Yawgmoth's Whimsy #16: The Process of Building a Casual Deck
I've probably mentioned that Ingrid and I play partners games every other weekend. Partners get chosen at random, T1 construction rules, and we try to build new and original decks every session. I want to walk through how I built the latest, a combo/control deck. I wanted to abuse the Light of Day/Darkest Hour combo partially because I hadn't done a control or lock deck in a while, and partially because the playgroup was forgetting to include Disenchants and the like. It was time to punish them for that. (Cathy does tend to run one or two Allays, though, so we need an answer to that.)
- Light of Day: 3W, Enchantment, Black creatures cannot attack or block.
- Darkest Hour: B, Enchantment, All creatures are black.
Pretty simple lock - with both enchantments in play, no creatures can attack. The key is pretty obvious, too: Find some way to change a creature's colors and it can attack unblocked. One key is Distorting Lens, which changes the color of one creature. Another option is Tidal Visionary, which is cheaper, but dies to burn and would require a third color. Metathran Transport/Fylamarid are both fliers requiring a heavier commitment to blue, but each can change the color of several creatures without tapping.
First, let's try a straight W/B version:
Two-Color Darkest Hour
Three-Color Darkest Hour
R Enlightened Tutor
R Demonic Tutor
R Vampiric Tutor
R Ancestral Recall
R Black Lotus
R Mox Jet
R Mox Pearl
R Mox Sapphire
R Sol Ring
4 Underground Sea
2 Undiscovered Paradise
2 Dromar's Cavern
2 Coastal Tower or Adarkar Wastes
4 Light of Day
4 Darkest Hour
2 Tidal Visionary
2 Metathran Transport/Fylamarid
1 Distorting Lens
1 Hanna, Ship's Navigator
2 Benalish Heralds
2 Northern Paladin
1 Dromar, the Banisher
1 Fountain Watch
1 Dismantling Blow
1 Death Grasp
4 Dromar's Charm
The lock is the same in all cases; the keys vary. Distorting Lens is the only color changer available for the W/B build, and it is still okay for the U/W/B build.
The mana is not that serious a problem in the two-colored version, although you do need to look at it carefully since you need to get the lock into place quickly. Holding a Light of Day and being stuck at three mana is bad. This decklist uses the Lotus and some Moxen - mainly because Ingrid got to use them last time and it's my turn. If you do not have them, then the Tithes become more valuable. Mox Diamonds might also be useful if you up the land count a bit. Dark Ritual could find a place, although WW is much more common than BB in the casting cost.
In the three-color deck, the Tithes are critical. Dromar's Cavern is also an answer, but it depends heavily on whether your playgroup runs many cards that can bounce lands, or runs land destruction. I'm not completely sold on Gemstone Mines, since the deck is not that fast and losing the lands could hurt, but you might try Fellwar Stones if you have a diverse play group and if the Power nine jewelry is unavailable. Even the two-color Invasion Cameos might suffice, although they slow you down a bit. In any case, invest in a Sol Ring, if you don't have one. Star City sells them for under $10 and they fit in nearly every deck
As for the utility spells, the four Vindicates can solve nearly any problem, from Maze of Ith to annoying enchantments (Presence of the Master hurts this deck) to artifacts to creatures. It is simply too versatile not to use. The same is true of Balance - if you are behind and in trouble, then you Balance and you are back to even. It's not quite as good in a partners game, though.
The blue build has some additional advantages in that it has counter magic and card drawing. Dromar's Charm gets the nod because it is versatile.* Dismantling Blow is strong because I get cards and because my play group avoids Opposition/Winter Orb types of decks, which would make the higher casting cost a liability. As for card drawing, I know there are better options than Benalish Heralds - but I love that card. It's a wall, it draws cards, it survives Lightning Bolt, and it can beat if absolutely necessary.
