Next in this month’s deck tech series is this piece about Deadguy Ale, written by Gabriel Farkas. Enjoy! / Martin
Truth be told, I’m a Johnny at heart. I love combos and obscure card synergies, the jankier or clunkier the better. That’s a big part of why I love the Premodern format so much: all of the combo-riffic cards in the pool. However, when I’m not trying to figure out how to synergize Varchild’s War-Riders and Dingus Staff into something workable, my deck archetype of choice is usually some form of Deadguy Ale.
The deck was first popularized in the early 2000’s by Chris Pikula, who was a member of “Team Deadguy” (which also included Jon Finkel and David Price), and was considered a “rogue homebrew” at the time, hence the name. Deadguy Ale is a BW midrange deck with a pretty low mana curve, and lots of removal and answers for whatever your opponent drops onto the battlefield.
Most versions feature some discard (or other disruption) and land destruction, alongside Dark Ritual and effective creatures. The creature suite is usually all about bang-for-your-buck, with cheap-ish casting costs and timely abilities (that usually complement the disruption). It relies on studs like Nantuko Shade, Hypnotic Specter, or Withered Wretch.
Some versions can lean more towards the discard-heavy side, getting closer to what would be a classic BW discard deck in 93/94, with four The Rack. Others go heavier on the creatures, where you may see a Knight of Stromgald or Phyrexian Negator show up. And still other versions may forgo creatures altogether, bringing The Rack back in, along with cards like Pox, Ensnaring Bridge, and/or Bottomless Pit.
My ultra-rogue build
During the inaugural Premodern Monthly Online Tourney organized by Jared Doucette (more info about this tournament series here), I ran a version of Deadguy Ale that was even more homebrew than usual, with a few spicy twists I added in for fun.
The key cards are the white removal (including Vindicate), the black discard spells (including Gerrard’s Verdict), and the familiar Hypnotic Specter/The Rack win con. There’s a few other card choices to note as well:
Cabal Therapy. In many decks that at least splash black, especially combo decks, this card is a four-of. However, targeted discard isn’t as useful in a build like this, compared to more bulk discard. When you’re trying to get your opponent into top-deck mode as soon as possible, you want more guaranteed discard in the form of Duress, Stupor, or Gerrard’s Verdict. That’s why I only included two of them in my final deck. And I probably could remove them entirely the next time I play the deck, replacing them with Addle, Funeral Charm, or some more removal or creatures.
Megrim. I know this card is often panned, even in discard-heavy decks. The same way that the “correct” number of enchantresses in an Enchantress deck is usually zero, it often feels like the correct number of Megrim in discard decks should be zero as well. However, in this format it ended up being surprisingly useful, even almost single-handedly winning me a game against a Survival of the Fittest deck, and helping me use my opponent’s Crumbling Sanctuary to mill him out.
And then we get to Prowling Pangolin, a card some readers may not have even heard of before. I’ve firmly maintained for 15+ years that it’s an underrated card, and here’s why. At six power it’s a pretty nice finisher and can come out as early as turn 3 with a Dark Ritual. And the enters-the-battlefield drawback can often end up being a benefit in the form of spot creature removal, essentially acting like a synthetic double Diabolic Edict. Against creature-heavy decks like Goblins, if your opponent already has three dudes out on the board, he might be willing to sacrifice two of them in order to keep Prowling Pangolin from staying around, not realizing that you’ve got a Smother in your hand to take care of his third creature.
Consider that there’s a grand total of only 23 creatures in the entire Premodern card pool with at least six power, at least five toughness, and no more than five CMC. Here’s a brief summary of the other 22, compared to Prowling Pangolin.
- Phyrexian Dreadnought. Sure it’s part of the famous combo with Stifle. Good luck getting it onto the battlefield otherwise though.
- Shivan Wurm. Arguably better than Prowling Pangolin, all in all, but not playable in these colors.
- Spiritmonger. Obviously the best creature on this list, but we’re not playing green here.
- Covetous Dragon. Kai Budde piloted this beast to a World Championship title in 1999, and it’s a very good card in the right deck. But unlike this card, once Prowling Pangolin is on the battlefield it’s going to stay there until it’s actually removed. There’s no risk of losing it because your opponent Naturalize‘d your Cursed Scroll.
