Have you ever been alone on one side of a conflict?
Been the last one on your team in dodgeball, or perhaps the only dissenter in a political discussion? The sole representative of any particular entity has by definition a unique power in any given situation.
Think about a time where that's been the case for you. Did you feel weaker and overwhelmed? Maybe, but I bet you felt something else, too. Resolve. Defiance. Right. That's because when we're just one person on one side of a seemingly tilted conflict, we actually carry more power than any other person involved. You're the focus, you're the tough one, and you're the outlaw.
There's a Magic card in Standard that represents this lonely mountaintop.
This enchantment bestows a mighty bonus on your only creature, and although it saw plenty of play in the black decks of Avacyn Restored Draft, I'm not convinced it only belongs in the Limited realm. Giving yourself a single, powerful attacker sets a clear path to victory; protect your "sole-dier" and you can win any game. With any deck where this enchantment is at the helm, the goal is to assemble a powerful offensive force on the back of one creature, making it as impacting and secure as possible.
If we're going to build a deck around Homicidal Seclusion, the first step is to find suitable creatures to Seclude. As you are relying on this creature to do most of your work, you need to protect it, so seeking creatures with hexproof seems a reasonable start. Immediately, our slinky friend comes to mind.
Lone Revenant, a highly synergetic Spirit, also arose. With that, I had a basic start, and after some trial and error, here was my initial list.
After choosing the colors for the deck and defying the conventions of multi-creature Magic, I knew I'd be an…
- 2 Fettergeist
- 1 Hussar Patrol
- 3 Invisible Stalker
- 2 Lone Revenant
- 2 Riders of Gavony
- 1 Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis
As it's clear what the Stalker and Revenant's purposes are, we'll continue our deck tech from there.
Fettergeist was a cool and synergetic creature picked for his highly efficient converted mana cost. Running out a 3/4 flyer on turn 3 is not only very aggressive, but you can hold him back and stonewall all but the largest green creatures. It eats Centaur Healers, stuffs Restoration Angels, and even has the dubious ability to demolish a flipped Delver. His downside is irrelevant when you consider the goal of this deck.
The Riders was a late addition but an absolutely essential one. The Riders has a very relevant combination of abilities. As this resolves, you can protect it from any of your opponent's largest on-board threats. Choose Beast for both sides of Thragtusk, Vampire for Olivia Voldaren, Cleric for Geist of Saint Traft and Centaur Healer, Zombies for its eponymous deck, or even Humans against an aggressive G/W deck. Its ability to both attack and block will assure you a powerful board presence that must be dealt with.
Admittedly a bit slower, Nefarox is a rumbler that smacks evasively for six by himself and slims their offense a bit while he's at it. He was a synergetic choice to be sure, and the exalted subtheme will not be lost in the concept of the deck.
Whoa, that's a little awkward. Hang with me, though; here's my reasoning. He combines one of the best features of the Riders with the ability to provide an instant blocker or attacker. There are going to be some times when your opponent will have the kill spell or sweeper to throw you off tempo, and after your opponent passes the turn, this flashing attacker can pick up right where you left off. I think one is enough to fulfill this role, but I felt like he needed to be included. With the Seclusion, he's a 5/5 vigilance lifelinker, and that's not too shabby.
While obviously providing a bit of ramp and mana fixing, the Keyrune also doubles as an excellent creature in a pinch when you need one, but he stays inanimate when you don't. Having a board swept while your offensive enablers are active is frustrating, but having a creature on demand is spot-on.
The enchantment itself, this helps you win the inevitable race your opponent will try to press. Three lifelink points in addition to whatever power you add from the creature itself is a big swing, and the Stalker may be the best creature to Seclude; it puts them on a serious clock while preventing four damage from the backswing. Any other creature will provide you more life. Nefarox becomes a 9/7 when in the red zone. The Seclusion has three things going for it: it stacks nicely, it's difficult to directly interact with, and it costs no further commitment once cast (unlike equipment or auras, for example). It's five mana, so three should be the right count to find one without running the risk of having two in your opener.
An awesome, flexible, and complementary card to this deck, Azorius Charm can get you tempo, thin your deck, or stand in as a Homicidal Seclusion while you get in the red zone or stay back and wall up. The lifelink mode may be one of the more used ones as you hang on in the early game. I cycle this Charm a surprising amount, though, so don't be afraid to do that too.
