No, seriously. Battle of Wits?
The other day, I was perusing magic-league.com, and I saw a Battle of Wits deck. I remarked to myself, "Hmm, looks like someone messed up and put the deck in Standard by accident. Ah, well." I chuckled amusedly and didn't give it a second thought.
Imagine my quirked eyebrow and short bark of laughter, therefore, upon seeing that it had done so well at Minnesota Champs, and possibly elsewhere. Silly me. I didn't expect it.
Kudos to you, Mr. Battle of Wits guy, for not only making that deck work, but also for having the patience to sit and shuffle your entire deck. Repeatedly. For that matter, any opponent who handled said shuffling with any degree of grace should get a pat on the back and a hearty hi-ho as well.
Yeah, can you tell I haven't eaten lunch yet?
I'd like to see a tourney report on the Battle of Wits deck, but I haven't come across any yet. I may have missed it - I've been busily scanning Champs reports, and looking forward to articles going up. I gotta give props to Bennie Smith's unexpected Dredge deck (Nicedraft.dec), too. He's going to be writing a report on it, which I look forward to greatly. [He already did, actually. Check the link above. - Knut] Those who know me know that I like decks that are a bit out of the ordinary. One could say "rogue". One could say "jank". One could say, "stop with the rule of three in your paragraphs, Mason" - but that's expected. His deck wasn't, I suspect, even by him.
One reason I'm enjoying my return to Magic is that Ravnica offers a lot of alternatives. In my Metagame Clock article last week, I listed 20 archetype decks - most of which I've seen mentioned in Champs reports - and I *still* missed a few. That's expected - rogue decks are the half-crazed streakers running onto the field during the 7th inning stretch, turning your game of pitch-and-catch into a frantic chase. Prediction is an imperfect science no matter how much security you employ.
Take, for example, Adrian Sullivan's deck, "Eminent Domain". Unexpected.
Seriously, even if I was on top of the format, I don't think I could have foreseen that. Obviously, many didn't.
I've had the opportunity to meet Mr. Sullivan (many years ago, it's likely passed into the realm of forgotten for him) and aside from being enjoyable to talk to, the man is simply brilliant, like A Beautiful Mind minus the schizophrenia. I'm glad to see him still cranking these out.
When I saw the Eminent Domain decklist, I laughed - not in disdain or mockery, but because it was so... peculiar. At first glimpse, it just looks like it shouldn't work. It probably doesn't to others as well - but it does. Same with NiceDraft.
Let's briefly revisit what I expected last week, and look at the list of archetypes I so brazenly (*cough*) predicted. One note: When I did the list, I used guild names to represent colors, and that might have confused people. I should have just removed the guild names, which were mostly there for my convenience. My apologies if this misled anyone, because stuff like G/W Selesnya Beatdown includes decks featuring, say, O-Naginata, Watchwolf, and Moldervine Cloak, even if there aren't any actual Selesnya critters in the deck.
1. U/B Dimir Beatdown
2. Gifts Control
4. GB Rock
5. Fungus Fire (RGW Control)
6. Heartbeat Combo
7. Mono-Black Control
8. White Weenie
9. G/W Control
10. G/W Selesnya Beatdown
11. R/W Boros Beatdown
16. U/W Control
17. B/G Greater Good Reanimator
18. U/B Mill
12. Enduring Ideal/Good Form
20. Mono-Blue Control
Expected. Easy 'nuff. Really, no surprises here to y'all, either. I'm not claiming this 15/20 ratio makes me any more brilliant than the legions of people who post on the Star City forums. What it demonstrates is that one, there are a lot of deck archetypes that are easy to see. Two, that the format is sufficiently diverse right now to make a lot of decks competitive. Three, your local metagame really dictates deck success. Washington had 3 mono-Blue control decks listed in Top 8. West Virginia didn't have any. It looks like WW/r, G/B Rock, WW, and U/G/B Miscellany won the most often, but that's preliminary; Champs reports are still filtering in and will for the next week. We have a lot of Heartbeat Maga out there, a multitude of things being Putrefied and Fettered, and a lot of Vinelasher Kudzus dropping down on turn 2. Good times.