Much of the deck relies on creatures, which must survive to do damage. The most common creature kill in our playgroup is probably Lightning Bolt or Terror. Lashknife Barrier makes nearly all my creatures Bolt-proof (which is also the main reason I don't like Tidal Visionary). Okay, two Bolts will kill all the creatures - but that is at least a two-for-one trade. As for Terror and its equivalents, well, Darkest Hour makes creatures black - and therefore immune. Fireball and Disintegrate are still problems, but you can't stop everything. Swords to Plowshares is also bad, but I've been the only person playing Swords to Plowshares recently, so maybe I'll dodge that bullet.
Northern Paladin is pretty obvious: He kills black creatures. With Darkest Hour in play, he kills everything that can be targeted. Tsabo's Assassin could do much the same for less mana, but the Paladin is a 3/3. He can kill opposing creatures and opponents. Tsabo's Assassin could also kill an opposing player, but at twenty turns per opponent, that usually won't win group games.
Radiant's Dragoons are a metagame call. Frequently someone in the group plays a fast critter-beats deck, and the Dragoons are a good answer. They are likely to get sideboarded out if those decks don't appear, but they are reasonably solid. Initially, I had two, now it's one and that may go to the sideboard, too.**
Fountain Watch is there to protect my enchantments. Cards like Allay (kill enchantments with buyback) are common in the group, and would really hurt the deck. Fountain Watch prevents that method of killing the lock, plus it is hard to kill.
In the straight white black version, the kill cards are the Northern Paladins and the Serra Angels. I looked at several alternatives, but I will play the Serras because I haven't played them for a while, and because they are pretty solid even without the lock in place. I also looked at other possibilities. Phyrexian Negator is huge, and even better when he cannot be blocked, but the lock does not prevent burn spells. Spined Fluke looked interesting, but I have too few creatures to put him into play. Aku Djinn was another high-power, relatively low casting-cost creature I thought about, since his drawback (opponents put +1/+1 counters on their creatures) wasn't too bad if the creatures could not attack. Avatar of Woe is another contender. However, if you have only half the lock, white creatures are better than black, so Serra Angel gets the nod. Archangel would be nice, but seemed too expensive.
You can also play this as a creatureless deck, using enchantments and artifacts as the kill cards. At that point, you do not necessarily need a key.*** Instead, the kill cards could be Subversion and Syphon Soul, and to add insult to injury, Angel's Trumpet. Angel's Trumpet is an artifact that taps all untapped creatures that did not attack, and deals one damage to the controller when it does so. Combining Angel's Trumpet with the Light of Day/Darkest Hour is cruel, but it does have some advantages. With nothing but the lock in play, your opponents have an incentive to drop creatures and wait for someone to break the lock. Once it is broken, everything everyone has will try to smash you flat before you can re-establish control. Your opponents will think twice before playing out lots of creatures with the threat of Angel's Trumpet looming. Taking one damage per creature during your end step is not trivial. On the down side, if you play Angel's Trumpet without the key, using Fountain Watch will cause you some pain, too.
So, does that justify CoP Artifacts? Of course not.
If you are going creatureless, consider using some Routs as instant board sweepers, just in case. My playgroup frowns on global resets like Rout and Wrath - we play partners, remember - so I will avoid them, but in hunt or chaos games, they are worthwhile. Losing the lock is bad, but casting Rout in response to the Disenchant or Tranquility sure minimizes the pain.
Opponents will try to kill your enchantments. Fountain Watch is a partial solution.
Enough theory, on to how the deck did in actual play.
Every couple weekends Ingrid and I get together with John and Cathy for some multiplayer games. We play partners, chosen randomly. Ingrid and I were partnered.
Ingrid was playing a U/W/R deck, featuring Lightning Angel, Flametongue Kavu, counters, Swords, Disenchants and a bit of T1 goodness. And Cognivore, because it seemed like fun. She also had Accumulated Knowledge - had I known in advance, I would have put four in my sideboard. There is nothing quite as unfair in partners games as resolving that seventh AK and having your partner cast the eighth immediately afterward.