- Argothian Wurm. Another similar card with an enters-the-battlefield drawback, but I would argue it’s worse than the Prowling Pangolin‘s because the Wurm will end up back on top of your library, leading to card disadvantage.
- Pangosaur, Endless Wurm, Lithophage, Scoria Wurm, Sandbar Crocodile, and Carrion Wurm all fall into a similar bucket, where their drawbacks are arguably worse than the Pangolin’s.
- Sliver Queen and Sliver Overlord. Does anyone actually play Sliver decks anymore? Did they ever? And it’s not like either of these are easy to cast.
- Taniwha. Okay, it’s a 7/7. But not only does it phase out, it also makes all your lands phase out as well. No thanks.
- Grinning Demon. I guess they thought this was a “fixed” Juzám Djinn? Two life per turn is a little too steep, though, unless you’re playing a really fast aggro deck.
- Hunted Wumpus. A fun card to play with, if you’re playing against a creature-light deck, but probably too situational for my taste.
- Orgg. Great for an aggro deck, in theory. But I’ve never seen one used successfully in a competitive deck, have you?
- Winding Wurm. Eh, I really want to like this. But ten mana is ten mana, even if it’s spread over two turns.
- Goblin Goon, Gurzigost, Mungha Wurm, Soulgorger Orgg. I honestly didn’t even know these cards existed before seeing them on this list. After looking them over, I kind of wish I still didn’t.
All in all, I count at most three or four creatures from that list that are better than Prowling Pangolin, and none that are playable in black and white. There’s a few other near misses (Phyrexian Negator, Visara the Dreadful, Blastoderm, etc.), but most are either too situational or not playable in these colors.
As I mentioned above, there’s a few different ways you can go with Deadguy Ale, most of which don’t involve a $0.03 uncommon from Onslaught. A typical Pikula-style build would look something like this.
Instead of Rancid Earth you could easily run Choking Sands or Despoil (or Rain of Tears, or even Icequake). And other creature options instead of the pump knights can include Spectral Lynx, Windborn Muse, or maybe Exalted Angel. If you want to spice it up a bit, Ihsan’s Shade is a fun option as well.
Some other card options in general can include Presence of the Master, Parallax Wave, Death Grasp, Icy Manipulator, Aegis of Honor, or Meekstone. Since you’re often not playing any enchantments yourself, Presence of the Master in particular is great at shutting down opposing decks playing Yawgmoth’s Bargain, Standstill, Survival of the Fittest, or Illusions of Grandeur.
Another deck option that has seen play in some European tournaments looks like this:
You could also cut out creatures all together, opting for something closer to a Suicide Black style build.
Okay, so you’re on board with Deadguy Ale, ready to rock your next Premodern tourney. Just keep in mind the deck isn’t without its drawbacks.
Black and white are pretty big targets for hate cards. So if your opponent is running only one of those two colors (like The Rock, Landstill, Counter Rebels, or Reanimator, among other popular archetypes), then you’re probably in for a good helping of post-sideboard hate for the other color. Don’t be surprised to see cards like Karma, Gloom, Elephant Grass, or Light of Day. And with a less-than-ideal draw, an opponent’s Disenchant or Naturalize can ruin your whole game plan.
Since you’re not running blue or red, you’re also missing out on all those handy Pyroblasts and Hydroblasts in your sideboard. But the flipside is that those are dead cards in your opponents’ sideboards as well.
If you don’t draw into your hand disruption, trading your one-for-one removal may only get you so far before you just run out of answers for your opponents’ threats. And there’s not too much you can do once a combo player starts going off, except sit back and watch the show.
Overall, I think Deadguy Ale is a pretty fun midrange deck to pilot, with lots of different ways you can customize it to your liking. The decision lines are definitely more interesting than just auto-pilot aggro decks, but you don’t need a PhD in theoretical probability either. And it can be pretty budget-friendly as well. Besides Wasteland, Mox Diamond, or Ensnaring Bridge, none of which are a must-have, there’s no other card above the $20 price point (as of right now).
Until next time!
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