The Kitchen Table #119: A Large Deck with a Large Attitude
Welcome to the fourth week anniversary of our weekly dosage of all thing casual. One of the charges I was given with this column by my esteemed editor was to revisit some of my older ideas and revamp them. Maybe you weren't one of my readers three years ago. Maybe some new cards have come out since then, and a topic needs to be revisited. Or, maybe I just have new ideas on old articles.
For example: sometimes, I've just been downright prescient. In an opinion article that was printed just after the release of Judgment, I said:
“For example, take the ability to destroy one enchantment or artifact. In artifacts, green has several choices going back to Crumble. How many times has green been able to destroy a target enchantment, however? Sure, green can sweep away enchantments - but shouldn't it also be regularly able to pop single enchantments? I hope that Nullmage Advocate, in Judgment, is an example of green starting to get this ability on a regular basis.”
(You can tell that this was before the SCG policy changed to capitalize the colors in Magic. Thus, a phrase like “red beats,” became “Red Beats.”)
You can see right there that I successfully predicted Naturalize before it ever saw print. Wait a second… I think that my editor would prefer me to update actual decks or formats, not bad opinion articles.
I could update my rare-drafting articles. Those are among my most popular articles ever (if you go by hits). I don't really have any new info on rare drafting though (Except that it really works in Mirage Drafts online. Lots of players aren't drafting it, because the Draft is relatively boring, so you can get cards that people want. Just don't waste your time drafting Yare and similar chaff.)
Luckily for everyone involved, I have a deck in my head that I've been meaning to upgrade since Ravnica came out. In a previous article around thirty months ago, I wrote an article about how to build a deck in multiplayer that was designed to handle multiple threats at your table.
Just in case you don't decide to read that article, let me get you up to speed. I have a multiplayer metagame that includes several problematic strategies:
Several of the best players regularly play large highlander decks with lots of good stuff.
Some players like a quick aggro assault.
Some players like combo decks that are every artifact or enchantment heavy.
Some players like recursion based strategies, including these large highlander decks
The occasional player likes Obliterate.
(Please note that some of these players overlap. One of the guys who likes Obliterate also loves combo decks, and will occasionally toss one or two in.)
In that article, I make the point that at multiplayer tables where people vary significantly in skill, it becomes much harder to predict what people will do. As such, the best deck is one tuned to suit the metagame.
What you need to find are the general preferences of players. Sure, one player has several decks, but you'll note over time that one, two, or three themes emerge that define that player. For me, in ascending order, I like tempo-ish cards, control with lots of creatures, and a cornucopia of removal. These are themes that I am most comfortable building decks around. Of course, that doesn't mean that every deck I build includes one of those elements, but it does mean that it's highly likely.
You need to identify similar themes in your regular opponents, and then plan around them. That's when you can build one deck to handle various opponents of various skill levels.
My opponents have grown in skill, cardpools have increased or decreased, some of the worst players stopped coming to Magic, and so forth. So, there's a different metagame now. Let's take a look at some of the decks I can expect to see at my table:
The Funky Mirrodin Block Combo Deck: This deck is played by either of a pair of brothers who game at my place. There are several versions of this deck – from Sunburst decks to Door to Nothingness decks to Darksteel Reactor decks and more. All have several elements. They are artifact heavy, they use several permanents to win, they take some time to develop, and they typically have some countermagic backup in order to force through a key spell. There are several exploitable weaknesses here, including removal and tempo.
The Recursion Deck: This deck is focused on reanimating various threats. The most recent addition to these decks is the power of Kokusho the Broken Star. Kokusho alone can send a player's life total into the sky. These decks typically feature several important recursion creatures, and other adjunct creatures as well.
The Quick Attack Deck: I don't think that these ever go out of style at any multiplayer table that has bad players. The White Mobilization Control deck is gone, but people still grab a goblin deck or quick Green beef deck with great regularity. The goblin deck can be handled by cheap cards that keep your own deck alive – like Massacre. The beef deck needs something a bit more powerful – often a Wrath of God or similar effect. You always need to be able to clean out some of these ultimate bad guys.
