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Here, Hold This...
By Stephen O. Bahl
Looking for a new trick to surprise and annoy friends (or enemies)? Interested in building a cheap, yet potent deck? How about the challenge of a powerful, yet also complex and unforgiving deck? If any of those pertain to you, then consider HHT, my (very) budget version of the infamous Necro-Donate.

Or alternatively, you could keep in mind what I have to say here, in order to better combat this type of deck. But without further introduction, I present Here Hold This, or…

HHT:

-Core components
4x Necropotence
4x Illusions of Grandeur
4x Donate
4x Force of Will

-Card searching
4x Lim-Dul’s Vault
3x Demonic Consultation

-Defensive measures
2x Force Spike
2x Daze
2x Arcane Denial
3x Duress

-Mana production
4x Dark Ritual
11x Island
13x Swamp

This build is, to begin with, very cheap. The most expensive cards in it are the Force of Wills, which are a vital part of most blue decks anyway. Everything else is pretty affordable even for those of us who are scrubs (myself included), or at least it was back when I built the deck…

Here, Hold This (for me, will ya?)

The name came from when I randomly decided to use the phrase “Here, hold this for me, will ya?” upon playing Donate. It seemed like “HHT” wouldn’t be a bad name for a deck to have, and well, it’s stuck ever since…


The creation of HHT:

This deck, strictly for one-on-one play, actually evolved from a multiplayer deck. I had added two each of Donate and Illusions of Grandeur to my Necropotence/Zur’s Weirding deck in order to give it more of a “bang” in multiplayer games. They worked so well that I increased the count to four of each. Intrigued by the stories I’d heard of the success of Necro-Donate based decks in the Extended format, and wanting to improve my own deck, I resolved to convert it to an all-out Necro-Donate build. For those who haven’t seen the “Trix” decks from the old Extended format, they used Mana Vault and Mox Diamond typically for mana acceleration, making them certainly faster than HHT. But HHT is more disruptive. I’d always used Lim-Dul’s Vault in my old Necro/Weirding deck, and increasing the count to four turned out to be perfect. I was actually startled at the performance of this deck. I built it in a time when I had never heard of Apprentice, let alone use it to test my decks, and when I lacked many of the more expensive rare cards I now have. But for two years, the deck went completely unchanged, as one of my best decks, often THE best deck I had. The change I made was to swap a land for the single Polluted Delta I happened to trade for. Other than that, HHT has survived, unchanged, from the day I first built it, which says something as to the consistency of the deck.

Ease of play:

HHT is not the hardest deck to play, but it is certainly toward that end of the spectrum. If you like easy decks that play themselves, steer clear of this type of deck. I would think that a week at minimum of playtesting this is in order, and probably more if you’re not familiar with Necropotence based decks. To win games, it is crucial that you know this deck very well. Know how much to Necro for at different points. Count how much damage your opponent can do over a given number of turns. Know how much to Necro for. Drop a second Illusions to stay alive in some games, or save it until you can also drop another Donate in others. Know how much to Necro for. Consult or no? How much do you Necro for? Which card do you want to pitch to Force of Will? Do you drop an Island for Force Spike or do you drop a Swamp and Duress? Know how much life to pay for Necropotence. I cannot emphasize these points enough. This deck is a machine when you understand it well enough. It can beat very good decks. But it can also lose to bad decks if you make mistakes.

Luck of the draw:

One of my favorite things about HHT is that it is possible to turn a bad hand into a good one. It is possible to win on turn three, if you’re lucky enough. But usually that doesn’t happen. However, you can use Lim-Dul’s Vault along with the dangerous Consultation as tools to win, even when your hand is really not that great.

“The Skull”

At the heart of this deck is Necropotence. Most of the games HHT wins, rely heavily on Necropotence. Find a Dark Ritual and cast it as early as possible is the usual gameplan. Your ONLY way to win with this deck is by Donating Illusions of Grandeur and letting the opponent do the rest (well, it’s not always true, but for the most part, forget about those rare games that are won by other means). Every turn that goes by without the opponent doing damage to you in some way brings you closer to the win, unless you’re playing against a slower type of control deck, of course, then you’re the one with a clock to worry about. For most games, Necropotence will be the first permanent you play, and hopefully there will only be one other permanent to follow it…

The combo:

HHT runs four each of its kill cards to be sure that it will always have enough to kill (and in a few cases, it still might not). Typically, you can pitch a Donate to Force of Will when necessary as long as you can still find one for the win. Lifegain is very annoying to play against, but unless they gain more than 20 life, worry about what they have that threatens you first, and if Healing Salve or Zuran Orb hits, just be sure that you can make a second Donate. One funny trick is to Donate Necropotence to an opponent who has let an Illusions die but gained a life or two to stay alive. But be sure when you do that sort of thing that it will be to your advantage—no need to give up a card drawing engine so that your opponent can Disenchant it and put you both in topdeck mode.

