Double Duty: A Look at Singleton
Greetings, all! It's been a while since the Betrayers of Kamigawa Release Event I played in, but for the first weeks of the time, I was on spring break and, thus, not playing and Magic Online. When I got back to school, I immediately went on a minor drafting binge, cracking packs at least twice a day for the better part of a week. That's not much compared to what some people do, but I was still doing well enough that each one took up an average of two hours of time; I was sinking, at minimum, four hours a day into MTGO instead of doing other things like, say, studying for the massive exam that I must pass in order to graduate college.
Maybe I'll go into the details of it another time (although I doubt it), but the point is that I eventually burned out on drafts and decided to build a Constructed deck. Most of what I had was Kamigawa cards, but I didn't especially feel like building another Block deck (and anyway, Ted tells us you guys don't care much for it at the moment). Standard was a possibility, but I hadn't rebuilt nearly enough of a collection to trade into a truly competitive deck and I certainly wasn't planning to sink any more money into this thing for at least a little while longer. So what to do?
I did what I'm best at. I went offbeat. I went for Singleton.
I should be honest: I really like Singleton. By forcing the use of so many cards, it encourages good deck design, but still creates an almost Limited-esque aura by spitting out different cards in each game. Singleton, for the unfamiliar, is just what it sounds like - only one of any card except basic lands. By its nature, the format makes sure that each deck contain upwards of thirty or thirty-five distinct cards, so there are lots of possibilities and each game will play out quite differently. As the proprietor of a five-hundred-fifty card highlander deck of my own, I felt right at home.
(Like every format, it also has its own Banned list, which consists of just Skullclamp, although at the time of this writing it hasn't actually been coded out of the format because of some sort of technical problem.)
(There's also a variant of Singleton called Rainbow Stairwell, in which your deck must be made up of six cards from each color and six artifacts, one of each converted mana cost from one to six, and four of each basic land plus four nonbasic lands of your choice. Gold cards, split cards, Wishes and Skullclamp are all banned in RS. This variant has become very popular, presumably because the rules provide an easy outline for deckbuilding, but I don't personally care for it. It's too structured for my tastes - less room for creativity.)
Singleton is a great deal of fun, but even more importantly, it's accessible fun. If you play against a player with a collection of a much greater value than yours, you can still play a good Singleton match. Even when they have very expensive, powerful cards, there's still only one of each in their deck. By the same token, a player with a smaller collection can put together a good deck without breaking his/her bank, as he/she will only need one of each money-rare he/she intends to use. For those types of players (players like me), I'm going to get into not only the deck I ended up building (and the process of Singleton deckbuilding altogether), but also how I went about acquiring the cards for it. If your collection doesn't have a jillion tickets' worth of power cards in it, hope is far from lost. With all due apologies to Oscar Tan... You CAN play Singleton!
Building the Deck
Deciding the basis for a Singleton deck is, to be fair, harder than choosing one for a normal deck. Because of the natural limitations, consistency is much more difficult to achieve and enough cards may not even exist to support certain strategies (trust me on this one). You can either start from a base card (or cards) that you want to use or a certain strategy you want to pursue (like White Weenie or the like). Both methods work, but I tend toward the former. If you choose the latter, your process will be a little easier, as you can start by just listing all the cards that correspond to your strategy and choosing the best ones, but I'll show my own process in developing a list from a pair of cards.
I first selected one of my favorite cards from a few years ago, a well-priced man that also serves as reusable direct damage: Tahngarth, Talruum Hero. Tahngarth can beat up smaller creatures, trade with larger creatures or just attack as a 4/4 for five. As an Invasion Block rare, he is more expensive online than a comparable modern card would be (the supply of IPA cards online is much lower than newer sets, inflating prices, especially for high-echelon cards like Fact or Fiction and Terminate), but that's okay; after all, I only need one!
As an accompaniment to the Legendary Minotaur, I was leaning toward a more recent card that I had somehow picked up a set of in another trade: Test of Faith. The potential interaction between these two cards is mouth-watering; Tahngarth fights another 4/4, surely causing his own death. But wait! Test of Faith saves him... and turns him into a 7/7 for later battles! In other cases, the Test can turn a potential trade or removal into a large beater, foiling an opponent's plan while quickening your clock.
