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Deep Tracks: Palladia-Mors


Hey everyone, welcome to another edition of Deep Tracks! It sure has been an exciting couple of weeks in the realm of Magic. We’ve been getting hyped for the return of Core Sets, and it’s finally official now that Core Set 2019 has hit the shelves of local game stores all over the world! Last time, we examined the all-mighty Nicol Bolas. If there ever was a tough act to follow, it would be the Grixis colored legend. But our expedition of the five Elder Dragons from Legends and Core Set 2019 is far from over. Let's turn our attention to the Naya shard for some more Elder Dragon intensity:
 
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Wow, Palladia-Mors is looking extremely vicious in this illustration from Legends! Seriously, is that a corpse hanging from the ceiling and a pile of skeletal remains on that ledge?! It goes without saying that Palladia-Mors is an Elder Dragon that’s not to be trifled with. But we all know that there’s more to a Magic card than just the artwork.
 
So, what else is going on here? Honestly, not much. For the sake of completeness, I’ll once again point out that all five Elder Dragons from Legends come fully equipped with a head-scratching mana cost and equally frustrating upkeep tax. And, all five have flying and share the same 7/7 power and toughness stats. But what makes Palladia-Mors unique from the rest of the gang? Well, trample. She has… trample. Not nearly as exciting as Nicol Bolas who is capable of decimating an opponent’s entire gameplan in one fell swoop! But hey, at least trample is better than rampage… poor Chromium. Now don’t get me wrong; trample is a pretty sweet attribute to have. But this is a freaking Elder Dragon, and Elder Dragons should be equipped with several powerful abilities, right? Thankfully, Wizards felt a little more generous this time around with a newly revitalized design of Palladia-Mors:
 
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Ok, now this seems slightly more accurate in terms of what I would expect from an Elder Dragon. This time around Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner boasts a casting cost that is way easier to swallow from a deck building perspective. She’s lost a point off her power and toughness. I can’t say I’m thrilled with this, but she still has a good sized body for six mana. She’s got trample; a nice little throwback. But this time around she also comes equipped with vigilance. And, more interestingly, she has hexproof… sort of. Based on the wording, Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner loses hexproof once she has dealt damage to any target…
 
… I guess for some reason Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner becomes more vulnerable to spells being cast upon her after she’s incinerated a victim? Hmmm. Although the little bit about losing hexproof seems puzzling to me, I still think Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner has something to offer. And there’s no question that this Core Set 2019 version of the Elder Dragon is way more brewer-friendly than her old school Legends printing.
 
Without further ado, let's grab the reigns of Palladia-Mors and adventure into the realms of Legacy, Modern, and Standard. Shields up!

Legacy

Ah, Legacy. What can I say; Legacy has been in a strange place ever since Deathrite Shaman and Gitaxian Probe were ejected from the format a couple weeks ago. While the overall impact of the bans is still in question, the large majority of archetypes (tier, fringe, or otherwise) remain intact. That being said, it kind of feels like there’s some brew space available in Legacy at the moment due to the recent B&R update. Now, if only we could figure out that darn reserved list.
 
When I started working on ideas for Palladia-Mors in Legacy, I wasn't sure which direction to go. And honestly, it's been quite challenging to work on all of the Legends Elder Dragons. Yup... it's the pesky casting costs and upkeep costs associated with these creatures. As such, I've felt a little boxed in by the process. But it sure has felt good to get creative and develop some crazy workarounds. So, I decided to put myself to the test once again. Here's my tribute to Palladia-Mors:
 
 
I'm sure alot of you are familiar with the Solemnity / Phyrexian Unlife combo. But for those of you who aren't: the combo presents a hard lock prison against any type of damage based threat, leaving the opponent with only two options to beat the combo: via some alternate win-condition or by removing either Solemnity or Phyrexian Unlife from play. I will admit the strategy is a little risky. Cards like Echoing Truth and Primal Command can ruin our plans in a heartbeat. But overall the combo is impressive, and will even win games for free on occasion!
 
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Unlife is cool and everything, but I'm actually way more excited about another sweet combo piece that works in conjunction with Solemnity:
 
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You thought I was going to say Elephant Grass, didn't you? :)
 
Yes, yes, yes; Solemnity enables an instant Dark Depths activation, resulting in a indestructible 20/20 Marit Lage creature token! And, since we've incorporated Dark Depths into the deck, we may as well work in an entire utility Land package and support it with cards like Crop Rotation and Knight of the Reliquary, right? Wait a second. Alright John, this is a piece about Elder Dragons... not extreme prison strategies and Lands! Oh yeah, Palladia-Mors... I got her covered:
 
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Crucible of Worlds allows us to flex with Knight of the Reliquary by re-purposing sacrificed Lands and can also fish out Dark Depths or any number of utility Lands from our graveyard. Crucible also helps us stay on track to hit the ridiculous mana requirements of Palladia-Mors. And that's our plan; our prison elements will buy us the time we need to assemble our mana base so we can hardcast Palladia-Mors. Mirari's Wake may seem cute, but in this scheme it can be the enabler we need to get Palladia-Mors out quickly by effectively doubling our mana!
 