Fragility:

The fragility inherent in this deck is that it relies so much on Force of Will. I guess I should mention right now that if you want to try to build this sort of deck, you WILL need four of copies of this crazy uncommon. It’s one of the most important cards in the deck. Along with Necropotence, it’s the only card that a Necro-Donate type of deck NEEDS four of. Although why you would not use four copies of Dark Ritual and probably Illusions of Grandeur, I cannot say. The reliance on Force of Will can be smoothed out somewhat. The deck has seven slots dedicated to disrupting the opponent and trying to prevent them from making you use those Force of Wills. Duress can grab a dangerous spell from their hand preemptively, and Force Spike/Daze, when well placed, can also ruing the opponent’s gameplan. If worst comes to worst, you have two other hard counters to back you up, in the form of Arcane Denials.

It’s not cast in stone:

If you’re interested in Necro-Donate, I recommend it. HHT is a fun deck, and moderately cheap too. Built it, play it, have fun. But don’t let some choice in my decklist throw turn you off to this archetype. The reason I’m not listing other options in this article is because my decklist is tried and true. I used it for quite a while and it was brutally effective. My build is cheap, but dual lands or fetch lands (or both) would obviously be improvements, if they’re available to the budget player. I could go on and on about other choices. The mana base aside, the two biggest points of conflict are the Lim-Dul’s Vaults (which I find to be incredible, but some would rather use Brainstorm, Impulse, Vampiric Tutor, whatever) and especially the Arcane Denials. I use Arcane Denial because it replaces itself under Necropotence, which is helpful. I don’t care about my opponent drawing two cards when they barely come up with the mana to pay for Illusions’ upkeep. Some feel differently and would much rather use Mana Leak or some other card. Whatever works for you. Go on, experiment. You might build a deck that’s strictly better than mine anyway…

Opponents:

HHT is a very complex deck to play and I could not possibly go over all of the different matchups you might face with it. Some things to remember though…

Elvish Lyrist, Seal of Cleansing, etc. are your enemies. You hate them very much and will counter them if at all possible. It is not impossible to win once such a card has hit the table, but usually you might as well scoop. Of course, if you’re in an environment with sideboards, your sideboard should be ready for just this sort of thing, since it is probably your biggest threat.

Burn decks don’t mind if you get card advantage when you help to kill yourself. Of course, Lim-Dul’s Vault isn’t so helpful to them. Once you play Illusions, the opponent should be in big trouble.

Discard decks can tax your defensive capabilities. Play Necropotence as quickly as possible. It keeps your hand full, which is important, especially against The Rack. And if you have Necro out, Megrim just makes you laugh.

Some decks can pay the upkeep for several turns while they’re busy killing you. Against decks with such horrifying mana capabilities, combo as quickly as you can. The more time the opponent has to drop a Metalworker, the worse off you are.

Force Spike can only counter spells at certain points, if you have the opportunity to use it and make it work, then it is usually wise to do so. The same goes for Daze, at least when it can be hardcast. Of course, this is not true if the spell being played is one that will not really affect you, like Wall of Glare or Powder Keg. And if you need the Force Spike/Daze to pitch to Force of Will, then save it for that (unless of course you would have used Force of Will on that spell--no sense paying a life when you could pay a mana to do the same).

But mostly practice is the key here. The more you’re used to the deck, the better. Playtest a lot. The deck, like any, can crap out on you. I remember two or three occasions where the deck simply could not win for the entire duration of a day, even against horrible decks. But such occasions included, the majority of games I lost were not because of bad luck, but because I made some critical error in judgment. This happened less and less the more I playtested the deck. The one disturbing detail, which doesn’t have any major implications for this article as far as I know, is that my original decklist for this was not in need of refinement. I got better and better with the deck the more I played it, but I didn’t have to tinker with the decklist really. I could have improved it eventually by adding more expensive cards (and eventually did so when I threw in a Polluted Delta, but by that point I had stopped playing the deck in favor of testing Type I legal creations, and in order to stay sharp with HHT, you have to play it) but it wasn’t really necessary. HHT is the perfect deck for wailing on more expensive creations. And I believe that such skill-oriented decks really do improve one’s skill as a player. Good luck, and have fun…

…Oh, and here, hold this for me, will ya?

Read More Articles by Stephen O. Bahl!

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