Mechanically Minded - Curses

(Curse of Oblivion | Art by Jana Schirmer & Johannes Voss)

A History of Curses

There’s something wonderfully satisfying about casting a Curse on an opponent. Maybe it’s the act of passing the card to their side of the board and knowing it’s the worst gift they could receive. Maybe it’s the brazen singling-out we so rarely do in EDH. Maybe it’s the elegant flavor baked into every Curse. Whatever the reason, cursing an opponent is a lot of fun. You should try it sometime. Today, for instance.

Welcome back to another edition of Mechanically Minded, the article series where we build decks around a specific mechanic, using the power of EDHREC. This week, we’ll focus on one of the most flavorful subtypes the game’s ever seen: Curses! Let’s begin at the beginning.

Curses were first introduced to Magic via one of the best sets of all time: Innistrad. They upheld Innistrad's signature Gothic horror aesthetic, particularly on cards like Curse of Bloodletting. The design was simple: Curses are a type of Aura that attach to players instead of creatures. They also have some minor synergies or interactions with other cards here and there, such as Bitterheart Witch and Witchbane Orb.

Curses returned to the game once again in Commander 2013, this time in all colors (Innistrad had no green curses). Since then, they’ve appeared in the Amonkhet block and Commander 2017. Plus, according to the exalted Mark Rosewater, the Curse subtype is now considered a deciduous mechanic. (In R&D parlance, deciduous mechanics can be used in any set, though they won’t show up as frequently as evergreen mechanics like flying. Don’t worry—I didn’t know what deciduous meant, either.)

Now let’s get to brewing!

Starting Out

As we so often do for this series, let’s start at the Themes section.

Conveniently, we’ve got a Curse theme on EDHREC! Let’s click it and see what commanders come up.

Mathas, Fiend Seeker is a definite possibility. Zur the Enchanter feels too on-the-nose. Queen Marchesa could be used in a future installment on the Monarch mechanicThen we’ve got a bunch of five-color nonsense commanders. Hmm…

Wait. What about this one?

Saskia the Unyielding doesn’t interact with enchantments or help us find our Curses. She does, however, function much like a Curse herself. When we cast her, we place a “Curse” on one player so they take damage whenever another player does. Plus, she gives us access to many colors.

Hand her the mic. Saskia's our deck's new lead singer.

And Now, the Curses

What would a Curse deck be without Curses? Here are the top recs for Saskia:

    Whew. That’s pretty exhaustive. Curse of Opulence is one I’m thrilled about. For just one mana, we get an on-theme way to ramp and fix colors. Curse of Misfortunes is another fun one, allowing us to pile curses onto a player in droves. That’s also a fine combo with Curse of Thirst. Together, those two cards should ruin at least one player (if not more). Plus, we have even more curses in the Top Cards section:

      It’s amazing how many Curses have actually been printed in the game's history. I like how some of them, such as Cruel Reality and Torment of Scarabs, act as potential win conditions, given enough time. Curse of Exhaustion is particularly mean to your buddy’s Niv-Mizzet, Parun deck.

      Best of all, a lot of the Commander-original Curses reward us for attacking, and that's exactly what Saskia likes to do. Not only is our commander a pseudo-Curse herself, but she also fits right into the game plan that so many of these nasty Auras like to encourage.

      Enchantment Support

      Since all curses are enchantments, adding support for that card type seems quite important. Here are several options:

        All the enchantress-style cards are a must in a deck like this. Every EDH deck wants to draw cards, after all. Doomwake Giant is incredibly powerful, especially if you can drop multiple enchantments in one turn (I recommend pairing it with Curse of Misfortunes for optimal effect). Starfield of Nyx acts as another legitimate win condition.

        Aura Gnarlid counts the number of total Auras on the battlefield, not just the ones attached to it. Therefore, it’s going to be a solid, efficient threat in our deck, especially when played alongside Saskia. Remember, if you select Player A with Saskia and then deal combat damage to that same player, the damage from your creature is effectively doubled. The Gnarlid likes that, I’m sure.

        Recovering Enchantments

        People generally don’t like being cursed. Therefore, we should expect our opponents to remove our Curses whenever possible. Let’s prepare for that with cards like these:

        Obzedat’s Aid is likely the best of the bunch due to versatility; if we don’t have any Curses in the graveyard just yet, we can take back an impactful creature, a lost artifact, or, in a pinch, a previously used fetchland. Since our Curses are somewhat linear, I believe versatility like this will fill in the gaps quite well.

        We’re definitely playing Sun Titan in this deck as well, so I suppose it’s worth mentioning here. Like Obzedat's Aid, it's very versatile, bringing back lands, low-cost creatures, and most importantly, many of our Curses. Curse of Predation, Curse of Opulence, Curse of Stalked Prey, Curse of Disturbance, and more are all eligible for reclamation with this guy. Thanks, Sunny T.