The no-nonsense kill card. The limiting condition is fairly uncommon in my shop; the biggest non-targets are usually Geist of Saint Traft, which you can't target anyway, and Olivia Voldaren. Most of the efficient threats you want to kill will be mono-colored: Sublime Archangel, Griselbrand, Angel of Serenity, and either side of a Thragtusk. Sure, there are things this won't hit, but this deck doesn't have the time or the mana base to play Murder, so this stands in.
My favorite counterspell in Standard, this puts an end to anything your opponent could use to stop you. Except Supreme Verdict, I guess, but more on that later. Be careful when you cast Dissipate; without Snapcaster Mage in this deck, you just don't get a bunch of effects like this.
In our effort to suit up one attacker, we have these two equipment, which work well together. As you'll notice, there are only eleven creature spells. For a deck like this, you won't need creature after creature, just one at a time, so I've filled it with plenty of instants and sorceries to provide options for a variety of situations.
You can use the Pike to its fullest, providing a healthy power boost and first strike to increase the profile of your single dude. The Hauberk is in there to act as a non-situational booster that you can throw your lesser creature (a Spirit token, perhaps) away to suit up your best man, probably the Stalker. Any evasive man with the Hauberk will have your opponent on a very short clock and with Seclusion it's just unfair.
Meant to not only power up the singleton Pike, Alchemy is an invaluable card selection spell that synergizes with our colors and finds you the answer you need. Because you (hopefully) won't need every creature you draw, just choose the card that helps your situation. And don't be embarrassed to take a land.
Lingering Souls, although not terribly synergetic, is a necessity. In a world full of aggro decks, you've got to have something to stop the slaughter. Lingering Souls can create all the blockers you need—just save one for your attack step!
This highly synergetic card hoses a fair amount of decks. Offering your opponent a single creature isn't great, but bear in mind it's intended to be completely one sided. Slowing down an aggressive start with this and preventing the rebuild (it has flashback) will help you keep on top of your life total. Alternatively, it combos very well with other cards in the deck. Nefarox comes to mind, but so do Ultimate Price and Azorius Charm. The ability to flash it back will slow your opponent down based on your mana state. If you're on six mana, they'll feel nervous casting that Geist-Honored Monk, for example. There aren't a lot of games where you will flash it back, but having access to six semi-sweepers for only three card slots will help your deck sleep at night.
Regarding the mana base, I tried to push blue as the main color; black, ironically, is least prominent despite the necessity and centrality of Homicidal Seclusion. White is easily my best third color due to the Keyrune's relevance and Moorland Haunt salvaging my offense after a sweeper. Cathedral of War provides my fairly weak guys a noncreature, free pump that they need to not get laughed out of combat if I don't have NCP pumpers out.
The sideboard is fairly cut and dry for this deck.
With the exalted theme arising a little bit from this deck, I wanted to be able to side in more of that while also bringing more creatures in. Bringing detachments of three of each Knight seemed correct; each Knight can be highly effective on offense and defense. Knight of Glory slaughters Zombies and Rakdos Cacklers while shrugging off Tragic Slips and Olivia activations. Knight of Infamy, the less played one, is also respectable, being able to swing past Lingering Souls tokens and Angels, stop a Geist of Saint Traft, and dodge Detention Spheres.
Liliana is a tricky one; although harder to cast on time without a lot of black sources, she synergizes very well with my deck. I can discard any flashback spells and excess creatures or make them sacrifice their last blocker for an unimpeded smash.
Also meant for a more controlling matchup, it's also a nice side in against a heavy removal deck. Some of your creatures can't protect themselves as well as others, and having access to a cheap and effective spell like Negate should always be a consideration when you play blue. As a side note, Dissipate used to sit here while the Negates were maindeck, but I decided that Dissipate was broader. Keep your maindeck broad, folks.
Purify the Grave is my one out against Reanimator and Zombie shenanigans. The flashback is a nice bonus, and I just have a lot of good things to say about this card. Other graveyard hate (Grafdigger's Cage and Rest in Peace) interferes with my own flashback stuff, so this seemed like the best choice.
Um, ok. This, uh…this is a bit deep, but let me explain. There are going to be a lot of decks that you play that will win just because they will always have the removal spell. I see a ton of players at our shop, good and bad players alike, play twelve to sixteen burn/removal spells maindeck and use them the first chance they get. This protects your sole-dier from a deck like that. You are still a fragile, narrow deck, after all. If you can't find a creature with hexproof, your opponent will just have too many removal spells and will bash through for a million each turn. This gives you a shred of hope against that kind of player.