So that gave me two colors, Red and White, and a general strategy to start from. I wanted to use creatures that could deal damage to other creatures and/or benefited from being made larger and cards that could protect those creatures and/or make them larger. Here's what I came up with:
The squad of beneficiaries for pumping is a little small, but they make good use of being made beefier. Tahngarth and the Elite can demand to fight another creature directly while Spikes can pick them off from a distance, and Godo can apply an increased power to an opponent's face twice per turn. The Bladewarden actually serves double duty, as it both pumps and benefits from being pumped. Other cards that would also work in this section are the double-striking Rockshard Elemental and the self-damaging Reckless Embermage, or the life-swinging Exalted Angel for those willing to shell out for one.
When building your own deck, note that cards that work similarly might not seem to at first. Tahngarth's activated ability and Provoke create nearly identical effects, but are formatted differently. Spikeshot Goblin and the Bladewarden refer to their power directly, but cards like Godo get to use pumps twice without explicitly stating it. Browsing card lists or even just playing games can suddenly remind you of something you missed when a card jumps out at you.
The pumping cards I chose to complement the above selections are all very versatile, although they aren't always the most powerful options. The Moth and Battlemage are both reusable (and the Moth provides a valuable evasion critter for sneaking through final points) and Stand Firm scrys to improve card quality. The choices of equipment are slightly unorthodox, but each is justified. The Plate is quite inexpensive and can provide big boosts, while the Scythe is excellent with some of the creatures that directly take down other dudes. The Scimitar and Fang are a little expensive for their effects, but also double as additional creatures (with flying to boot) if your opponent happens to have a lot of removal. More expensive options include the elite equipment, Sword of Fire and Ice and Umezawa's Jitte, but even budgeters can afford cards like Bonesplitter or creature enchantments like Arcane Teachings or Squee's Embrace.
A few extra cards to help protect the important creatures are welcome, and cards like Tails and Glory can be used to break stalemates, dodge removal or handle extremely large critters across the way. Opal-Eye protects others and also benefits from being made bigger, allowing her (I think) to absorb hits from bigger sources. The Bodyguard and Legionnaire are also efficient early plays and the Goblin can be used as removal for a problem creature if necessary.
Both of these sections show some of the versatility you can find when building Singleton decks. Beatdown creatures with other relevant abilities and equipment that can swing on its own are just a few examples of double duty cards, letting you respond to the situation at hand as it develops rather than having to hope to topdeck one of the few cards that can deal with it. Another group of versatile cards I use is that of creatures that can be mana, or vice versa:
The artifact acceleration is great for a mana-hungry deck, and both the Myr and the Idol can grab equipment and swing later on if needed. Landcyclers are always helpful if another land is required, and Solemn Simulacrum finds that land while also providing a body and card advantage. Jens is the most expensive card in the deck, but he's worth it - although there's only one, that one card can (and probably will) go in every Singleton deck you make. If you intend to only obtain one money-rare, I recommend this one. Even more money could get things like Eternal Dragon, but these simpler choices can serve just as well.
Before you run out of deck space, it's probably also a good idea to include some removal. Singleton is a big place and you'll probably run into some of everything, so answers to creatures and other permanents will almost always have targets. Some creatures (like the Legionnaire above and a few others here) also serve as answers, so even if there's nothing to remove you can still get your attack on.
Most cards of this type are considered "staple" removal, so they aren't very expensive, but that doesn't mean I couldn't lay out big bucks for things like Arc-Slogger or Urza's Rage - I just don't want to, which is fine.
Finally, a couple cards that don't fit a category and the rest of the lands:
The Mask is the only real card-drawer in the deck, although there are some thinners like the Sphere and the Scry spells, and getting it active early generally means victory. The Sphere is fine as a cantrip, but also serves as a mana-smoother for a deck with no multilands. It might not be necessary if I wanted to lay out another 10+ tickets for a Battlefield Forge, but I don't mind going without. It's also a fine placeholder when you don't know what else to put in (or haven't finished trading for cards yet). The legendary lands can be picked up on the cheap, and with five legendary creatures in the deck, they can come in handy fairly often.
So my complete decklist is:
Kami of Ancient Law
Opal-Eye, Konda's Yojimbo
Kumano, Master Yamabushi
Tahngarth, Talruum Hero
Godo, Bandit Warlord
Test of Faith
Ray of Distortion
Mask of Memory
Scythe of the Wretched
Tatsumasa, the Dragon's Fang
Shinka, the Bloodsoaked Keep
If you've been working on your own at home, you now have a decklist! Congratulations! More than likely, several of the card names are shown in MTGO's Deck Editor in blue, meaning the card in question currently isn't in your collection. Although your deck's contents are likely to change a bit once you start playing and figure out its intricacies, it's time to go out and get the cards that will let you start using it.