3. R/W or R/G Wildfire
13. R/W Control
14. U/B Control
15. U/B Doppelganger Reanimator
19. Eye of the Storm combo
Realizing I have somewhat incomplete data, I'll still make some general observations on the misses. Wildfire seems to have not shown up, aside from Eminent Domain. My suspicion is that it's too slow, and that in a format where we have access to ridiculous amounts of color-fixers and dual lands, it's not quite the detriment that it could have been. I Wildfire on turn 6, and you keep an Overgrown Tomb and a Watery Grave. Ok, hmm, well, that doesn't quite help me, particularly without having two sets of Red duals yet. Maybe I shoulda just gone with Wrath. Oh, that Mason and his wacky theories.
Speaking of wacky theories, tangent: It seems to me that a lot of games I am winning or losing are coming down to mana. (Ok, no kidding. Please, regale us with more insights.) Quiet, Voice of Sarcasm!
Voice of Sarcasm
Protection from Ridicule
What I mean: With the prevalence of dual lands and fixers, it is easy to play multicolor nowadays. Easier than Invasion block, since we have the lands from their set in 9th in addition to the new duals in Ravnica. When you have two people with roughly the same manabases (4 Dual, 4 Dual, 3 Pain, 3 Pain, 5 Basic, 5 Basic for example), if one person gets a bad shuffle, they are penalized more than ever. Their inability to match the versatility of the other deck puts them in a deep hole. Look, I got Watery Grave, Overgrown Tomb, Yavimaya Coast, and Swamp out! Meanwhile, you have Mountain, Mountain, Mountain, Plains. Poor bastard.
They could have the same ratio of Duals, Pains, and Basics. They could have exactly the same card-drawing engines. However, the Mountain/Plains guy? He's screwed. I've seen this happen with Barrett. I've designed the decks, so I know the mana ratio isn't screwy; it's identical to the deck I'm playing.
Let that be a lesson, or something to consider going forward: Gold decks are fun. We love the bling. However, you must be careful. Remember the value of mono-colored cards. Clutch of the Undercity is neat, but it's overcosted by 1 and does nothing to help against protection from black. Sometimes, that will cost you. If I build White/Red, I use burn, but I also use Devouring Light, because I find two colors of removal > one. Does one work? Sure. But I hate the thought of my Dimir deck facing down a Hand of Honor and Paladin en-Vec and having all Black removal *and* my only bounce spell containing Black, too. That's an 0-1 waiting to happen.
Also, remember that cards with double colored mana cost (be it 2XX or 2XY), even with a lot of dual lands, can still be problematic. If your deck is running inconsistently, the first thing you should check is your mana availability; that is, how much mana you're generating to cast with. The second thing is what resources you require to cast your spells. Even if you're getting mana, if your spells are constantly fighting with each other over who gets to use it, you could be in trouble. Sometimes, it pays to play that 3U spell over the 2BU. Not that I can really think of a 2BU card at the moment anyway, but you get the point. Some of the decks I'm seeing have way too much bling. They can stand to cut back a bit, because while the concept is solid, and the idea is neat, when I play around with them, they just mana-strangle themselves due to all of the colored mana requirements.
Back to the Misses.
3. R/W or R/G Wildfire
13. R/W Control
14. U/B Control
15. U/B Doppelganger Reanimator
19. Eye of the Storm combo
So, no Wildfire - except, of course, Mr. Sullivan's. I didn't see R/W Control listed, because they seem to have added Green and gone the Fungus Fire/Sunforger route. I didn't see any U/B Control or Mill decks in the Top 8s so far, which matches my thought that the decks are too unfinished right now, and a bit fragile. I'd love to see one make it, because I like diversity. Doppelganger I didn't see mentioned. Eye, I saw mentioned as simply not doing too well. In four months, we may all look at Eye as The Card That We Couldn't Quite Break. Keep watching it, and be aware of it, but don't forget about it - because you *know* people are dedicating some serious brainpower to finding a way to abuse it and win consistently.
Technically, misses are things I didn't predict, which roughly means Eminent Domain, NiceDraft, and the 10000 other decks that didn't conform to my cute little list. Since that would pretty much destroy my ratio of prognostication, I'll just conveniently leave them out rather than say that instead of 15/20, I was really 15/10022.
Hey, I have an ego to protect.
What I like about Bennie's deck is that, simply, it does what the cards were designed to do. It takes the Dredge mechanic out to dinner to meet its parents. Once again, it looks like it'll just mill itself into futility, yet it doesn't.
