July 20, 2012
by Judson AKA GUDoug
A few years ago I caught the Gladiator bug pretty bad, so I did what any devout EDHer would do and built a Gladiator themed deck. I tried to jam pack the deck with as many flavorful elements as I could and combined more subjective criteria for picking the creatures with more thematic criteria for the other spells. I was pleased with how it turned out for the most part but it was a little slow and durdlely in a lot of aspects. High CMC creatures and spells mixed with no ramp and limited card draw is not the perfect recipe for a deck. I made changes constantly trying to get the deck to perform the best I could but in the end it just wasn’t suited for the group that I was playing with at the time. Everyone was rushing to combo out as fast as possible and a red zone deck just wasn’t fun to play against that type of strategy. When turn five “game is over” is the norm, with a good hand I was lucky to have 6-7 permanents on the board representing my non-interactive contribution to the game. Even online the deck was hit or miss and I felt I was making a lot of concessions to the theme in my card changes in order to have a more playable and competitive deck. Sometime in the summer of 2011 having not played the deck in months, I had lost hope in it, gutted its cards, and used its sleeves for a better purpose. I still have fond memories of the deck and I liked many of the ideas it had, so maybe it is time to take a second look at it, freshen up the list, and breath new life into a memorable fallen warrior.
I know 2010 seems a little late to the gladiator party as the actual movie Gladiator came out way back in 2000. I must be getting old if 2000 , a dozen years ago, seems like both just the other day and a lifetime ago. I remember watching it in the theater with my college roommate. Both of us having studied Ancient Rome in history classes, we spent a lot of time making a game of trying to pick out inaccuracies and coming up with timelines of succession for the Emperors mentioned as well as recalling things we had learned about the other key historical figures featured in the movie. A task I don’t think I could even try to pull off these days. That actually sounds pretty lame but you gotta flex that swoll academic brain sometimes and make that knowledge useful somehow. It wasn’t the movie Gladiator that actually sparked my new found interest in gladiators but a serialized program on Starz called Spartacus: Blood and Sand. Basically a yarn loosely woven around the story of Spartacus chock-full of people yelling “By Jupiter” or “By Jupiter’s…”, as well as super stylized bloody violence and lots of boobs, or if it is your type of thing the occasional wiener. For those who care it also contained the Lucy Lawless nude scenes that were over a decade too late for anyone who was obsessed with her from the Xena Warrior Princess days (I was not one of those people). Who’s Lucy Lawless? Anyone young enough to have not caught her rise to nerd culture obsession the first go around with Xena may be familiar with another fantasy vehicle she hitched her wagon too (this time Science Fiction) in the much beloved reboot of Battlestar Galactica playing D’Anna Beirs, AKA Cylon skin job Number Three. So that was a little bit a pervy walk down Lucy Lawless memory lane…oh well. Anyway Spartacus: Blood and Sand was a pretty entertaining show and when all 13 episodes were watched in the span of a weekend obsessive bloodlust was easy to catch.
So that show, in conjunction with my interest in the subject matter both scholarly and otherwise lead me down the path of creating a gladiator themed deck. Let me give you a rundown of the old list and the thematic elements it possessed. First and foremost I needed a stout warrior to lead my stable of gladiators into glorious combat. It seemed fitting to me that a lanista (an owner of a gladiator school or ludi) would be make a logical and pretty bad ass general, but to the best of my knowledge they were not every really gladiators. A lanista was simply just a man seeking ambition and profit off of the blood of others, making a dude like Gwafa Hazid, Profiteer perfect for the role but terrible for a gladiator deck in color and application. Gwafa Hazid does have a striking resemblence to John Hannah’s Quintus Lentulus Batiatus, the Lanista from Spartacus: Blood and Sand (see the above picture he is in blue reclining next to Lucy Lawless). That being said ambition and profit off of the blood of others is what I ended up picking in my gladiator general. The job fell squarely on the shoulders of one Kresh the Bloodbraided. His name itself sounded very gladiatorial, he had a fierce look, and he gained strength by vanquishing his enemies. Kresh seemed like the natural fit in color and mechanic. He also carried with him the additional bonus of being Jund which was a color combination that I had not played yet in EDH.
(Kresh looks game for gladiatorial combat in either version.)
