fragile if built/played that way.  We all hear about a 20/20 Husk that gets Fogged, Dispersed or Reprisal'd and can't help but think that could be us.

(d) The deck needs a critical mass of creatures to make Husk good, which means it lacks spells, which means it lacks answers to most threats presented by opponents.  You have to be able to contain and manage the board with a deck that is mostly value creatures, it is a tight rope to walk.  Can you beat a deck like Thopters, Elves or Red Aggro without sweepers?  Can you overcome a Spy Network or Ulamog when your deck has no way to flat-out remove them?  It takes a lot of creativity and focus on what is important, a pair of factors that often translate to "skill" in casual conversation, so the deck does have a higher skill requirement than most.

For the last three days I have been on a quest to discover, tune and refine the best Husk deck or decks, and the following videos chronicle my journey (don't stop, be-lievin') -

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Yeah, it is over six hours of creature-sacin' goodness, so instead of recapping the games I will try to just recap what I learned about the colors, cards and matchups.  Oh, and deck lists, I know you readers love to snack on decks.  First, I want to talk about the cards that really make this deck go -

4x Nantuko Husk - Every version of the deck starts here.  I have tried out three, but you are rarely-if-ever bummed to have extras and it is one of the big impact cards in the deck.  A combo-esque deck like this really focuses on "payoff" cards.  What I mean is this - you have a deck full of what Patrick Sullivan calls "nonsense", meaning all the stupid little value creatures that can rarely win games on their own.  You run about 20-30 cards like this, and then you run the payoff cards, cards that make all those dorky value nonsense creatures worth it.  In this version of Crats, one of those cards is Husk, and it is the only card from the list that is common so we get to run all four.

2x Smothering Abomination - This is the other payoff card.  Getting to refuel and gas up is a big flippin' deal.  When to deploy this card is often a complicated question.  You have to ask yourself how likely it is to die, how much value can you get if it is killed with Husk, Leap, Scions, ect, and if it will get any better (such as if you are taking a beatdown and you just want to play it and road-block the opponent and draw an extra card next upkeep).

Now we will get into some of the highest impact cards that usually get run -

3x Whirler Rogue:  Rogue + Husk often = win.  Rogue is by far the best unblockability provider.  For four mana you get an unblockable Husk and +6+6 for your Husk.  If you aren't combo'ing off with Husk, Rogue is just a good card on its own, especially with other sacrifice effects like Evo Leap.

2x Evolutionary Leap - By itself this card is a great way to ride the value train, but since the payoff cards in Crats are creatures like Husk, Abomination and Rogue, this card helps you get all the pieces together.

Here come the cards that have a decent impact on the game and often get run, but I don't lock them in right away.  I look at these cards through the lens of what this does for a Husk -

Elvish Visionary - Good fodder.  Draw a card, give Husk +2/+2 isn't bad.  Drawing more cards in combo decks is more important than most other decks since you are trying to stick the awesome parts of the deck together among the less awesome parts.  One thing about Visionary, it only adds +2/+2 to your Husk, and many of these other cards do better.

Carrier Thrall - Husk gets +4/+4 for two mana.

Blisterpod - Husk gets +4/+4 for one mana.

Perilous Myr - Husk gets +2/+2 and 2 damage to target would-be chump blocker or player for two mana.

Gatecreeper Vine - Husk gets +2/+2 and you fix your mana.

Dragon Fodder - Husk gets +4/+4 for two mana.

Despoiler of Souls - Husk gets +2/+2 for two mana, or you get a 3/1 attacker, maybe you can buy it back sometime.

Bone Splinters - Husk gets -2/-2, target creature dies, for one mana

Act of Treason - varies, but at the worst Husk gets +2/+2 and target creature dies.

Fleshbag Marauder - Husk gets nothing, opponent sac's a creature.

Graveblade Marauder - Husk gets nothing, late in a game it is a potential payoff card.

Shadows of the Past - Every Husk activation gains Scry 1.

Eldrazi Skyspawner - Husk gets +4/+4 for three mana.

Liliana of the Veil - Depends on your graveyard, but this is often +6/+6 to Husk when you get back a Blisterpod, Myr or Carrier Thrall.  It is often very, very right to just get creatures back and not +2 Lily at all.

I expected Dimir and Golgari to be the best Crats decks.  Early testing had Dimir looking strong, Golgari had given me some turn four kills, and my minimalistic leanings often have me cutting colors, not adding them.  My Black Crats deck was way too one-dimensional, and it had to go, but I thought the consistency of a two color mana base would pay off and I would report that Dimir and Golgari where the best.  So we started there.

I feel I was very mistaken.  The two color versions of the decks felt like one-trick ponies throughout, with very little resiliency to my opponent's actions.  Also, I felt so cornered by bad draws.  Hands without the payoff cards mentioned above felt horrible.  Patrick Sullivan would say it again - most of my deck is nonsense!  Dimir and Golgari, in order to compete, have to basically become aggro decks.  They have few-to-no game after turn seven, so they just have to kill you before than, and since we only get four Husks, three Rogues, two Abominations, and no way to tutor them reliably, our decks ran into serious consistency issues that didn't involve our mana.  Sure, I could curve out with Thornbow/Blisterpod, Elvish Visionary, Perilous Myr/Splinters kills my opponent's board, but then what?   If I have no Husk, I just die to some random midrange junk like Kird Chieftan or Guardian of Tazeem!  No, no NO!  It is not going down like this!  The deck needs more power, more resiliency (although not necessarily more reactive answers), it just needs more more MORE.  Britney is my advisor on this - "Gimme gimme more, gimme more, gimme gimme MORE"