Trading for the Deck
As I mentioned a while back, one of the benefits of Singleton is that you only need one of any expensive rare you're going to use. (My deck is about thirty tickets of total value, and you could knock off the Simulacrum and have it down to twenty.) One of the other benefits is that Singleton decks often contain cards of almost every value, and both of these factors make it significantly easier to acquire the cards you'll need. Now, if you already know how to trade your way into the cards you'll need, you're in good shape and I won't pretend to be able to do any more for you. Go on out there and do it! For everyone else, the remainder of this article is a short primer for newer players on some good ways to turn all those blue card names in the deck editor black.
(Granted, these tips are certainly applicable to any trading, not just finding Singleton cards. However, that's what my emphasis is going to be on.)
The method of choice for laying your hands on a card is obviously going to vary depending on the worth of the card, so we'll take it in stages, starting at the cheap seats and working down to the high rollers.
Some rules to keep in mind as we go: First, it always pays to be polite when exchanging with another human, so try to be as courteous as you would be in real life. Second, it's inevitable that you will sometimes trade with someone who doesn't have anything you need. In this case, refer to the first rule, and be polite about it. A simple, "Sorry, I don't really see anything. Thanks though," will suffice. Third, if you end up advertising for the cards you need in the "Casual," "For Sale" or "Auction" rooms, don't spam. Do not flood the room with requests, or the majority of the other players will just block you and forget about you. Especially in Auction, only advertise between the actual auctioning of lots - keep your messages between when the auctioneer says "SOLD" or "UNSOLD" and when he or she posts the next lot.
Tier 4: The Nosebleed Section
This section is made up of the less-than-marquee commons that you find making up the majority of your booster pack. They're also known as "bulk" commons, or sometimes just "bad" commons. The catch is that they're not actually all bad. You find some stuff in here that, while not usually seen in tournament decks, can still pull its own weight. Stand Firm, Kabuto Moth and the Myr from the deck above all fall into this category - not game-breakers, but capable role-players. Provided your deck is set up to take advantage of what these cards offer, they can stand their ground against "higher-quality" cards across the table.
If you are willing to buy cards like this (which is certainly more convenient than trading for each individually), you can find countless bots in the Marketplace (off the Trading Post on the main Expert View screen) willing to sell you this caliber of card en masse, offering between eight and thirty-two cards for each event ticket (with slight variations in quality for each exchange rate, although there's plenty of overlapping - at the higher rates you will also find low-end uncommons). Pick one as they all scroll past, trade with it and pick your cards out. Sometimes it won't have all the cards you need, so just move on until you find one that does. One of the perks to this is that, since you probably don't actually need thirty-two of these commons for your deck, you can also pick up sets of other commons you think you might use in the future. In putting a few different decks together, I've picked up sets of Crippling Fatigues, Razor and Spire Golems, Conjurer's Baubles, Lose Hopes and many others, any of which I could see myself putting in a deck tomorrow.
Of course, if you don't want to give up a ticket, you can find lots of people in the "Casual" chat room that are willing to trade. (Just type "/join casual" in any chatroom. Also, note that "casual" doesn't mean what you might think - online, it's basically a codeword for card-for-card trades, as opposed to cards-for-tickets sales.) If you find someone who has some of the cards you need, you should be able to pick them up in exchange for other commons from this same group.
Tier 3: The Middle Deck
Moving slightly up the ladder, we come to marquee commons, solid uncommons and "bulk" rares. Commons that are definite staples of many deck types fall into this area, along with the large majority of uncommon cards and most rares that have little real-world tournament application. Disenchant, Anger, Godo and Tatsumasa are all examples from my list, and other cards of similar quality fall here as well. Not that availability also starts influencing values here: if Sakura-Tribe Elder were from any other block, it would probably fall into this area, but since the market is flooded with Champions cards, it usually trades as a Tier 4 card.
