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Warhammer 40,000 Precon Upgrade Guide : Tyranid Swarm - $30

Warhammer 40,000 preconstructed decks have been revealed and with it comes another round of my precon upgrades. We're going to do a thorough analysis of each deck, highlighting its goals and how well it accomplishes them, check out its deckbuilding fundamentals, identify its strongest and weakest cards, then use all that information to create a high-impact list of upgrades for under $30. Looking for upgrade guides for the other #WH40KxMTG decks? Check out our upgrade guides for Forces of the Imperium, Necron Dynasties, The Ruinous Powers, and Tyranid Swarm.

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Tyranid Swarm is a Temur deck focused on +1/+1 Counters: the goal is to play creatures and load them up with +1/+1 counters, usually through creatures that add counters to themselves like Hormagaunt Horde and Trygon Prime. These counters not only let our creatures hit harder but also fuel synergies such as ramping with Purestrain Genestealer or drawing cards and protecting from removal with Inspiring Call. There's also a minor "X spells" subtheme, notably tyranids with the ravenous mechanic such as Zoanthrope that scale up throughout the game, so every topdeck can be a potentially game-ending threat.

If you like an aggressive Stompy deck that has added depth and synergy thanks to a strong +1/+1 Counter theme, then Tyranid Swarm is the deck for you!

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The Precon List

Before we talk upgrades, let's take a look at the stock list to see what we're working with:

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Tyranid Swarm is a Temur deck going for a tried and true Green strategy -- big creatures and +1/+1 counters -- so it's not a surprise that the precon delivers, albeit a bit worse than Necron Dynasties precon: I count 33 cards that support the +1/+1 Counter theme, along with 13 cards that support the X Spells subtheme.  There's a fair bit of interesting cards that feel out of place in the deck though, like Ghyrson Starn, Kelermorph and Toxicrene, which are at least Tyranids so have at least some support (e.g. Tyranid Harridan) but for the most part don't do much for the deck's goals.

So with a significant chunk of cards not on theme, it's clear that our upgrades will need to focus the deck more.

Analyzing the Precon & Identifying Weaknesses

Now that we've glanced at the stock list and settled on our commander, let's take a closer look at the deck itself to identify what parts benefit the most from upgrades.

As I often explain in my Budget Commander articles, every time I build a rough draft of a deck, I make sure I have a certain ratio of mana, interaction, card advantage, etc. This gives me a reference point to compare to the deck and see which areas may need improvement. My general ratio is:

  • 50 mana; lands and ramp, usually a 37–13 split
  • 10 card draw; cards that net you 2+ cards in hand
  • 8 targeted removal; split between creature / artifact / enchantment removal and countermagic
  • 3 board wipes; creature-light decks might want one more, creature-heavy decks might want one less
  • 2 graveyard recursion
  • 2 flexible tutors; higher budgets I recommend more tutors
  • 1 graveyard removal; since you need to keep Graveyard decks honest 
  • 1 finishers; something that can win games the turn you cast it without too much setup

That's always my starting point, which is then tweaked to suit the individual deck's strategy and further tweaked with playtesting. I always find it immensely useful to figure out some quick ways to improve the deck in question.

Let's see what the rough ratios are for Tyranid Swarm and how it compares. I count:

The ratios are wonky with this precon, mostly because the deck is so ramp-heavy, which works great with the 11 ravenous cards that you can dump all your mana into. However it does lead to some consistency issues, most notably the lack of burst card draw: while cantripping ravenous cards are nice, we need a few more cards that can draw more so we avoid topdeck mode.

The other main strength of the deck is its finishers: while some cards are better at closing out the game than others, the fact that 11 ravenous cards are scaling threats means that lategame any topdeck can randomly be a lethal 10/10.

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Choosing Our Commander

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Unlike Necron Dynasties which has five potential commanders for the stock list, Tyranid Swarm only has two potential candidates: The Swarmlord and Magus Lucea Kane, with both having different strengths and weaknesses.

  • The Swarmlord is the face commander of the precon and is a fine but inferior leader even for the stock list: it starts as a 6 mana 7/7 and lets all your creatures cantrip when they die, helping smooth out the card draw (sort of). But a glorified 6-mana 7/7 without even trample isn't a powerful or interesting commander. Upgrading with him is also difficult because there's simply not too much to build around.
  • Magus Lucea Kane is my choice for the commander even for the stock list: worst case she's providing some +1/+1 counters and ramping, neither are things the deck particularly needs help in, but being able to essentially copy any of the 12 X-spells in the deck is just massive value. Once we start upgrading the deck so we're copying multiple spells per turn makes her exponentionally better and a real terror at the table.

This time the choice is obvious: Magus Lucea Kane is simply the better commander for an upgraded deck. We're going to add way more X-spells and ways to untap her so we can utilize her powerful copy ability as much as possible.

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Upgrade Goals

I have some specific goals when upgrading Tyranid Swarm:

  • Remove cards that don't fit our themes
  • Remove some ramp
  • Add more X-Spells
  • Add ways to untap Magus
  • Add burst card draw

With Magus Lucea Kane in the command zone we're going to drop the minor Tyranid Tribal subtheme and any cards that don't fit out X-Spells / +1/+1 Counter themes so we can add more thematic options instead. And since Magus's tap ability is so powerful we're going to toss in some ways to untap her so we can copy multiple spells per turn.

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$30 Upgrades

Disclaimer: Card prices are volatile and may be different at the time you read this article.

Here's how I'd swap in $30 worth of upgrades. If you want to upgrade on a smaller budget then just makes less swaps:


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And here's the deck with the upgrades installed:

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The deck has an injection of 11 powerful X-spells, 2 ways to untap Magus, some of the best burst card draw to refill hands, and we splurged for Unbound Flourishing which is simply the best X-spell support card available.

Further Upgrades

Add better modify support like Kodama of the West Tree, better ramp for creatures with Animar, Soul of Elements, the other +1/+1 counter doubler Branching Evolution, but above all add some of the best untappers like Thousand-Year Elixir and Minamo, School at Water's Edge.

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2 Down, 2 To Go!

We'll be back with the other two precons soon!

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