One final aspect of the deck to highlight involves two cards that allow us to tutor up whichever Enchantment we need (based on the game state):
 
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I've spent a lot of time working on Solemnity strategies for Modern. But Legacy offers a whole other dimension with great old school gems like Academy Rector and Sterling Grove which aren't legal in Modern. Academy Rector lets us tutor for an Enchantment and place it directly onto the battlefield. Sterling Grove on the other hand makes us place the tutored card on top of our library, so there is a delay to factor in. However, Sterling Grove offers the upside of protecting all of our Enchantments as long as it's in play, and makes our prison scheme nearly impossible to deal with if we can get two copies into play simultaneously!
 
I wanted to think outside of the box while focusing on Palladia-Mors for this weeks Deep Tracks and I must say, it was nice to get the creative juices flowing. Naya Solemnity came together nicely, but I was still hungry, so I decided to finally put together a concept for Legacy that has been in the back of my mind for quite some time:
 
 
Oh boy, John has lost his #@?* mind! That's correct, I stashed away my precious Reanimates and Exhumes for this take on one of my favorite archetypes, and opted to go a different route when it came time to recur a huge creature from our graveyard:
 
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I will admit, it's really hard to justify assembling a Reanimator deck without any black cards (aside from some large monsters I've included like Griselbrand, Sire of Insanity, and Ashen Rider), but I can't help but imagine the look on our opponent's face when we fish a Griselbrand out of our graveyard using Breath of Life or Resurrection! The idea has been taunting me for a long time because I've had a copy of Resurrection from Revised Third Edition burning a hole in my trade binder for what seems like an eternity. 
 
As I've mentioned in articles past, Legacy Reanimator decks can usually be broken down into four quadrants: mana acceleration, combo enablers, reanimation spells, and overpriced creatures to reanimate. Also, we need to consider how we will protect our combo. We've already reviewed our reanimation spells, Breath of Life and Resurrection. The creature package is pretty straightforward with typical Reanimator staples such as Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite and Griselbrand. And yes, I chose one of my most bizarre deck ideas to date as our first taste of Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner! I actually like the Elder Dragon as a big monster to cheat into play; she's incredibly difficult to remove from the battlefield while her hexproof ability is active, and she makes for a fine defensive piece in the format, gobbling up staple beaters such as Gurmag Angler and Tarmogoyf. Our mana acceleration package features some relatively "stock" pieces as well, like Lotus Petal and Chrome Mox, however, I've included a couple not so typical pieces in Simian Spirit Guide and Ancient Tomb. When it comes to enabling our combo, we have the R/B Reanimator linchpin Faithless Looting, but also a card that is more commonly found in Dredge decks:
 
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Good ole Insolent Neonate from Shadows over Innistrad! He sure is a smug Vampire. Hmph! In R/W Reanimator we're not running black, so we don't have easy access to cards like Entomb or Collective Brutality to bin creatures. Instead, we're using Neonate to compliment Faithless Looting in enabling our gravyeard shenanigans. So, now that we have all our combo pieces in place, how do we go about about protecting our plan? I'm sure you've figured it out by now:
 
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There's no better way to slow our opponents to a hault then with our trusty Blood Moons! And since we're running high CMC reanimation spells like Breath of Life as opposed lower costed spells like Animate Dead, stalling the game with Blood Moon is our best way to put up a reasonable fight. As far as the sideboard goes, I really like having a transitional plan going into games two and three of a match. Therefore I've included not only a variety of dedicated hate pieces, but also a couple alternate ways to sneak our jumbo monsters in to play:
 
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If your feeling frisky and have an interest in catching your opponents way off guard, R/W Reanimator might be for you ;)

Modern

We're not cooling down just yet; Let's continue with a different kind of "creature-cheat" strategy featuring Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner for Modern:
 
 
Naya Big Stuff is for all you Timmys out there. The deck is fueled by a dependable duo of mana dorks in Birds of Paradise and Noble Hierarch, and you may have noticed a hint of mana ramp tech with my inclusion of Sacellum Godspeaker. With some help from our mana dorks, we're charging in at the opponent fast and hard in the early game wielding a couple of overly aggressive three-drops:
 
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And our theme begins; you'll want to keep an eye on our creatures power stat as we move on to this weeks Modern cheat spell of choice, Mayael the Anima! There's roughly a million creature-cheat spells in the realm of Magic, and if you sift long enough you'll stumble upon weird stuff like Pattern of Rebirth, Polymorph, Elvish Piper, and Quicksilver Amulet to name a choice few. But Mayael the Anima has something a little different to offer; her activated ability does so much more than cheat a creature into play. To be more clear, with Mayael, we also get the bonus of a reliable late game mana-sink that provides card filtering and card advantage. Nice!
 