Before diving into three color Crats, I ran Rakdos for a while.  Rakdos didn't lose, but it also felt very one dimensional as an aggro deck that just may draw the combo.  It flooded often, but it still won.  I think if you play Rakdos Devoid or Rakdos Burn, you should play Rakdos Crats.  I think it has more punch in this format.  Obviously the Act of Treason/Traitorous Instinct effects are hit and miss, but when they hit they hit big and this is a creature-heavy, ramp-infested format.  This is my Rakdos crats deck, I think it is an OK aggro deck.  Worse than Mono Red, better than other Rakdos decks.  A worse Husk deck than the others I am going to write about next -

4 x Goblin Arsonist
4 x Perilous Myr
3 x Carrier Thrall
2 x Abbot of Keral Keep
4 x Dragon Fodder
1 x Liliana, Heretical Healer
4 x Nantuko Husk
3 x Thopter Engineer
4 x Act of Treason
2 x Smothering Abomination
1 x Akoum Firebird
2 x Pia and Kiran Nalaar
1 x Traitorous Instinct
1 x Ob Nixilis Reignited
6 x Swamp
6 x Mountain
2 x Smoldering Marsh
2 x Dragonskull Summit
2 x Foundry of the Consuls
3 x Rakdos Guildgate
3 x Evolving Wilds

Yeah, it has some changes from the list on camera after doing more thinking.  I wouldn't call the deck done, and I think it is good against red aggro, it has a clear line against ramp, and it can bother control decks.  A decent list that could be a few tweaks away from really good, but there are only four Husks and it can be inconsistent.  

What I really want to get into here is the three color decks.  Let's start with Sultai -

 

Sultai has been a hot ticket since B4Z season started, and the main attractions are the five planeswalkers you get access to.  Most players have built a control shell around the walkers with Fleshbags, Spell Shrivels, Eldrazi and other such things.  What I like about the walkers-meets-crats angle is that you can be very aggressive, or you can flood the board and sit back on walkers.  There are very few spells that deal with planeswalkers in our card pool, so against non-Rolling Thunder strategies you can just make a ton of blockers and run your walker to the top rope.  

Nissa - +1 keeps the gas coming and is usually right.

Ob - Same as Nissa, but he also moonlights as a removal spell in a deck with few removal spells.

Lily - Mentioned above.  If you are pushing the combo, just get back Visionary or Blisterpod.  If you are not under pressure, +2 and push the ultimate.

Jace - Requires some explanation in a deck with three whole spells.  For one thing, I want the looter effect more than the flashback effect.  Smoothing out land-heavy or land-light draws is important.  Later in the game he can get back Bone Splinters which is a big deal.  Against control he can slide under a counterspell and go all the way to ultimate, like I do against Gemini's Esper Control in the video.

Kiora - She is one of the more misunderstood planeswalkers, but this deck is a great home for her.  We have 27 creatures and 24 lands, her -2 ability is Bitter Revelation without pain!  It isn't weird to put her out there and -2, -2 if you just need to gas up and find some combo pieces.  Our deck is also a touch mana greedy, we want G, B, U, U/B, U/B/G so Kiora can help fix it.  Evolutionary Leap doesn't require Green Green, but you really want GG if you use it because you don't want to bottleneck your green mana.

While the deck didn't wreck everything it played against on camera, I think it is close to being great.  The options in getting a Husk combo or planeswalker ultimate or both feel like a good place to be.

Moving on, here was an undefeated deck in testing that I believe is an upgrade to the Jund decks I keep covering and playing against in the HAKI.  Here is my Jund Crats -

4 x Blisterpod
1 x Vampiric Rites
4 x Perilous Myr
3 x Carrier Thrall
3 x Gatecreeper Vine
4 x Elvish Visionary
2 x Shadows of the Past
2 x Evolutionary Leap
1 x Liliana, Heretical Healer
4 x Nantuko Husk
1 x Nissa, Vastwood Seer
4 x Act of Treason
2 x Smothering Abomination
1 x Ob Nixilis Reignited
4 x Swamp
2 x Mountain
4 x Forest
2 x Smoldering Marsh
2 x Cinder Glade
2 x Woodland Cemetery
2 x Rootbound Crag
2 x Dragonskull Summit
4 x Evolving Wilds

I feel like I became a broken record, a broken record, a broken record on my stream because I said every single game that I thought this deck would be worse against control lists like Esper.  What does Gemini do?  He jams Esper Control in three straight games. What does Jund do?  It finds a way to win all three.  Perhaps I just underestimate how hard it is for Blue control to deal with these threats.  Resolving almost any enchantment, walker, or payoff creature is a huge issue, and Crats gets into a position quickly where it can cast two spells in a turn while Esper is usually stuck on countering one thing.  

If the deck can beat Control, how about Aggro and Ramp?  Aggro isn't a slam dunk, but we can get on the board and make their life tough.  Ramp?  It depends how much pressure we can apply with a Husk.  The goal is to put them in a position where they have to tap out for a big threat like Ulamog or some other large, non-Gaea's Revenge nonsense, and we Act of Treason for the win.  The deck has only a small red splash, it wants G, B, B, R, which is much easier than the Sultai deck.  It is possible we don't need Gatecreepers, but I have seen Acid Moss wreck my Treason plans too often.  

I am not writing today to proclaim any of these lists finished.  After six hours of playing with Husk decks, I still feel like the perfect deck has alluded me.  But like Journey says, "Don't stop..bee-lievin".  My efforts will continue.  I do think Husk has a top tier deck in him, we just have to find the perfect supporting cast.

<3 CGB