On my stream, I received a challenge to brew around Dark Intimations. Standard is strongly defined by its top archetypes, so I thought this task wouldn’t be particularly fruitful.
I was wrong. The end result not only produced a sweet deck, but one that could actually win games and matches.
Each opponent sacrifices a creature or planeswalker.
This sounds pretty straightforward, but it’s a nuanced point in the deck’s construction. You want your opponent to sacrifice something juicy, which means you’ll want their board mostly clear before resolving Intimations. This means playing sweepers or a ton of spot removal. In an ideal world, you’d be able to play both, but board wipes in the Grixis colors are underwhelming right now. They’re toughness-based, which is weak to giant creatures from G/B, or don’t actually sweep against the aggressive decks like Mardu thanks to Vehicles and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. In the end, I included a sole Chandra, Flamecaller, alongside a slew of removal, to improve the sacrifice on Intimations.
Then that player discards a card.
In for that!
You return a creature or planeswalker card from your graveyard to your hand, then draw a card.
Clearly, drawing a card is great, but the return ability means you need creatures and planeswalkers in your deck. But this is actually a big clash with the first clause, which wants the deck to play a lot of removal. But what if your creatures are removal? Gifted Aetherborn is the perfect setup here and helps stabilize early while also padding your life total. Gonti plays a similar role, extracting value, trading, and then coming back to do it all again. Mindwrack Demon fills the graveyard for a good target to return while also providing a great defensive and offensive tool versus traditionally tough-to-interact-with cards like Heart of Kiran or Gideon, Ally of Zendikar.
When you cast a Bolas planeswalker spell...
So it seems this whole challenge was a bit premature. I’m sure I’ll revisit the card again after Bolas returns. Let’s check out the full list now and then do some more deck analysis:
First off, the deck is composed almost entirely of black cards. The only exceptions are Incendiary Flow and Chandra in the main. This may seem like a waste, but the mana actually works out well thanks to a mana base built around the battlelands. You need very few sources of blue or red, which means you can get away with playing a bunch of Swamps coupled with Smoldering Marsh and Sunken Hollow, and cast your spells, including Intimations, on curve. The Evolving Wilds and Renegade Maps help fix while fulfilling the need for basics, and support delirium for Mindwrack Demon.
Oath of Liliana
This looks like a strange 1-of, but it plays a few roles in the deck. First, it’s an enchantment for delirium. Second, it fits into your plan of 1-for-1'ing each turn, and can get a real threat thanks to all of your cheaper spot removal. Third, you do have 4 planeswalkers, so it’s not that uncommon to get a Zombie or two in the long, grindy games this deck is trying to play.
I’ve eaten a fair number of 8/8 Verdurous Gearhulks with this deck and it’s always satisfying. Noxious Gearhulk is mostly a finisher, but plays well into your recursive game plan as well. I’d play more of them, but they aren’t great at stopping swarm strategies and you simply can’t play that many 6-drops without abundant card draw.
While this card is ubiquitous, it does have some distinct advantages here. Grixis plays 26 lands because it never wants to miss a land drop as it tries to curve into Dark Intimations. This means that in some games, it will flood. Ballista helps mitigate that, but you don’t want to run too many since it isn’t mana efficient. You will often have a ton of cards to play thanks to the Lilianas, Gontis, and Intimations, so including a couple is enough. The extras in the board are for Copycat so that you have a proactive threat. I’m unsure how much I like them against Mardu now, since those decks have moved away from Motorist and toward Ballistas of their own, but you still probably want all 4 copies post-board.
Against Vehicles you have enough removal to swat down any aggressive start. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is still the bane of control decks, and that remains true here. The Ruinous Paths are a concession to that point, and you’ll want access to all 3 post-board. This is the one matchup where Intimations fails to do enough. Thraben Inspector thoroughly embarrasses the card, but the rest of the deck’s 2-for-1s provide enough removal and utility that you shouldn’t have too much trouble except against Mardu's best curve-outs.
G/B is a good matchup because you can disrupt your opponent from ever exploiting their +1/+1 counter synergies. This makes all of your opponent’s cards much worse, including Verdurous Gearhulk, which will often come down by itself as an 8/8. In these spots, Intimations and Noxious Gearhulk are absolute blowouts. Watch out when your opponent has 3 mana up and a Hissing Quagmire, because they can sacrifice that to an otherwise amazing Intimations. Normally, you can find a good window. Nissa, Voice of Zendikar is the one card that disrupts your plan, but Gifted Aetherborn and Liliana both provide good early pressure so I haven’t found the card to be overwhelmingly difficult to deal with.
Copycat is a matchup I haven’t played as much of, though ultimately it’s a midrange value war since the combo is terrible versus a mono-removal deck. Whirler Virtuoso provides similar problems to Intimations that Nissa does from G/B, but in general both decks are trying to out-card the other while Copycat has the back-door infinite combo if you aren’t careful. Post-board Transgress and Dragonmaster Outcast can do a lot of good work, though I wouldn’t board in Collective Brutality here. That card is solely for counter control Torrential Gearhulk decks. I wish Gonti could snag both combo pieces from your opponent to kill them, but sadly it doesn’t work.
Temur Tower is tough game 1 because your deck contains a bunch of blank removal spells and your opponent can counter the few key threats you try to resolve. You do gain a ton of options post-board, though be careful about taking out too much removal. Your opponent will still have powerful creatures like Whirler Virtuoso and sometimes Tireless Tracker. Mindwrack Demon is one of your best cards in the matchup because it goes way over the top of what your opponent is doing on turn 4, and can’t be killed easily outside of Harnessed Lightning.
This brew is definitely out there, and really forced me to think creatively. Bolas isn’t here yet, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get a head start on casting some Dark Intimations. Mini-Cruel-Ultimatum never felt so good. And if you don’t believe me, I’ll just end with this picture: