MTGO on the Cheap: Singleton
I love deck building, and I love playing Constructed duels. I find it much more rewarding than leagues and drafts, so I am trying out the various MTGO constructed formats. That said, I still have very few Constructed-worthy cards, and my online Type Two and Extended decks cannot compete with Vedalken Shackles in Standard, or Vial Affinity in Extended. However, I can build decks that are competitive in other formats, especially singleton.
Singleton is the online Highlander format - meaning that your 60-card deck can contain no more than one copy of any given card other than basic lands. This makes it pretty easy to build decks - you don't need four of anything to make the decks competitive. That's a great thing, since I have only been playing online for a couple months*, and my collection is very limited. That is changing, however.
I have learned a lot about getting MTGO cards by now, and I am indebted to all of the helpful advice from people on the forums, and via email. One of those people - Andy Clautice - also wrote about Singleton and getting cards here. He also recommended that I try Singleton. I have taken a lot of his advice to heart.
Your Singleton deck may revolve around your favorite rares, but basic commons and uncommons will form the framework of the deck.
Getting your hands on older MTGO commons is pretty easy - often easier than in real life. With a bit of hunting, you can find most everything cheaply. Better yet, you can often get complete sets of commons for next to nothing. One of the first purchases I made of old cards was on eBay, where I got complete playsets of all the Onslaught commons for $3.25. Other random commons are available from online dealers cheaply. You can find them through the trade bots, through the /casual trades room or from online (but not part of MTGO) stores. Sometimes people will even give you some cards - I have received some wonderful stuff, and have given away spare cards to people who needed them. The tradeoff here is between price and time - you can get cheaper prices by spending more time. Just like cardboard Magic: I can get probably get a real deal - eventually - on Vedalken Shackles by trading with some kid, or getting lucky on eBay when buying from someone with a rating of -2, or I can buy from StarCity. I may pay a dollar or two more, but I know the card will get here quickly and I won't get ripped off.
If you want to play a lot of singleton and play various decks, your first step should be to buy some common sets from older blocks. Onslaught is dirt cheap (although you need to get lucky to get it quite as cheaply as I did.) Older sets are a bit more expensive, but not much. Only Invasion block is really expensive, which is a shame because that was a great set. Those random commons, though, will fill a lot of holes in your Singleton decks.
You start building a Singleton deck by deciding where you want to go, tempered by where you can go. I built my very first Singleton deck early on, when I had almost no cards. However, four of my nice rares were green, and some others were splashable. I also like playing Green beatdown with tricks, so base Green was the place to start.
The first concern with a Singleton deck is getting the mana right. Singleton allows only single copies of nonbasic lands, and the total number of affordable nonbasics in MTGO is not all that big. Mana screw is always a possibility, and cards like Wayfarer's Bauble only slightly reduce that chance. Going base green helps, since green adds cards like Sakura-Tribe Elders, Kodama's Reach, Birds of Paradise, Rampant Growth and so on. Base Green decks are nice, since the cards to fetch off color lands are commons and therefore easy to obtain. If you are base green, splashing two or more colors is possible. If you are not base green, stick to one color - or two at most.
Since two of my rares were Thorn Elemental and Rude Awakening - both expensive cards - I wanted a lot of lands and land searching. I also planned to splash Red and Blue for my two other bomb rares, so I started with the following mana base:
1 Tranquil Thicket
1 Wayfarer's Bauble
1 Journeyer's Kite
1 Sakura Tribe Elder
1 Birds of Paradise (I am so lucky)
1 Vine Trellis
1 Rampant Growth
1 Wood Elves
1 Krosan Tusker (land cycler)
1 Kodama's Reach
30 cards so far
I will probably add a Blinkmoth Nexus or Stalking Stones once I get them, but I don't own any now. The same is true of Elvish Aberration, who cycles early, provides mana or beats - but I don't have one yet. The Journeyer's Kite was a bonus - I won an auction for a Sword of Fire and Ice and four other rares, the Kite was included, but it is solid in a deck with Rude Awakening, or any deck that splashes multiple colors. Just don't count on drawing it - this is Singleton, after all.
So far, I have a ton of mana and mana fixers, but I intend to play fatties so having half my deck be mana fixers may be necessary. That said, Wood Elves is on the block, and will disappear if I get a better card.
Next come the cool rares and neat stuff that I want to play. I traded for some of this, including a Beacon of Creation, which is great with all the land fetchers. I will note that this is a bunch of rares, which would be excessive for a "on the cheap" article in other formats, but the whole point of Singleton is to build around the cards you have.
1 Beacon of Creation
1 Rude Awakening
1 Thorn Elemental
1 Fangren Firstborn
1 Sword of Fire and Ice
1 Keiga, the Tide Star
1 Ryusei, the Falling Star (not a perfect fit, but I own one)
1 Meloku, the Clouded Mirror
9 cool stuff / 39 total cards
Meloku is a flier, and can help abuse the putting lands into play theme. Fireball is an alternative finisher, or a method of clearing out chump blockers.
Next step is to add some combat tricks. This is a beatdown deck and the deck needs the ability to kill blockers or force through the win. Since a lot of these tricks are commons, you get some choice. I have copies of Giant Growth, Ferocious Charge and others, but I don't have unlimited room in the deck. The tricks I chose were:
1 Strength of Cedars (fits the pull lands theme)
1 Stand Together (trial - want to see how often this works)
1 Predator's Strike (trample helps)
1 Loxodon Warhammer ("funhammer")
4 tricks / 43 total cards
I'm not sure funhammer really belongs, but trample is nice, and it appeals to the Timmy in me. The life gain can also be annoying to my opponents.
The deck also needs some utility cards to let it kill annoyances like Worship and Ensnaring Bridge. Fortunately, I now have a Viridian Zealot - a gift from Ingrid, who opened it in her sealed deck league. I could also include Creeping Mold and/or Naturalize - probably just Naturalize for now.
1 Viridian Zealot
1 Naturalize (or Creeping Mold)
2 utility / 45 total cards
Now, the next step is to look hard at the mana curve. This is a beatdown deck, so you want to apply pressure constantly. So far, the deck has just a few beaters in the list, as follows:
1cc: none (Birds don't count as threats)
2cc: ST Elder, Zealot,
3cc: (Wood Elves)
4cc: Fangren Firstborn
5cc: Meloku, (Beacon of Creation)
6cc: Ryusei, Keiga
7cc+: Thornie, Tusker
That is not an aggressive curve. It really cries for Llanowar Elves at the low end, but I don't have any. I could also play Elvish Scrapper or Elvish Lyrist, but they seem unnecessary - 1/1s are not aggressive creatures. Let's start by adding 2 and 3 drops, then moving up.
I have a few other 2/2 for s mana but they either do nothing special, or are actually bad in this deck (e.g. Humble Budoka with the combat tricks and equipment.) Budoka Gardener may never flip, but I have him and he beats. Now lets add some bigger beaters.
1 Root Runner
1 Iwamori of the Open Fist (my Betrayer's release league was good to me.)
1 Llanowar Behemoth (nice with Beacon Bugs)
1 Barkhide Mauler (he cycles)
1 Spined Wurm
1 Fangren Hunter
7 cards / 57 so far
That gives us the following curve of threats.
With all the land searching and so forth, that should work. The deck should ramp up and drop threats quite well. The biggest fear will be cards like Wrath of God and Oblivion Stone, but there's little we can do about that with the cards we have.
To round out the deck, I want to add some card drawing, and once last piece of equipment to speed up the kill.
Other cards I may add at some point: Karstoderm, Eternal Witness, One Dozen Eyes, Genju of the Cedars, maybe even Blanchwood Armor, but I don't own them yet. I have tried Burr Grafter at times, but the combat trick is worse than the extra Power and Toughness of Lifespinner or Root Runner. Nantuko Disciple is worth considering. Traproot Kami may make the deck if I see a lot of fliers. I would very much like to get Troll Ascetic, Silvos and Kodama of the North Tree. They will replace the Trained Armodon and Spined Wurm, once I get my hands on them.
