Good evening, witches and warlocks! Welcome to another round of Under the Hood; the series where we look into a mechanic and see what we could find! This week, I’ve decided to do something a bit different. Before, I’ve looked at creature mechanics – these are often more conducive to a deck building environment, as decks often need a critical mass of creatures to make it through grindy EDH games. This time I’m on a thoroughly noncreature mechanic: The Innistradi (Innistradian? Innistradish?) mechanic of curses!
In another departure from the norm, curses aren’t an ability word, a keyword, or otherwise. Curses are a subtype of enchantments that tends to denote an aggressive bout of disadvantage for the player afflicted. Due to this, you often want to go slinging these at your opponents; If that isn’t flavourful for a curse, I don’t know what is!
We first saw curses in Innistrad block, themed for the witches that exist on the plane. Bitterheart Witch remains to this day as the only non-Curse card to reference Curses; though Accursed Witch in the later Shadows over Innistrad tips its hat in reference (Infectious Curse even uses the subtype!). Due to their popularity, a new generation of curses were adapted for multiplayer and printed in Commander 2013, being billed as political tools for people who hit the accursed (such as Curse of Inertia, the extent of the downside varies by how ganged-upon they were). When it came to building a deck for this (spoiler alert, there is a deck at the end of all this), the extra addition of these curses added a lot more to my deckbuilding decisions which made enhanced the end result. Good conscience says I should give honorable mention to Curse of Vengeance in Commander 2016, but a mix of its non-synergy with the deck it was in (Breya, I believe), mixed with the mechanical dissonance with every other curse leave it as an outlier in my opinion. A shame, really. Wizards has recently made the assertion that curses are a mechanic we may end up seeing more often as we delve into our Egyptian block in Amonkhet, giving tips towards Egyptian tropes in Cruel Reality and Trespasser’s Curse!
I wanted to look into curses because, as a player starting out in original Innistrad, I was fascinated by the (often overcosted) auras. My friends and I were all new to the concept of TCGs, so we didn’t believe in singles and chose boosters as our way of improving our builds; this resulted in decks often containing random curses for no apparent reason! In fact, I still have fond(ish) memories of being taken out by Curse of the Bloody Tome back in the day. And consequently the Boneyard Wurm deck I made to compensate. Ah, memories.
But, how about that competitive scene…?
Nothing much to report, sadly. In standard, curses came onto the scene around the same time as Restoration Angel, Snapcaster Mage, Liliana of the Veil and Hellrider, and were chased off for good by Thragtusk and Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker in M13. A lot of the powerful curses were too expensive, and the reasonably costed ones were weak at best (Curse of the Pierced Heart, I have no beef, but come on, man). Ironically, Curse of the Pierced Heart was a fringe sideboard pick for Red Deck Wins, before the aggro v control matchup became ‘Kill them before Sphinx’s Revelation resolves or lose’, seeing infinitely more play than most of the other curses. The most successful one to date is Curse of Exhaustion, seeing fringe use to date as 1 or 2-ofs in Modern and Legacy Enchantress, but sparingly if ever. The factors of cost/power ultimately left curses with no legs to break ground in standard, and doomed them to make barely any movement in other formats as well. Despite this, curses remain a fan favourite, hence why we still see them today.
Implications on EDH
After a less than stellar showing in 60 card formats, I would be remiss to dismiss them in a format such as EDH. Quite the opposite, in fact.
The nature of the singleton restriction and the fact that curses often form a mechanical parallel to existing cards allow them to coexist in lists with their counterparts. For example, a Mayael the Anima deck looking to lock out with Rule of Law and Possibility Storm can utilise a Curse of Exhaustion as backup (and I’ve been known to exhaust some people in my time).
In another example, a certain member of my group with a PHD in piles of jank uses Curse of Bloodletting and Curse of the Pierced Heart in his Gisela, Blade of Goldnight deck, in order to grind people out by putting them on a clock and forcing them to grind themselves out. Curses are surprisingly flexible, and we’ll hear a lot more about their flexibility shortly.
Now, if I were looking to build a deck with curses in mind (if you don’t like spoilers, feel free to skip to the next section) I would build it Enchantress. Like your typical Oloro pillowfort, but a bit slower, and without half of the things that synergise with Oloro. While building around a noncreature mechanic, being defensive is important. You can’t play to the board like you can with Evoke. or Infect. or Revolt. Supporting yourself with enchantments like Propaganda or Sphere of Safety can help you stay moderately unharassed by creature strategies while you set up your slow but inevitable engines.