Imagine if you had a deck where every turn you could Impulse. Look at the top 4 cards. Draw 1. Put the rest at the bottom of your deck. We'd consider that very useful, and many of us would consider it preferable due to the greater amount of control over your draws. Being able to control your draw and modify it to your situational needs? That's money, baby. We love decks like this. We love tutoring cards, and going through decks, and using Sensei's Divining Top in every single friggin deck in existence, because decks love controlling their own destiny.
Now, imagine if that same deck was, on the next turn, able to Impulse, but in addition to that, was able to look at the previous three cards it put on the bottom of the deck as well. On the next turn, you Impulse yet again--and now you get to look through the normal Impulse plus the six cards on the bottom of the deck...
Well, hey, that's getting to be pretty powerful.
That's what makes a focused Dredge deck interesting. It takes your resources, dumps 'em into the graveyard in mass quantities, and gives you an option every turn to grab something useful while simultaneously putting more resources into the graveyard for your next turn. You increase your options every time you Dredge.
If you were forced to Dredge every turn, you'd probably mill yourself, yeah. But you're not. You have control. Dredge is a mono-Blue deck in reverse. Instead of card drawing, you have self-milling-drawing-stuff. (Yeah, I really need to find a better thesaurus.) Instead of tutoring for silver bullets to surprise your opponent, you have 'em all out there. There's a definite weakness in Dredge if people begin to heavily sideboard against it, because we have more cards influencing the graveyard than we have Extraction effects. However, just thinking of the most common, Nezumi Graverobber is mana-intensive when draining a heavily dredged graveyard, and Shred Memory will get some, but not all.
I didn't start this article thinking about the guild mechanics, but now that it's the topic at hand, I'm curious. You can't really build a deck around every guild mechanic. Dredge has 12 cards, many of which are useful in furthering your win condition without doing assisting your opponent. It has removal (Darkblast, Necroplasm, Stinkweed Imp), it has effective creatures (Mossdog, Scarab), it has creature pump (Moldervine Cloak, Shambling Shell), it has secondary recursion (Golgari Thug), it protects against land loss (Life from the Loam). It's really a well-designed mechanic.
Radiance has some fun tricks (like Bathe in Light to pop off Threads of Disloyalty), but the multicolored nature of the format means that it isn't significantly more to your advantage than your opponent. In an aggressive deck, you might find some use for Incite Hysteria or Surge of Zeal - and that's a very iffy "might" - but if you look through the 10 Radiance cards, and build a deck with:
..and so on...I just can't see it being very effective. You'd need a way to overwhelm your opponent with creatures in a mirror match, but having this many Radiance cards would make that incredibly difficult. Ah well. Obviously, making a mechanic with sweeping positive effects for your guys and sweeping negative effects for their guys would probably wind up being a balancing nightmare. I grasp that. As it is, it seems like Radiance is the weak sister at the moment, though, and when you wind up facing multicolored decks (particularly in Block), you're going to run the risk of not just having a couple of dead cards, but a whole load of them. Removal that kills your guys. Pumpers that pump yours and theirs. Stuff like Wojek Apothecary just makes me shrug.
Also, I'm slightly bothered by the fact that we have the 10 Radiance cards, with only one rare and 4 uncommons, while Dredge is 4 rares, 4 uncommons. I don't really see why. You would think that the mechanics would have similar distribution. Maybe that's just me.
Transmute? Well, there are 13 Transmute cards. Blue and Black like tutoring. Obviously, it's a handy mechanic. It's a slow mechanic, too. Situationally, you can really have fun with Transmutes. Many people have taken to looking at these cards as helpful ways to draw out other cards. I really like Dimir Infiltrator, but a lot treat him as Jitte #5-8. Drift of Phantasms is a nice blocker, but he's also Heartbeat of Spring #5-8. Most of these cards aren't game-winners on their own. They provide a helpful effect or creature that you can decide to discard for something more immediate, and often better. Transmute, therefore, isn't going to be a win condition on its own. It's reliant upon finding bigger, better things. Whereas Dredge can Dredge into more Dredging guys (Dredge for 5, turn over more threatening/useful Dredge guys, whee!), Transmuting into another transmuter... well, not so good. Yes, I Perplex into my Drift of Phantasms! Fear my changing of an Ethereal Usher into Netherborn Phalanx! Transmutation is slow. That's not to say that packing 4 Perplex and 4 Drift of Phantasms in order to be able to transmute out your Dimir Doppelganger for your Reanimator deck isn't cool - but the transmutation is more of a facilitator than a win condition. Compare that to Dredge. The cards with Dredge are the win conditions. Dredge sets up Dredge, but Transmute sets up non-Transmute. If you have 21+ Transmuters, you wonder what combo you're trying to get out. If you have 21+ Dredgers, you're getting them out.