Cast this equipment the first chance you get so you can suit up your fragile Spirit or Rider with protection mana up. A lot of decks won't be able to crash through something like that. They'll have to respond to an activation with another spell, and that's two less cards that you're using to kill you. It's also good against sorcery speed removal like Dreadbore and Sever the Bloodline. Those of your creatures that do have hexproof are blue and will passively gain from their color each turn, putting inevitability and an impending clock on your opponent. You will know if the match calls for the Ring. I only play one, as you only need one Ring to rule them all…
Conversely, this card is strong against a heavy creature decks where you'll probably need more than one dude out so you can block. This sturdy kitty can pump your exalted target or a blocker to stop the most likely green offense that's crashing against your gates each turn. His second ability can cinch up a fast race by letting you hit twice as hard and evasively, all for no mana commitment!
Some cards didn't quite make the deck, and here are a few. Geist of Saint Traft, a good one-man army, doesn't synergize as well as I'd like, him making an Angel and all. He does still gain exalted bonuses and hits pretty hard, but I eventually decided that the hexproof creatures I'd already chosen fulfilled the job I needed while being able to attack more aggressively into more defenses. Rogue's Passage, as tempting as it was, is only helpful offensively; true, so is Cathedral of War, but lifelink helps my defense.
Demonic Taskmaster was replaced by Fettergeist because the Taskmaster was weaker on defense, where I thought I'd be for more of the game, and its downside can be tough on the backpedal. At least with Fettergeist you can pay if you need to. Vampire Nighthawk got the late axe as I discovered it was not only difficult to cast but not as synergetic as some of the other ones. Deathtouch was rarely relevant, I had plenty of stuff with flying, and the lifelink was covered by the enchantment.
So there's the deck! Make one dude awesome, protect the dude, and smash with the dude! The lifelink helps offset your damage, and the more powerful you can make the single attacker, the better you'll do.
I took it to my local shop the week before Thanksgiving and decided to set aside my tried-and-true Frenchback deck and plunge head first into Esperado. I played four rounds and ended up winning two, and I'll tell you this—I lost more to mulligans and my mana base than anything else. The deck worked great, and it won each time I was able to get past those two obstacles.
Round 1 – Rakdos Midrange (2-0)
Round 2 – Reanimator (1-2)
Round 3 – BUG Zombies (1-2)
Round 4 – Werewolves (2-1)
I had some MVPs that really pulled their weight and a couple others that were not up to snuff.
From the maindeck, some creatures did better than others. The Stalkers were by far the strongest creatures in the deck, and getting one on turn 2 with a Seclusion in hand was pretty much game over—so many decks I played couldn't deal with this card. The Revenant was nice too when I needed to play defense. Funnily enough, Hussar Patrol was a surprisingly good inclusion. On the other hand, Fettergeists often just rotted in my hand as I made more relevant plays on turn 3, and I never cast Nefarox. Lingering Souls fulfills the blocking mission of the Fettergeists and Nefarox may be too cute, but I wouldn't know. There are several occasions where I would have liked him out.
On the spells side, Divine Reckoning turned out to be a diamond in the rough, culling massive armies before a Craterhoof Behemoth or lethal attack force could assemble. I always wanted to draw this card. The Keyrunes, Azorius Charm, and Forbidden Alchemy were all stellar performers too, and I found that Ultimate Price just about always had a good target. The biggest disappointment?
I never thought I'd say it, but I just didn't care about countering stuff. Jace? Didn't care. Tamiyo? Didn't care. Unburial Rites? Honestly, didn't care. There was just nothing I needed to counter, and the double-blue cost was very often an irritating hindrance. I wouldn't play Syncopate here; I'd rather play other stuff.
From the sideboard, the Knights were all-stars. Every match I boarded them in they were amazingly relevant. I may even move up to playset of each. Liliana was a bit of a letdown; my original choice, Tribute to Hunger, would have been better nearly every time. She was either not powerful enough or win more, which surprised me greatly. Ajani was also too slow to make a huge impact. Purify the Grave was excellent, helping me immensely in my second round against Reanimator.
To improve this deck, I'd add more dual lands, cut a Cathedral of War (it was basically a nonland, both coming into play tapped and producing only colorless mana), and slash the Dissipates. So a retuning would look like this.
At the end of the night, my favorite moment was having someone walk up while I was playing a side match with a friend and asking, "What's that Hussar Patrol supposed to be?"
"A Hussar Patrol," I responded proudly
That's why I do what I do: to befuddle and confound my opponents. Who knew it would be such a fun job?
Keep fighting deck conformity, and don't forget to untap!