For the rest of the combatants in the deck I tried to get a mix of gladiator like heroes, champions, and combative sounding characters. In addition to those types I added Colossuses and Titans which were carried over from Greek mythology to Roman Mythology. Plus tagging Colossus or Titan onto a name could just be like a nickname to strike fear into an enemy. Then there were Primus creatures which in the hierarchy of gladiators ranked highest and were called primus palus or first pole. Primus was also used in Spartacus: Blood and Sand to describe the final fight in a gladiatorial games, kind of like a headline featured main event fight. I am not positive that this definition is accurate but it now has more of a cognitive association with gladiator for me and anyone who watched the show. Further down the list of creatures there are spots for various beasts and animals which were hunted and slaughtered by combatants called bestiarii or used as a form of execution of criminals and condemned. Lastly there are a few gladiator thematic creatures who’s names fit theme-wise in the deck to round out the stable. During the year or so I had the deck many creatures came and went and a few of the more notable ones were Ancient Silverback, Anger, Magus of the Arena, Mirri the Cursed, Mirri, Cat Warrior, Throat Slitter, Undead Gladiator, Thriss, Nantuko Primus, Copperhoof Vorrac, and Mosstodon. Here is what I had when the deck was put to rest.
For the non-permanent spells I tried to choose cards with names that fit the gladiator theme. Therefore you get a lot cards dealing with death, killing, agony, battle, strength, fury, anger, and combat. Looking closer though there are some cards like Praetor’s Counsel referencing a high ranking position of governmental Roman authority as well as Triumph of the Hordes as a Triumph is a celebration that usually has gladiatorial games within the festivities. Then there are also cards referencing ambition and power as well as a the granting of life instead of death like in Life // Death and Death Denied (which is a really great card in EDH and very underplayed). Also what gladiator theme deck could be complete without a little Spartacus inspired Insurrection. It should also be noted that mperial Seal could probably be played but as I am not made of money (even though it was ONLY a few hundred dollars when I built the deck and not $700) it is not included. (The picture on the right is a little out of place but I wanted to include Kirk Douglas’s Spartacus somewhere.)
(Since the split cards wouldn’t format correctly in the decklist here they are too Hit // Run Life // Death)
Similar to the non-permanent spells the enchantments were essentially picked in the same fashion. It is worth noting that there were a great number of enchantments that fit the theme of the deck, but unfortunately there is only so much room for them. Many of which could easily find a home in a group slug type of deck built around the same theme. At one point there were several more enchantments like Survival of the Fittest, no mercy, Burning Sands, Battle Strain, and others but there were just too many and they never worked well. Also if you have never played with [card[Grand Melee[/card] you are really missing out on very powerful tool in reds wheel house. It is amazing how it warps the game and turns creatures and generals with powerful effects that don’t want to attack into a dead non-issue. A player can’t hid and turtle up when Grand Melee is out.
For the artifacts I wanted to go mostly with equipment to signify the various traditional armaments, protection, and specialized weapons that you would find in a gladiatorial event. The original build had many more swords, nets, armor, greaves, gauntlets, shields, helms, helmets, axes, and other implements of death but took up a large amount of deck space and thus had to be whittled down to the small collection that I have in this list. Included are two swords, an axe, a shield, a trident, and a kind of thematic equipment in Batterskull. In addition to the equipment I have several mana artifacts which are loosely thematic w/ respect to a Roman Emperor or elite in the form of signets and talismans. I am fine with them as they are the only acceleration that I could conceivably find to add to the deck thematically. They were one of the last additions to the deck when I was trying to get the deck closer to having a chance against most “normal” decks.
The lands listed are mostly non-thematic but I did have cards like Grand Coliseum, Arena, and Contested Cliffs. Contested Cliffs really isn’t on theme name-wise but the fight ability is. So if it matters here are the lands I played.
This leads us into the changes for the deck. There have been plenty of fight mechanic cards added since the deck was around and there were several that I didn’t have in the deck for thematic reasons or that I just missed. This should probably be a major aspect of the deck because it fits in flavor-wise and gives the deck some uniqueness. That being said Arena is a pretty horrible card and Magus of the Arena was cut very quickly in the decks life as it was pretty bad. If you could pick the creatures it would be so much better but since you cannot it is fairly difficult to get working profitably if your opponent has a larger creature onboard. So lets see what changes we could make.