Right now, the deck has a bunch of rares in it - practically all the decent rares I own. That is the point of Singleton - building a deck around whatever you have. Some of the rares are there just because I want to play them. Some of these could easily become Moss Kami, but the deck supports a few off color finishers. You can splash any finisher you like, provided it doesn't have more than one - or at most two - off color mana in the casting cost. If you really want to splash for something more mana intensive, like Kokusho or Vishara, add more off colored lands and drop the Beacon of Creation.
Okay, let's try this again, in a different color. Time to spin the old color wheel. Step up and place your bets.
whirrrrrr clickclickclick click click click click click
There she stops. Red is a winner.
Okay. Give me a minute to check my collection.
Hmmm, I seem to have traded off all my good Red stuff. Or never had much.
Once again, I'll start with mana.
Beatdown creatures form the core of the deck:
1 Slith Firewalker
1 Hearth Kami
1 Emberfist Zubera
1 Oxida Golem
1 Ronin Houndmaster
1 Hill Giant
1 Furnace Whelp
1 Lightning Elemental
1 Hulking Cyclops
1 Arc-Slogger (I have one good Red rare)
1 Ryusei, the Falling Star (okay, 2)
1 Cosmic Larva (still holding at 2 good Red rares)
12 / 39 cards
If I had one, I would play Kumano, Master Yamabushi, and well. Other fine Red cards would include Blistering Firecat, Grim Lavamancer, Fledgling Whelp, Two-Headed Dragon or even Savage Firecat. Whatever you have that is aggressive, cheap and potent. If you have replacements, Lightning Elemental, Cosmic Larva and Hulking Cyclops are the first cards to cut.
The next grouping is burn cards and direct damage. Here's a basic list
Since I have beatdown creatures and Spikeshot Goblin, I want some equipment. Obviously, Jitte and Swords are great, but play what you have. I have a Sword of Kaldra, which has been insane in a sealed deck with Spikie. Sword of Kaldra is absolutely nuts on Kumano - anything he shoots is removed from the game. If you want to try it out, Sword of Kaldra is pretty cheap.
I also have a Lightning Greaves, which is the only possible reason to play Cosmic Larva.
The nice thing about MTGO Singleton is that you only need one copy of anything - like my Sword of Fire and Ice, and you can include it in any number of decks.
Finally, some utility and card drawing:
And that's the deck. Personally, I would rather play the green deck, since that is closer to my play style, but that's just me. You should build and play whatever style of deck you prefer.
MTGO is extremely friendly to random decks, and makes it very easy to find games. I have played online singleton many times now, and rarely had to wait more than a minute or three for a game. I simply go to the casual play / constructed room, click on the games list (in spreadsheet display), then sort the list by game status. This puts the "running" games on the bottom, and "waiting for players" games on top. Then I look for Singleton and join the game.
Once in a while I have gotten blown out in games. In a very few cases, the decks were massively superior. Occasionally, I get mana flooded or have my deck crap out, but that is rare. Most often I end up playing an enjoyable game - or multiple enjoyable games. The green deck tends to win - I think I have won about two-thirds of my games so far. That makes me happy. The deck works. I will have to take it to the tournament practice room sometime, or to an actual tourney. Online Singleton tourneys are held a couple times a week.
If there are no Singleton games waiting for players, create one. Just click on the new game button, and choose "Singleton" as the format. You can also add a comment, if you like. I added "new player, new deck" for my first attempts, but that was hardly necessary. You can also choose whether you want to play single games or 3 game duels.
When looking for singleton matches, keep an eye on the comments field. Some will call for "Rainbow Stairwell" decks. Avoid those games unless you build a Stairwell deck. Rainbow Stairwell is a particular type of Singleton decks, and one I will write about in a future article.
judge n bailiff on MTGO