        Preparing for the Opposition

        What cards are most likely to shut off our deck? Anything that grants players shroud or hexproof! If our opponent drops a Leyline of Sanctity, for example, we’d be very disappointed. Cards in this category act as insurance against cards like those while also not being dead in other situations. We need the ability to Curse them at all times, so artifact and enchantment removal is a must. Fortunately, we get that in white and green.

        I went to Saskia’s main commander page for these main inclusions:

        Ex. Cell. Ent!

        Win Conditions

        Piling Curses on our opponents is fun and all, but eventually we should maybe try to win the game. In addition to the ones previously mentioned, here are a few other ways to do it:

        Okay, the first one’s a bit of a joke. More seriously, Sigil of the Empty Throne runs away with games faster than you’d believe, especially in this style of deck. Oh, and don’t forget our commander. If we choose a player with Saskia and then attack them with our Angels, that’s eight damage per attacker.

        True Conviction is, ironically the only win condition I don’t have true conviction for. The card’s obviously powerful; if you have any kind of board presence at all, it ends the game in a hurry. Plus, thanks to Saskia, if a creature deals damage to a named player, the damage is quadrupled. My only concern is the mana. I think folks can be a bit too optimistic with their EDH mana bases sometimes, so I try not to do the same. As such, I rarely play a triple-pip card in a three color deck, and only then if I’m heavily leaned toward that color. In a four-color deck? That seems downright irresponsible.

        I suppose the inclusion of True Conviction comes down to this question: Would you rather be more powerful or more consistent? I’ll let you decide.

        Notable Omissions

        Since we’re building decks around mechanics in this article series, the final lists can sometimes come out a bit wonky. So, for cards you might’ve been expecting, I’d like to offer a brief explanation of why we’re leaving them out. Hope it helps answer some of your questions!

        I’m not sure Aurelia should be in a regular Saskia deck, let alone one built around curses. This comes back to the True Conviction debate, and I think the answer’s pretty clear: unless you’re playing 40 nonbasics with Alpha dual lands mixed in, the mana won’t be good enough. Powerful, but too inconsistent.

        Maybe it’s just me, but Shamanic Revelation has never impressed me. There are situations where it does stone nothing and I think people tend to overvalue the Ferocious clause. What’s more, we’re not even happy about casting it until we have at least four creatures. This Saskia deck, however, will be lighter on creatures in favor of curses. No thanks, Shamanic Revelation.

        Oh... and please don’t hate me. I know it’s controversial and maybe I’m going too hard on the color consistency thing, but…four-color mana bases scare me. I want my artifact ramp to produce any color of mana (or at least one color). Sol Ring doesn’t do it. Furthermore, part of its busted power is ramping out your commander two turns ahead of schedule. No can do with Saskia as our commander. Sorry, Sol Ring. You’re out.

        Finally, we're not playing Curse of Oblivion. Yes, it's the cover image for this article, but no, it's not very good.

        Playing the Deck

        The central game plan is to stack curses on the right players. As always, context will dictate those decisions.

        For example, if you see an opponent get out to an early start (a turn one Sol Ring, perhaps), I’d recommend cursing them first. That player might get mad at you, but the others won’t mind. Furthermore, you can incentivize other players to attack the player you’re most afraid of with cards like Curse of Opulence.

        As the game progresses, I’d recommend stacking your Curses rather than distributing them among each player. Think of it like Infect; once you go after a player, you’ve got to keep going until they’ve been defeated. Once they have, your spent Curses will go to the graveyard and you can retrieve them with Open the Vaults and Obzedat’s Aid.

        Don’t hold your Curses. Play them! You might be afraid of making enemies early in the game, but I’ve found most Curses don’t bother opponents all that much. Curse of Vitality, for instance, likely won’t draw too much ire from the enchanted player. It's those little advantages that players hardly notice that eventually lead to victory.

        Finally don’t forget Saskia! Remember, she’s like a Curse in the command zone. Cast her often and openly.

        The Deck

        Here it is!

        Not Averse to the Curse

        View on Archidekt

        Commander (0)
          Creatures (0)
            Enchantments (0)
              Instants (0)
                Sorceries (0)
                  Artifacts (0)
                    Land (13)

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                    That’s it for another edition of Mechanically Minded. Get out there and Curse your opponents!

                    Kyle A. Massa is a writer and avid Magic player living somewhere in upstate New York with his wife, their daughter, and three wild animals. His current favorite card is Syr Ginger, the Meal Ender. Kyle can be found on Twitter @mindofkyleam.

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