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As our gameplan develops, we start unleashing an array of massive threats, with Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner leading the way! And like many a modern day corporate industry, I decided to "go green" with our strategy:
 
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Trust me, you don't want to see any of these baddies staring across the table at you! While narrowing down choices for the deck, it dawned on me that we could afford to add some flexibility to our gameplan with a light "toolbox" subtheme. After some lengthy scrutiny, I decided to slot a couple copies of Eldritch Evolution into the decklist. It's an alternative kind of cheat spell and has a lot of potential in a creature heavy deck like Naya Big Stuff.
 
And woops... I did it again:

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... My sincere apologies to all you Blood Moon haters out there!

Standard

When I started working on a Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner deck for Standard, my initial idea was to stick to the naya colors and develop a Ramp strategy that would pump out Palladia as quickly as possible. However, sticking with my deck building theme for this week, I chose to run wild with a second epiphany for Standard that ended up taking me in a not-so-obvious direction:
 
 
Mhm, we're riding on the back of Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner Mono Red style! The original Ramp deck I designed was pretty cool, but it was light on the Dragon theme, and that's exactly what I desired. What I ultimately settled on was this mono colored Dragon Tribal deck supported by a team of Planeswalkers and some solid removal pieces to help us survive the early game. Let's start with our multiverse adventurers:
 
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I knew even before I developed any thoughts for a Standard deck that I wanted to test out the new Sarkhan Planeswalkers. And what better fit than a deck packed to the brim with Dragon creatures!? Sarkhan, Fireblood comes down as early as turn three for us, and go figure, provides some ramp for the deck. Also, the same can be said for Chandra, Torch of Defiance who hits the battlefield on turn four. So, even though there's not a single green card in our deck (other than Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner), we're still capable of slamming our Dragons ahead of schedule thanks to our Planeswalkers! Sarkhan, Dragonsoul actually feels like it is better suited for sideboard consideration, however... look at that "ultimate" ability. Holy smokes!
 
The Planeswalker package for Dragon Red is super easy to get excited about. But the truth is, both versions of Sarkhan are nearly unplayable without actual Dragons filling up our 75! To wrap things up, here's a breakdown of our fearless firebreathing friends: 
 
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If you were to scour through all the Dragon creature cards that have appeared throughout Magics history, you would find that there aren't very many Dragons that cost less than 3 CMC. This philosophy has stood true even to this day. As it were, our Dragon curve starts at three with Sarkhan's Whelp. I knew immediately going in that I wanted Sarkhan, Fireblood to be a focal point of Dragon Red, and when I stumbled upon Sarkhan's Whelp, I simply had to include it! It hits all the flavor ticks and even boasts reasonable stats and a relevant triggered ability. Next up we have Verix Bladewing in the four-drop slot. I decided to limited the number of copies to two, due to the Dragon's legendary status. I'm also keen on the scaling value that Verix offers in situations where we can take advantage of its kicker cost. Glorybringer definitely made the cut, not only because it's one of the strongest Dragons in Standard, but also because I wanted one last hoorah with the Mono Red staple before rotation hits in a few months. Lathliss, Dragon Queen needs to be tested, but on the surface, I believe resolving a Lathliss could be potentially game-ending. And of course, we have the anchor of our Dragon team:
 
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Who would of guessed my home of choice for Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner in Standard would be a mono colored deck? Heck, I wouldn't have guessed it either! It took me a while to warm up to the idea because it seemed quite different. But I have to say, once the dust settled, I simply fell in love with this take on Dragon Tribal.

Conclusion

After spending a lot of time trying to crack the code of Palladia-Mors for this weeks Deep Tracks, here's my takeaway for this Elder Dragon: both Palladia-Mors and Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner are probably the least "combo-centric" out of the five Elder Dragons. There's just not a lot of clear avenues present to get tricky with her. Conversely, I can say that her greatest attribute shines through in the form of raw power. This is definitely not a bad defining characteristic to have for a creature in Magic, but the Johnny in me did struggle a little this week to really stretch any potential boundaries with the card. Although Palladia-Mors herself didn't offer many combo synergies, she did spark my inventive spirit by forcing me to think way outside the box when it came to developing strategies. At the end of the experience, it felt rewarding to stretch my imagination and see each vision all the way through, and I hope you can gleam some sort of inspiration from my crazy ideas :) Join me next time as I unfold the final chapter of my Deep Tracks Core Set 2019 Elder Dragon expidition!
 
Well, that’s it for now. Let me know what you think! What's your take on Palladia-Mors, the Ruiner? Is she the top-end threat that Naya has been waiting for, or just an average Elder Dragon destined to live out her days at the kitchen table? As always, all comments are welcome, thank you so much for reading, and have a great one!
 
Follow me on Twitter - @WallofOmens
 
-John
 
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