Another advantage to having Ingrid as a partner: Ingrid edits all my articles, and she had read a draft of this one (pretty much everything up to four paragraphs ago.) She knew my deck, and knew what was important. When another player has Counterspells, has Disenchants, and knows your deck completely, it is far better to have her as a partner.
Anyway, Cathy won the roll, we all played lands and nothing else (I think I got out Darkest Hour turn one, but it did not matter.) On her turn 2, Cathy played Legacy's Allure (the growing enchantment that steals creatures). On her turn three, she played Dominating Licid.
I was terrified. I had carefully designed the deck to be able to stop nearly everything that could hurt my deck. I had ways to protect the enchantments. I had ways to return the enchantments that hit the graveyard. I had multiple keys to my lock. However, my protection, and all but one of my keys, were creatures... And Cathy could steal them all. The deck is nowhere near as good if my opponents have the keys. Likewise, I definitely did not want Cathy to get the Northern Paladin when Darkest Hour was out. She had only a splash of white, but it was enough that it would be a problem.
On the other hand, John was in almost as bad a position. He was playing a Zombies deck, with green for Llanowar Dead and Quagmire Zombie (which, with Lord of the Undead, was bad news for me), and a splash of red for Trench Wurm. However, every single creature he played could be locked by Light of Day.
After a half-dozen or so turns into the game, John had dropped Aluren and a ton of Zombies, I had the lock down but had not found a non-creature key, and Ingrid had a Flametongue on the board, but little else. The game stalled forever - then Cathy cast Enlightened Tutor for Aura Shards, and we conceded. In a couple of turns, Cathy would have killed all the Light of Days (I had two out, and another in hand) and John would have come over and killed us both. Cathy had lots of creatures (one or two of pretty much every creature that could steal creatures, going back to Arabian Knights for Old Man of the Sea), so Aura Shards was deadly.
Another fact I remember about that game: when I conceded, I had fifteen or sixteen lands (of the twelve total in the deck) plus two Moxen on the table, in my graveyard or in my hand. By comparison, I had only twelve nonland cards, which included three Tithes. It was barely possible I could have done better with a little less land... But probably not. Cathy had built a deck that I had no defense against, and that could just steal my creatures and the key to my lock. Very bad.
I quickly sideboarded. I pulled all the creatures except Dromar (conceit on my part) and went to four Distorting Lenses, added two Absorbs and all the Disenchants, Dismantling Blows, etc. I could find. I also had my FNM T2 deck (R/U/W Rakavolver - don't bother asking, it only went 3-1-1, after a round 1 loss) from which I pulled three Repulses and three Fact or Fictions. Ingrid pulled in Meddling Mages and an extra Disenchant, pulling out Blazing Salvos and a Tsabo's Web. (See her article, also here on StarCity, for more details.)
Actually, I thought I had pulled all my creatures. I found Hanna in my opening hand. Needless to say, I did not cast her. The idea of Cathy being able to return Legacy's Allure to hand at will was way too scary.) Hanna headed to the sideboard after game 3.
After that first game, we did a lot better. Ingrid had Lightning Bolts, Prophetic Bolts, and other methods of killing the annoying Licids and the like, as well as John's Trench Wurms. She also played a couple Suffocating Blasts, which were amazing. I know that people are debating the card for tournament play, and I agree that it is too situational for anything beyond sideboard use there - but the card rocks in multiplayer. In single duels, a player can drop the first creature, then just sit on it until they win; that won't happen in multiplayer. There, the other players will always play extra spells, and they may even feel less annoyed when you counter their spells - and destroy a threat to them - at the same time. Anyway, back to the game.
