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January 6, 2011


Guest Meddling: Upgrading the Coalition

by Dredd77


I’m a fan of preconstructed decks, especially some of the non-intro products Wizards has been putting out. However, I take a different approach than Jay. I like to customize, tear apart, rebuild, refocus, and repurpose what I pull out of those boxes. 

Sometimes I like to retool decks into easier-to-play, more-consistent versions of themselves, so that I can hand them to new players and explain them quickly. Other times I like to tinker with decks and fill them with bomby, splashy cards that make for lots of fun. Once in awhile I like to optimize for the kill. Either way, I feel like personalizing preconstructed decks is a great way to make them more interesting and more fun, utilizing some of the basic framework.

One of my favorite preconstructed decks in the past year was the Duel Decks: Phyrexia vs the Coalition set, because I loved that storyline and was thrilled to be able to play as Urza and Yawgmoth, re-enacting that climactic battle. Then I played the decks.

The flavor was certainly there, but over all they felt rather weak compared to their prestigious namesakes. Therefore, I decided to pump them up to eleven. Or over nine-thousand. Because, really…Urza. The most powerful Planeswalker of all time.

My goals:

to keep the decks mostly faithful flavor- and story-wise.

to make them more representative of the actual power level of the factions they represent

to keep them fun and interesting to play

Today I am going to talk about how I tweaked the Coalition deck. When I first began making this deck, I knew that I wanted to include Coalition Victory, which will guide a lot of my creature and land choices. I decided to go with two of them for consistency’s sake, but any more would probably be unwise, as they’re likely to sit around in your hand. I also wanted other bomby, five-color ways to win, so I included one each of Door to Nothingness and Legacy Weapon. The Legacy Weapon was a natural inclusion for flavor reasons and also works as powerful removal; the Door to Nothingness is a bit of a stretch, but the Coalition was not perfect, and Urza certainly did some questionable things.

Speaking of Urza, his Rage had to be included, mostly for flavor, but it is an important piece in the  removal suite–there’s not a lot of room for more removal. I also put in two of Urza’s Filter, to help us cast all those multicolored goodies.

When I chose to focus on the Coalition Victory, I decided to cut some of the singleton spells that drew focus from the original version, namely Evasive Action, Tribal Flames, Narrow Escape, Exotic Curse, Power Armor, and Allied Strategies. I also made the super painful decision to cut the charms, the Armadillo Cloaks, the Harrows, and the Fertile Grounds, although I replaced the mana fixers with three more Coalition Relics, bringing the total up to four. It was at this point I realized just how radically the deck was going to change.

Since this deck is pretty much all-in, I included a Dueling Grounds to help stall if necessary; bonus points for flavor, too! A single copy of Guided Passage is great for getting something–anything–when you’re on the rocks, and many opponents are simply overwhelmed and kind of lost by the choices. A copy of Last Stand is for flavor, but also to take advantage of the multiple basic lands in the deck.

Finally, I added a singleton Conflux to help search out whatever I needed–a flavor stretch, but it plays so well I didn’t care!–and a copy of Skyship Weatherlight for both flavor purposes and its ability to get me any creature or artifact I need.

My final noncreature set was

    2 Coalition Victory

    1 Legacy Weapon

    1 Door to Nothingness

    1 Urza’s Rage

    2 Urza’s Filter

    4 Coalition Relic

    1 Dueling Grounds

    1 Guided Passage

    1 Last Stand

    1 Conflux

    1 Skyship Weatherlight

    16 total noncreature spells

Next I looked at the creatures to decide what I felt wasn’t pulling its weight and could be replaced with something better. Out went the Thornscape Apprentices, Nomadic Elves, Quirion Elves, Battlemages, Yavimaya Elders, Verduran Emissary, and Charging Troll. Yes, I just cut most of the creatures. The Quirion Elves, Nomadic Elves, and Yavimaya Elders were easily replaced by four Birds of Paradise and four Sylvan Ranger. The Birds are cheaper and better than the elves, and the Sylvan Rangers get you that land immediately while costing one less than the Elders.

