Going Rogue: Retribution of the Undying
Hello and welcome back to Going Rogue, where winning isn’t the goal but it often happens anyway.
I’ve had it argued that this isn’t a true rogue deck column, because most of my decks have fetches, and most of my green decks play Tarmogoyf. Fair enough, the decks I bring to you might be quirky some regards, but exactly what you’d expect in others. Whether you like that or not is up to you, but if you find yourself in the camp that believes that rogue decks only count when they play garbage cards, well then this week is for you.
Watch out Kitchen Finks, there’s a new recursive combo in town. (And it’s super annoying.)
I suspect this combo doesn’t need much explaining, but the idea is that Retribution of the Ancients gobbles up +1/+1 counters to control your opponents board. By using creatures with Undying, and ideally a sacrifice outlet, you can easily do this enough times to keep your opponent’s board completely clear of threats, and eventually pursue the win with a giant Bloodflow Connoisseur, a mob of resilient threats, or repeated triggers from Geralf’s Messenger.
Your ideal situation is the three cards pictured above. Each black mana you spend hits your opponent for two, shrinks or kills one of their creatures, and grows your biggest threat all at the same time. But basically as long as you have a Retribution in play, you have a lot of very annoying options. Thanks to the order that effects apply in, you can even use it to kill your own Undying creatures (only to then have them come back), either as a sans sac-outlet way to repeat Messenger triggers, or dodge Path to Exile. Worst case scenario, Young Wolf blocks forever.
What’s more is that this isn’t even a linear combo strategy, as we get to play a lot of synergistic tools that interact with common opposing strategies or give us the card advantage necessary to grind out a longer game.
Bone Splinters is great, as a cheap way to fuel your engine while killing opposing threats, and Altar’s Reap turns its downside frown upside down in the same way. Scavenging Ooze interferes with opposing graveyard tomfoolery while also building into either a big threat or yet another +1/+1 counter bank for Retribution to make use of. And Collected Company has just enough targets to justify, helping generate card advantage, flash in blockers, or dig for our best creatures.
How Necessary is Retribution?
Unfortunately, it’s very, very necessary. Without it, the deck doesn’t do a whole lot better than modest life drains and a swarm of mid-size bodies. With cards like Scavenging Ooze and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, it’s not a hopeless matchup on a standard midrange front, but it’s not the game it wants to be playing.
Fortunately, by costing only one, Retribution gets into play nicely underneath countermagic or disruption spells, and once it’s on the battlefield, it’s fairly difficult to remove for most decks. You don’t need to start with it though, as the nature of the deck is grindy enough that we’re likely enough to encounter it before we’re too far behind, especially if you have either Viscera Seer, Temple of Malady, or Altar’s Reap.
The other vulnerability is, of course, graveyard hate. So if you suspect a Relic of Progenitus or Rest in Peace coming in from the sideboard against you, it’s wise to have a secondary strategy to leave
Paying for It All
When some of your best cards include both Strangleroot Geist and Geralf’s Messenger, you know you’re in for a bit of a rough ride from the mana base perspective. So for that reason, this deck needs to be limited to only Black and Green.
This is a fairly severe limitation, as a blue splash would be very welcome to help deal better with combo decks. However with access to disruption of our own, and some fringe protective effects like Autumn’s Veil, we can do a decent enough Mana Leak impersonation to get us by.
But enough talking about the deck, amirite? Let’s take a look at what’s inside.
Retribution of the Undying
4 Bloodflow Connoisseur
2 Butcher Ghoul
4 Geralf’s Messenger
2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
3 Scavenging Ooze
4 Strangleroot Geist
3 Viscera Seer
4 Young Wolf
3 Abrupt Decay
2 Autumn’s Veil
2 Avatar of the Resolute
1 Maelstrom Pulse
1 Golgari Charm
2 Inquisition of Kozilek
Silly though it may look, the deck is actually very strong against most creature based matchups – the smaller, the better. Burn/Zoo, Hatebears, Abzan Company, and even Jund can have a pretty hard time getting through our wall of undying blockers, and have very few ways to deal with a resolved Retribution of the Ancients. It becomes a little more difficult to take out Siege Rhinos and Wurmcoil Engines with -1/-1 counters, but it’s doable. If you find yourself in a meta full of smaller creature decks, this is a surprisingly strong strategy to play.
It’s also fairly powerful against many common control strategies, as outside of Path to Exile and Cryptic Command, a lot of their one-for-one interaction falls pretty flat. Retribution loses a lot of its power with fewer targets, but it can help blank Supreme Verdict by refreshing the Undying resilience on all-but-one of our creatures.
Where it comes up very short is against big decks like Tron or Eldrazi variants, combo decks (particularly Bogles), or decks with greater odds of T1 disruption than our T1 Retribution. Some disruption of our own out of the board helps, but only goes so far.
Well, there you have it. If it was jank you were after, then it’s jank you shall receive. I hope you enjoyed this week’s instalment of Going Rogue. Join us next week for some more oddball interactions! Until then, have fun, and may the force be with brew.