A quick pass over the deck shows a pretty high CMC and lots of cards in the 6-8 range. This many cards with that large of CMC made the deck run a little clunky as your hand would sometimes fill up with cards you couldn’t cast or that you could only cast one per turn. It was fairly hard to play very quickly with this deck. Also there are a handful of cards that I am not particularly happy with thematically. Let’s start with those.
Undertaker, Fierce Empath, Overwhelming Instinct, and Batterskull I was never really happy with for theme but application-wise they worked well. They were close but kind of iffy and Batterskull, while I like it, should probably be a real type of weapon that may have been used by gladiators to fit the other equipment and not just be some sort of a weird barbed penis ram with thematic flavor. A few cards that I’m still not competely happy with thematically but will leave in are Bloodbraid Elf, as our general is “the Bloodbraided”, and Vithian Renegades, which I can concede thematically as a criminal being sentenced to fight in the gladiatorial games. Then also to a lesser extent the signets and talismans but I will leave those as well since they kind of fit and are really needed in the deck.
(Seriously WTF is this?)
So that purged 4 cards from the list, although they are all 5 CMC or less. Looking through the higher CMC cards I see several that either under perform or that are just too expensive to cast and could be cut to make room for newer cards. These include Wound Reflection, Kamahl, Pit Fighter, Bloodfire Colossus, Rhox, Terastodon, and Tooth and Nail. Some of these are very fine to really good cards why would I cut them? Well they are too expensive to cast reliably or just under perform, like Tooth and Nail. Sure it is a tutor but it is not a huge powerhouse in this deck, plus I am really down on tutors these days and would rather just play another card. Then you have a card like Kamahl, Pit Fighter that I really like but is just not good enough. Rounding out the cuts I have included the “never works for me like it does for everyone else” Victimize, as well as a few kill cards, Agonizing Demise and Slaughter, since I plan on adding fight cards.
So that frees up 13 spots to add new cards. Taking into account there are 37 lands and one general that is 13 out of 62 cards that for the most part are the deck, making the deck just a shade over 20% new. Of those spots 5 of the cards have the fight mechanic or a pseudo-fight mechanic feel to them. Those being Ulvenwald Tracker, Rivals’ Duel, Blood Feud, Alpha Brawl, and Garruk Relentless. Of those Ulvenwald Tracker is the only card that feels a little off thematically but since he forces things to fight he mechanically fits plus he could just be a bestiarii or some goon whose duty it is to make sure that the combatants fight. I decided not to add Prey Upon as I felt it was a little weak for the deck and not as versatile. Garruk Relentless really doesn’t fight very well but he can and his name is very gladiatorial.
In addition I added Markov Blademaster as another combatant as well as Wolfir Silverheart, Pyreheart Wolf, and Thragtusk as beast and animals to the deck. Then to round out the gladiators and animals I included Garruk, Primal Hunter who seems like the ultimate bestiarii as well as a decent card draw outlet and token maker. The last three additions to the deck are artifacts. Vessel of Endless Rest sounds like a very poetic way to refer to a gladiator who ends other’s lives and provides much needed mana ramp, Loxodon Warhammer fills the spot of Batterskull more to my liking, and Soratami Cloud Chariot is a nice chariot to add to the mix and has a lot of practical application.
As far as the lands there are a few that could possibly make the cut. I think that Grim Backwoods and Kessig Wolf Run pretty good for the deck. Haunted Fengraf is tempting but I hate adding too many sources of colorless mana. Since the beast count is very low now Contested Cliffs can go and Skarrg, the Rage Pits as well to make room for two new lands.
So there you have it. That is an update to an old Duster favorite that is probably going to see new life. All the new cards add a lot of flavor and application. There were a few cards I wanted to add but couldn’t find room for like Vulshok Battlemaster, Pernicious Deed, Inquisitor’s Flail, and Champion of Lambholt but they can always be added later when something fails me. Maybe next time we can take this theme even farther and build a deck around gladiator mask wearing rapper/producer/space monster/super villian MF Doom, AKA Doom, AKA Viktor Vaughn, AKA King Geedorah. Ok that might be a little too far out to handle but if you are interested I suggest you start the list with Mirrodin Marijuana-esque Forest #305. I hope you enjoyed this recycling of an old theme deck. Hope to see you back here next season. Here is the decklist with all the current changes.
(Again since the split cards wouldn’t format correctly in the decklist here they are too Hit // Run Life // Death)
Email me at: judsonjg(at)yahoo(dot)com
Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/GUDoug