Alrighty. Hope I didn't mis-explain that.
Just for the record, one is rare. 4 are uncommon.
Convoke? Hmmm, Convoke. I've been interested in these 15 cards, because I can't help but think that turning every creature into a Llanowar-of-Paradise is useful in some way.
However, the mechanic is expensive. Dredge is essentially free, it just costs you cards, not mana. Convoke means an investment, and while Green/White is arguably the best at generating a bunch of small creatures to convoke with, finding a balance between said things-to-Convoke-with and things-to-be-Convoked-out is difficult. Devouring Light owns. Hour of Reckoning is obviously meant to go along with a token deck. Overwhelm is self-defeating in some ways, since it takes creatures you'd want to receive the pump and makes them useless. End of turn Scatter the Seeds? Neat. But how does one build a deck around this?
Let's take a hypothetical Green/White Convoke deck base.
Initial draw, just because it's my article and I make the rules: Forest, Forest, Plains, Birds of Paradise, Selesnya Evangel, Scatter the Seeds. Perfect! No need to mulligan. First 3 turns go like this:
1: Forest, Birds.
2: Plains, Selesnya Evangel
Pass. Opponent plays. End of their turn: Scatter.
Your turn, now. Drew a land. Woot! Play it.
4: Forest, Plains, Forest, Birds, Evangel, Saproling, Saproling, Saproling.
This is where the problems come in. You've now used up your opening hand. You've been able to draw 3 cards. I said this last one was a land, but it could just as easily not be. For purposes of this, we'll assume it's a land.
4 lands in play, 5 creatures in play, 2 cards in hand.
What's the chance of those two cards being something worth Convoking? Let's see what we could possibly do if we had one of these cards in hand. I'm not considering reactive cards like Sundering Vitae or Devouring Light here.
- You could... bring out a five-mana 2/4 blocker with Conclave Phalanx. Not really exciting on turn 4, but useful in its own way.
- You could... bring out a six-mana 3/3 flyer with Conclave Equenaut. Ok, 3/3 on turn 4 is solid. Blocks a Hyppie, at least, though it's obviously Last Gasp-bait. Big time.
- You could... bring out a six-mana Root-Kin Ally who can get bigger on successive turns if you tap the creatures you have out. Of course, if you're tapping the creatures you have out, you're not really helping your Convoke deck. Great for breaking through creature stalls by just powering up the Root-Kin, but honestly, if you're going to get in a creature stall, I'm pretty sure that's far down on the list of options for breaking it.
- You could Overwhelm, and attack with two creatures. Nah.
- You could bring out a Siege Wurm. Okay, a 5/5 trampler on turn 4 isn't horrible, not at all. I can live with that.
- You could... Hour of Reckoning, but that seems pretty wasteful since you've barely done anything.
- Or, you could bring out a 4/7 Guardian of Vitu-Ghazi.
I like the Guardian, because he was a beatstick in my GWb draft deck, whom I consistently Convoked out early. I had 2 of him get passed to me, and I was happy. I call him Voltron due to his weird robotic crystal arms, which shows both my age and my geekness and my weird association mentality because he really *doesn't* look like Voltron. Indeed, Barrett told me that he looks more like a Marauder from Battletech, and she's quite correct, but the name has stuck. Voltron it is.
Ok, a 4/7 non-tapper on turn 4, that's not bad. On the surface, it's easy to see that 4/7 beats, say, a 2/2 Bushido + Lightning Helix (but not Char, remember that when people talk about the reach of your burn spells). Not flyers, but in a Green deck, you're kinda used to that. It's a good ground blocker if you get it out.
Now, A 4/7 non-tapper on turn 4 that requires you to invest 8 out of your 9 permanents up to that point... well, even that's slightly acceptable.
The problem is that on its own, Convoke doesn't feed itself well. It doesn't sustain itself. I don't think it passes muster without a card-drawing engine. Maybe Greater Good? Maybe Carven Carytids? If you can't sustain your ability to draw into threats that you can drop cheaply, eventually you'll have a lot of potential mana and nothing to cast with it. It's the permanent equivalent of being manaflooded. [Might I suggest Slate of Ancestry? - Knut, trying to help]
On those occasions where you *don't* get early creatures - and yeah, I've played enough weenie decks to know that it happens more than we'd like - then you simply have a hand filled with overcosted guys with little utility.