At this point, I was nearly creatureless. Ingrid had a couple FTKs and the Cognivores left. We were pretty much able to control the game until I had a Distorting Lens in play, then Ingrid could attack with her blue or green FTK. In a couple games, she flew over with her 14+ power Cognivore. Cathy did have one or two Tormod's Crypts, but everyone plays instants, so the Cognivore was always at least reasonably sized. A couple times, Cathy did manage to steal Ingrid's creatures, but we were usually able to find Disenchants/Vindicates or bounce faster than Cathy and John could find answers to the Light of Day lock.
In the end, Ingrid and I won nearly every game. We had more countermagic than everyone else. John's deck was totally hosed by mine, plus he apparently feared Ingrid producing haste creatures, because he held back defenders early on more than was really necessary. (Of course, I knew more of Ingrid's deck than John did, since she had told me about it and asked for help with the deck.****) We also got lucky: The couple games John got an active Trench Wurm were games where we were mana flooded already or had almost no nonbasic lands in play - or games where he could not draw red mana.
By late evening, the lock deck was getting really annoying. I looked in my bag for other decks. I had two that I had been playing around with for Extended. Two fun Extended decks, that is - I didn't even consider pulling out the Donate deck. The two possible decks were a Secret Force (with snow-covered Forests and a Gargantuan Gorilla) and an Elf/Overrun deck.
The Elf deck, on the other hand, seemed better. So what if Cathy steals an Elf or two? I have more. I quickly replaced the proxies (one Coat of Arms, two Masticores, one Cradle) with sideboard cards and I was off.
My Elf deck has all the one-drops, plus Priest of Titania, Deranged Hermit, Uktabi monkey, two Masticores (after getting rid of the proxies), three Coats of Arms, and three Overruns. I had sideboarded in a couple Emerald Charms. Game 1 I had a one-land hand, and did not draw any more for a while. However, I did get a Fyndhorn Elf and a Quirion Ranger down, and started building up. Then John dropped the Ice Ages zombie that sacrifices to do 2 damage to everything, and I started building up again. Slowly, however, since John had a lot of ways to get stuff back from the graveyard. Ingrid won this game for us, though, with double Lightning Angels on the attack.
My opening hand the second to final game had Forest, Gaea's Cradle, two Deranged Hermits, Coat of Arms (the last one - I sided two out since John's Zombies were also affected), Masticore, and Overrun. That's the entire high end of my mana curve. The most memorable part of the next game was watching my deck explode just off topdecked elves, then casting Masticore and two Deranged Hermits on the fourth or fifth turn. I had two cards in hand - Overrun and Coat of Arms - plus enough mana to cast them both. Game over, except that John ripped a Pestilence of the top of his deck, with just enough mana to cast it and Pestilence for one. He then tried to kill Ingrid (who was at the lowest life) by activating Pestilence turn after turn. For trying that, she Prophetic Bolted him and Disenchanted the Pestilence. My deck came through again with more Elves, and we rallied to the win.
The final game was embarrassing. I had pulled one Masticore, because it was just unfairly good against their decks, but drew the single remaining one in my opening hand. I played a turn 2 Priest of Titania, which was even better with John having already played three Llanowar Dead off artifact mana. Then I topdecked a Cradle, and could cast Masticore with enough mana free to kill it in response to a Control Magic from Cathy - which wasn't going to happen, because Cathy was mana screwed. An easy win - and a pretty cheesy way to end the night. I almost wish I had played the Secret Force deck, and let Cathy try for my Verdant.
That's about it. Next week, something else.
* - Apparently,"versatile" is the secret word of the day. Score ten points whenever you use"versatile" in conversation today.
** - I rarely playtest these decks before we get together - at best, Ingrid and I may play a few games. Deck tweaking usually occurs mentally, during the drives to and from work, and during dull parts of long meetings. Final tweaks happen when I actually pull the cards.
*** - We play partners games, so I will not be building the creatureless version. My partners tend to object if I lock and kill them, too.
**** - Okay, she really only needed the help in finding the Cognivores, but we did bounce some ideas off each other, and I did know what rares she said I couldn't have.