Looking at the Dragons from Invasion block, I rather like their size and abilties, plus the multicolor theme they help to foster. I added two of the Planar Chaos “wedge” dragons, Intet, the Dreamer and Numot, the Devastator. This was a stretch flavor-wise, since they’re technically evil, but they fit really well. These are just the two dragons I had, and if you have different ones feel free to use those instead. The entire cycle of Planar Chaos dragons will be in the upcomming Commander decks, so I’m looking forward to those! It’s also worth noting that 6/6 flying dragons can definitely serve as another win condition.

Since Gerrard is in this deck, and it is supposed to represent the Coalition, I decided to try and put some other members of the Weatherlight crew in there. Captain Sisay is very helpful in finding any of the dragons, so that was easy. It was also natural to put in Squee, Goblin Nabob, because he can serve as a repeated chump-blocker to stall for time, plus he’s just so gosh darn cute! Finally, I decided on Tahngarth, Talruum Hero to buff my removal options, and Hanna, Ship’s Navigator to help negate any artifact removal the opponent might be packing. Hanna doesn’t often pull her weight when I draw her, but from a flavor perspective I really felt like she needed to be included.

Finally, I added a pair of five-color beasties, Fusion Elemental and Maelstrom Archangel. If I had two of the Archangel, I definitely would have gone with that instead of the Fusion Elemental, but again, use what you’ve got! There are several “bulk” rares from Alara block that could go into these slots as well, like Meglonoth and Magister Sphinx. While not five-color, they do have useful abilities and shouldn’t be difficult at all to get ahold of.

My Final creature lineup:

    4 Birds of Paradise

    4 Sylvan Ranger

    1 Maelstrom Archangel

    1 Fusion Elemental

    1 Captain Sisay

    1 Squee, Goblin Nabob

    1 Tahngarth, Talruum Hero

    1 Hanna, Ship’s Navigator

    1 Gerrard Capashen

    1 Intet, the Dreamer

    1 Numot, the Devastator

    1 Rith, the Awakener

    1 Treva, the Renewer

    1 Darigaaz, the Igniter

    20 creatures total

This is actually three more creatures than the original deck had, although there are again a lot of one-ofs.

Finally, the most important part of any five-color deck, the lands. The original set of lands were as follows:

    1 Elfhame Palace

    1 Shivan Oasis

    3 Terramorphic Expanse

    4 Plains

    1 Island

    1 Swamp

    4 Mountain

    10 Forest

Now, that’s a perfectly reasonable land suite, but for our purposes it would be nice to pump it up a bit. My first order of business was to increase the Island and Swamp to two of each. I also reduced the plains and Mountains to two each–this gives a much more consistent mix for Coalition Victory. I also reduced the number of Forests to six to make room for more utility lands.

The most obvious change in nonbasics was to add a fourth Terramorphic Expanse. It’s an easy-to-acquire card that works great, and there’s no reason not to have four of them in this deck. Next I looked at Elfhame Palace and Shivan Oasis. While they’re both perfectly playable, the Alara block tri-color lands are superior because they provide a choice of three different colors with no additional drawback. Thus I cut the Oasis and Palace and included one each of Jungle Shrine, Savage Lands, and Seaside Citadel– these are the three that have green in them, which is my most common color.

To fill out the land set, I put in one Vivid Grove, one Gruul Turf, and one Selesnya Sanctuary. These just happened to by what I had available, but if you have Ravnica “new duals” or Zendikar  fetches, feel free to put those in instead. Other options are any of the uncommon dual lands from Zendikar block or the duals from M11 or Scars of Mirrodin. This made my final land list:

    6 Forest

    2 Plains

    2 Island

    2 Swamp

    2 Mountain

    4 Terramorphic Expanse

    1 Savage Lands

    1 Seaside Citadel

    1 Jungle Shrine

    1 Selesnya Sanctuary

    1 Gruul Turf

    1 Vivid Grove

    24 lands total

As you can see, this is one less land than originally, but it’s still almost a third of the deck.

The final deck version is available here.

One of the main problems this deck faces is getting a slow start, although I managed to give it some boost over the original. There are lots of different pieces in the toolbox approach I took–you have large flying dragons, who have useful abilities to boot; several spells that do different things or get multiple cards; lots of search and utility; and some very simple “I win” cards. 

While it’s a bit heavy on the singletons, I think this keeps it closer to the Coalition’s philosophy of inclusion, and also keeps it fresh when you play it. Most preconstructed decks have lots of single copies, anyway, so it’s not really a change anyway. 