Chord of Calling might be neat - with four lands and five creatures I could Convoke out Yosei, or Kokusho, or Keiga, or any of the big guys you're used to seeing. Now, that's not bad at all. Yosei might have potential. Hokori might have potential, too. Slow them down, while ostensibly your "manabase" is unhindered.
I'll let that percolate for awhile, and try to work on it. How about you? Time for the audience interaction part of the article. Do you have a Convoke deck that's working? I don't mean "put 4 Devouring Lights and 4 Gather Courage into your beatdown deck and claim it's Convoke", I mean a deck dedicated to the mechanic, like Senor Dredge. Honestly, I'd love to see it. This is what those "discuss the article" threads are for! Prove me wrong! Decks are works of art to me, and I admire people who can put together something successful that didn't cross my radar, or who show me that Scrub_Card_01 is actually pretty nice.
Sometimes, I suspect people wonder as to the point of my articles. Others will playtest more and give you more cutting-edge tech. I don't make wacky casual decks in odd formats. What I like to do is *think*. To analyze. To look at the game behind the game. Really, do you think a Convoke deck is going to win a qualifier? Probably not; we can tell that by looking at it. You never know, though. Analyzing the mechanic, and understanding why it will/won't/couldn't possibly/just might work may seem a fruitless exercise, but it isn't. You might look banish Voltron to the "No!" Pile for Constructed decks. Examining opening hands like I did above, and seeing that you might actually have some decent turn 4 plays with minimal disruption? That's nothing to shake a stick at. When you start considering cards in this manner, you're enhancing your abilities.
That's what I believe: in trivial analysis of unimportant things...wait, that doesn't sound good at all. I need to work on this personal PR stuff.
- It's important.
- It's exercise.
- For my longtime readers, it's expected.
Sometimes, people throw together a 60-card deck that looks like it should win, but it doesn't. It has great cards, they say. Why doesn't it work? Why does this janky crap deck own mine? I Use 30 Rares, Dammit!
Because you have to look beyond. Understanding why those random decks work is good for you.
Back to the Champs stuff.
Power is: Consistent threat, or consistent control. We have Champs decks that have won now. Many will take them card by card and stick with them.
Power is also, however, the unexpected.
The virtue of the netdecks is that it gives us an accurate portrayal of the majority of decks we'll face in tournaments. The downfall is that it tends to pigeonhole our thinking. If you've studied an Enduring Renewal deck, you generally know what to expect, and what you will face. You know what cards are dangerous, what cards you need to stop. You're prepared.
Conversely, you don't go around preparing for your land to be stolen with Annex or Dream Leash or held down with Icy Manipulator. You see that, and you start thinking, "crap, what do I prepare for? What do I expect?" I encourage you: Look at cards you discarded. Even if you don't want to play with them, just think how they could be useful. Look for synergies or interactions with them. Don't merely rely on "the best cards" or "the power cards". The best cards for your deck are the 60 that enable you to win most consistently.
Even if it's Stinkweed Imp - which, btw, I just threw into my U/B aggro deck because it stops opposing people dead, is cheap to cast, and is reusable. If your goal is to establish advantage, and maintain it with attackers that evade their blockers, all you need to do is keep their counterattackers off you. If nothing else, he eats burn spells meant for you. It's good times. Don't underestimate reusable removal against beatdown decks. You can look at it like "but, Mike, I don't wanna trade 5 cards off my library for him."
What I say is: If you're playing an aggressive deck, you aren't planning to get very far down. When you win or lose, you'll still have 30-35 cards in your library, I bet. (Yes, except if you're facing a mill deck, smartass. In which case you won't be dredging him back anyway.)
Those cards left over are worthless. You didn't draw them, you didn't use them - they're just inert pieces of paper. They're unused potential, and we all know the value of unutilized potential is zero. Therefore, expending those unused cards as dredge payment isn't quite as bad as some might think.
Obviously, you adjust your strategy for what deck you face. Don't, however, be averse to dredging just because you're afraid of turning over something nice. Dredge requires as much willingness to sacrifice and trust in your deck as any card-filtering deck. Cast an Impulse, pick one, lose three. It's not quite the same--but it's similar in that you're trading future resources for present resources, which ain't a bad idea.
I originally was going to talk about cards I'm in love with. I wound up discussing the Ravnica mechanics.