First, allow me to introduce you to the most important curse in the spellbook: Curse of Misfortunes. When you use this one ensure that your pillowfort is safely secure, as this will lose you ALL political clout with your now-nemesis. For them now, their gameplan gets worse and worse with every turn cycle. Their dorks might get the sudden urge to attack every turn. They might die entirely. He might only be able to cast a spell a turn. All this since you slapped him with that first curse. Plus, this curse allows you to enable the haymaker combinations fairly easily: Ideally, eventually there should be a critical mass of curses in play, at which point you tutor for the next curse; though style points if you slap them with a Curse of Bloodletting first. My other favourite thing about this one is that they aren’t copies; this powerful spell actively thins your deck of high drops, increasing the relative quality of your draws (nobody wants to draw high cmc auras that do nothing the turn they drop), and automatically attaches them. This thing while protected could be your ENTIRE gameplan, you may never need to cast another curse again that game (more about changing cursed players(!) later).
…Now, onto that haymaker. Have you met Curse of Thirst? This is what I would put as the ‘finisher’ for the curse deck: X damage a turn, where X is the number of curses you’ve slung. Now, bearing in mind that one of the curses at your disposal happens to be Curse of Bloodletting, this can become a VERY short clock. Of course, it can be disrupted by any amount of removal, but hit the right player and you and your depraved friends can watch a player dissolve before their eyes. Of course, the caveat of this Curse is that you NEVER want to see it early, when it is nothing more than a 5 mana Curse of the Pierced Heart. It gets stupid fast, but is better as a finisher, rather than an advantage engine.
Finally to my list of allstars comes Curse of Echoes. Now, this may seem like a weird choice (believe me, I gave the pilot of this card a weird look when I first saw it), but it does work. The function of this flexible Curse is two Fold. First, its offensive uses. Slap a spellslinger with this, get EVERYTHING they do. Chaos ensues. Get the ramp guy, EVERYBODY is a ramp deck now. Get the control deck, suddenly a counterspell will never resolve how they want it to again. It’s a chaotic way to shake a game up, and you will NEVER want to be hit by this curse after being hit once. Then, on the other side of the coin, you can turn it on yourself. Yes, yourself. Crazy used this on himself in his short-lived Kynaios and Tiro pure group hug deck; in order to put the table on steroids. Ramp, Draw and Tokens get so much more out of hand when everybody donates to everybody else. My one complaint about this curse is that it lacks the main gimmick of Hive Mind: the copies don’t HAVE to be cast. Not only does this make things less chaotic (to an extent), but it completely circumvents any shenanigans with spells such as Pact of the Titan, where you could force opponents to cast a spell that they have no physical means to pay for afterwards. But, you can’t have it all.
And now the moment you’ve all been waiting for, no doubt: The deck!
What we have here is a 4 colour Enchantment Pillowfort, helmed by Vial Smasher the Fierce and Ishai, Ojutai Dragonspeaker. When I knew it was going to be nongreen (and didn’t really want it to be lead by Breya), I knew I wanted Vial Smasher involved. A lot of the spells in this deck are very expensive (Blasphemous Act, Curse of the Cabal) so the goblin can get to work dismantling life totals without fail (except perhaps in WHICH life total is dismantled). When that was decided, Ishai was the only commander fitting the UW colour identity I required; but he does a decent job of suppressing fire in your pillowfort.
Now with that settled, we needed to settle the game plan. Despite rocking SIXTEEN curses (Not including Curse of the Cabal, which I threw in for the name), I knew that this couldn’t be the ONLY plan. Enter the pillowfort enchantments of Collective Restraint, Sphere of Safety, Ghostly Prison and Propaganda. Assembling these pieces make you unattackable, and Greater Auramancy makes them (and your curses, handily) untouchable by targetted removal. These give you the time to set up your combo of Enchanted Evening (excellent combo with Sphere of Safety or Greater Auramancy) and either Aura Thief or Cleansing Meditation. Either of these with the Evening out take away all of your opponents permanents while leaving yours unharmed! What could be better?
Speaking of Cleansing Meditation, handily. The destruction and prompt recursion of your enchantments allow you to move the targets of your curses! The same is true for Replenish and Open the Vaults, Though you need to get them into your graveyard first (Those pesky Witchbane Orbs are ruining our metas). This can lead to up to 4 uses of your curses on various players, which is often more than enough to kill a table if you have the time! To help you get started as soon as possible: I also included Academy Rector and Bitterheart Witch. Both of these maidens can get your Cursing ball rolling straight away, being able to reach into your deck and slap Curse of Misfortunes on an opponent on death, which has been previously mentioned to be ultimately the key to this! Academy Rector is an all-star here, as she can also go and grab a piece of pillowfort, or even your win condition through Enchanted Evening!
That just about covers me for this week, what do you think guys? Like curses? Wish they were better (…Join the queue)? Be sure to tell us what you think! For more like this, be sure to like our Facebook Feed to be kept at the front of the action! For now, Unmistakable out.