I did cut a lot of the original deck to replace it with bomby, splashy, multicolor cards. This is just my preference, though, and I urge you to experiment and see what you like and don’t like. Maybe you really like Yavimaya Elder but are not fond of the Dragons. That’s cool, go ahead and tinker however you like! After all, this is your deck, and it doesn’t have to be a slave to the original list or my list. If you tweak it, even a little, you’ll have more fun playing it.



Robbie Johnston is a History major and lives in Colorado. In addition to Magic, he has been passionately reviewing YA fiction for over ten years. His personal blog can be found here.

13 Comments Post a comment
  1. Icehawk
    Jan 6 2011

    Been toying with the Coalition deck for a while. Mine I went more green since I had a few cards from the green archenemy deck that seemed like they’d work. I also dropped 4 Steward of Valerons in mine. Figure I’ll meddle it more as time goes on and my collection expands.

    Still, any changes to the original is an improvement. I probably took out over half the original cards.

    • Jan 6 2011

      Steward of Valeron is a nice inclusion. I still haven’t gotten the green Archenemy deck–I should, though, I’m sure it’s available on the cheap online…

      I mean, usually I buy two of any Duel Decks so I can strip out cards for EDH and casual play, so yeah. Stripped all the domain stuff out of this twice, now I need to find a home for it all. XD

  2. Stric9 (aka Steve)
    Jan 6 2011

    Good job there Mr. Johnson. The Coalition deck certainly needed some major restructuring. I am also one of those types that takes a pre-con and whips it into shape. Of course, I’m limited by what I have in my collection, but aren’t we all? I still like the Yavimaya Elders because of the combined card draw/land fetch ability, but to each his own.

    On a side note, one of the reasons I like Ertai’s Lament so much is because the readers seem to be respectful of each other and the authors. I’ve been surprised by how much vitriol can be found on some of the other sites. (Unfortunately, it can be contagious.) I play Magic for fun and I read about Magic for fun too. Ertai’s Lament provide exactly such an enjoyable recreational environment. Keep it up!

    • Jan 6 2011

      Thanks. 🙂

      I have nothing against Yavimaya Elder. I rather like it–it was one of the first cards I ever owned, but with the original, “old man” art. XD

    • Jan 7 2011

      You’re not kidding, it’s been quite nice being 100% troll-free! We’ve rather enjoyed watching the Precon Community sort of congregate around here, and without exception they all bring something positive to add, even when disagreeing with other’s assessments.

  3. Prophylaxis
    Jan 6 2011

    Has anyone ever tried smashing the two duel decks together (Elspeth + Tezzeret deck for a W/B Artifacts deck)? I thought it would be a great idea.

    • Jan 6 2011

      I might have to try this! Maybe not with Tez vs. Elspeth, though. Knight vs. Dragons might work really well, though…

  4. troacctid
    Jan 6 2011

    Hrmm, well, it’s flavorful, but it doesn’t look very strong. It’s all over the place and a lot of the cards don’t do much or aren’t well-supported. Door to Nothingness seems pretty bad, for example.

    Also, the Planar Chaos dragons never appeared in the canon, so they aren’t really villains.

    This would definitely be much better as an EDH deck.

    • Jan 6 2011

      It definitely more of a casual deck, for sure. It does quite well in multiplayer, though, and it’s just darn fun to play!

      I assume they’re evil based on their art and their names. Plus, since it’s alternate reality and they’re sort of based off of five good dragons, it made sense in my head. *shrug*

      • troacctid
        Jan 6 2011

        Actually, the original five weren’t good either–just powerful primeval forces. Well, Darigaaz was good, but the other four wanted to rule Dominaria for themselves. The full story is at

        • Jan 7 2011

          Oh, nifty! Thanks so much. I’m a “Flavor Nerd Lite”; I don’t read the novels. I honestly did not know that. XD

        • Jan 7 2011

          Who knew that in addition to being our resident critical eye for deck construction, Tro was also a flavour fan? Well played, sir!

  5. Icehawk
    Jan 27 2011

    Another thing this deck really needs: Intimidation Bolt. It’s a blessing in my boros deck. Trying it out in my Coalition deck. Figure it’ll slow down my bumped up Phyrexia deck a little.


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