These are cards that typically trade at between eight (for most commons) and two (for most rares) for one ticket. The buying procedure for these is much the same as for Tier 4 cards, but there's also a greater likelihood that you can find a better deal (more of the cards you want for your ticket) if you look harder. That only applies to commons and uncommons though, as rares have a floor as to how low they will sell for. As you're watching the marketplace, you will see many offers to buy any three rares for one ticket - they're buying this quality of card, so you certainly won't be able to buy for a better deal than that. Sadder, you will probably not even be able to get the three-for-one that others are advertising. The fact is that by even asking for a specific card, you've increased its value, and if someone is intending to sell three for a ticket, they would probably just do it to a bot, which is more convenient. However, you can get two of these rares for a ticket with ease by advertising in the "Auction" or "For Sale" chat rooms.
If you're looking to trade, these are again not too difficult to come by. Somebody trading in the "Casual" room is again likely to have the cards you want, and it becomes worth your time to advertise specifically that you are looking for these cards. One-for-one exchanges work here, as always, but you may also be able to exchange a handful of Tier 4 cards for one of these, or get multiples for a Tier 2 card. Intra-Tier trades are probably the easiest to work out in this area.
Tier 2: The Lower Deck
We've now crossed over the ticket-line, and are firmly resting in the realm of cards that sell for at least one ticket on their own. This is where you'll find most solid rares that are currently appearing in a tournament deck or are just good, like Eight-and-a-Half-Tails or Glory from my decklist. Certain high-end uncommons, like Magma Jet, make the jump to this section as well as older cards that never took off but have a certain amount of raw power, like Tahngarth himself. In building a budgeted Singleton deck, the majority of your deck's costs will probably come from this section in the form of a small handful of cards costing between one and four tickets apiece.
At this point, it's important to have a more accurate picture of the value of the cards you're looking for. In Tiers 3 and 4, if you overpay a little, all it costs you is a couple extra cards that you probably didn't need anyway, but now it could end up costing you several tickets over the course of building the deck. Finding the actual value of a card is fairly easy, though: simply go to the Message Board and use the search function to find advertisements offering to sell or buy that card. Checking several entries (hitting Enter will move you to the next entry) should show you the price that most dealers are trying to buy and sell for - the actual value of the card is somewhere in the middle. If a card is being bought for two tickets and sold for four, it's worth about three tickets (and yes, sometimes you'll end up with half-ticket values). Note that if someone is offering to sell a card for one ticket, it's fairly likely that that card is actually a Tier 3 card and you can probably get two for one ticket if you look around.
An alternative method for pricing is to ask for a price check in one of the chat rooms by asking, "pc Cardname." Again, be polite, and someone should hopefully give you an answer, but it depends who is around and how good their own information is.
Since the values of Tier 2 cards are so well established, trading for them is more a mathematical exercise than "real" trading - your trading partner will try to find a card or cards that match the value of the card you want (so be sure you know the values of your own cards as well), and if they do, there's your deal. Buying is much the same, but if you advertise that you are buying a couple cards at once, you may be able to get a slight reduction in cost. Remember that if the person you first trade with refuses to deal at the market price, there are plenty of others out there. Don't let yourself be overcharged just because the first person you found is a jerk.
Tier 1: The Courtside Seats
These are the premium cards, high-powered rares that can fit into numerous decks or whose primary deck is currently a monster in tournaments. The only card from this category that my deck uses is Solemn Simulacrum, but other cards like Vedalken Shackles, Exalted Angel and even truly awesome uncommons like Eternal Witness also make the list. I consider any card with a market value of five tickets or more to fall into the Tier 1 category.
Trading for or buying Tier 1 cards is much the same as for Tier 2 cards - the values are established and well-known, and it's only a question of whether you have enough to offer for your target. What makes it different is that you may not have enough raw, marketable value in your collection (i.e., Tier 2 and 1 cards with set market values) that someone will want in exchange for these cards, which makes it more likely that you'll have to buy them with tickets. The upside of that is that, should you decide to break the deck and not use the card anymore, you will have little to no trouble reselling it for about what you paid. (Just remember that, if this does happen, you may need a little patience.)
With a little dedication and a modest collection built mainly on draft decks, you should be able to acquire all the cards you need for your deck, especially if you've built it with a budgeting attitude. When you get nearly done, you can even sub in a couple other cards for items you haven't picked up yet and take the deck for a spin - this is also a good way to figure out if you really like the deck before you trade for or buy the expensive rares you want to use.
Once it's complete, go forth and enjoy your experience in Singleton! Have fun, and feel free to look me up in the Casual room sometime.
clauticea at kenyon dot edu
Kenyon Mystyc on Magic Online