Odd Combo Decks: We have the occasional odd combo deck. An Enchantress deck gets played by one player. Another has a Megrim/Underworld Dreams/Wheel and Deal style deck. You have to be prepared for the occasional deck that sports something you hadn't planned for.
Five-Color Highlander Decks: These decks can be tough to predict due to their very large size. There are, however, a couple of themes. These are things that they like to do.
First of all, each deck will have a large number of solutions to problems - a little countermagic, a helping of removal, decent creatures, and what not.
The next similarity is that the decks developed virtually simultaneously, and when one player saw something that worked, it was frequently copied. For example, I was the first to toss Morality Shift into my deck and win with it. Then, after winning just once, everybody else seemed to duplicate my card. At my table, some of these similarities include graveyard manipulation and big, efficient creatures.
The third and final trick is that each deck of these decks has a serious dependence on mana, since the decks use all five colors.
Here are some things I want in my deck:
Many ways to handle artifacts and enchantments.
Many different ways to remove creatures of various types.
A way to get around high life totals, either by bringing someone back or finding an alternate winning condition.
A quick defense.
Several ways to stave off graveyard abuse.
A few ways to attack a Five Color highlander deck's manabase.
A versatile set of cards that can handle a variety of situations.
Previously, my deck was with Red, White, and Black. I don't see any reason to change those deck colors today. Let's take a look at the deck:
Artifact and Enchantment Removal:
It's not enough to play cards that destroy an enchantment or artifact. Often, you'll find yourself swarmed with artifacts and enchantments, and one single Naturalize or something is not going to get the job done. Other times, you'll look at the table, and the only targets are a Fellwar Stone and a Seal of Doom. As such, you need your removal to be able to handle multiple threats as well as being useful if there are no threats at all. I am going to dedicate eight cards in my deck to this threat. Let's take a look.
The Aura is great in multiplayer, making all opponents pay two extra mana for all of their artifacts and enchantments. This slows down the combo players while also punishing the highlander decks for playing artifact mana. Later, you can always sacrifice it like a Seal of Cleansing. Orim's Thunder can pop a creature, so you can use it as emergency creature removal instead of artifact or enchantment removal. I've killed Akroma before with this, so watch out.
Many Ways to Off Creatures:
I like having several options in the creature killing game. Firstly, I like efficient kill. Secondly, I like mass removal as well as small creature removal. Let's take a look at a few ways to take care of business:
I like this suite of removal spells for multiplayer. Vengeful Dreams and Firestorm can punish multiple attackers. Retribution of the Meek kills off lots of my opponent's big creatures while only a handful of my own will die. Massacre is virtually the same, except small creatures bite the bullet. Tariff is great – it almost always kills off several expensive creatures at a multiplayer table. Swords to Plowshares is the ubiquitous removal spell of Magic, and I have to include it here. Lastly, Mortify is replacing Expunge in my deck, so it should be interesting to see which is better. “Mortify pops enchantments” is not in the previous section, so there will be other creature removal listed later.
A Way to Get Around High Life Totals:
In the past, I ran a single copy of Blessed Wind that I could tutor for when necessary. I may ultimately keep it in, but for now I want to focus on other methods. It's hard to make someone deck themselves when several decks I could be facing have hundreds of cards. Poison counters are a poor strategy, and I've always laughed at Phage. Then I realize that an old strategy of mine would still work:
The old Congregate/False Cure trick can deal a lot of damage to someone. I've earned many kills that way in multiplayer. False Cure is a great play after someone announces Congregate. It's just as good to stack after a Kokusho dies and its ability heads for resolution. Congregate can also keep me alive until later in the game.
A Quick Defense:
I've always liked Spectral Lynx, and this is an ideal deck for a quartet. Also crying for a spot is ye olde Sedge Troll. Both of these cards are regenerators with a solid body. They help to mug up the ground. The trolls survive both of my mass removal spells, while the cats die to Massacre. In my experience, however, no creature says “Don't attack me” on the ground like Mogg Maniac, so I'm throwing in four of him. I except him to die so quickly that I don't care much about the fact that he'll succumb to Massacre.
Opal-Eye is great because it blocks and kills a creature, survives all of my own mass kill, and can protect me from the Fireballs and whatnot getting tossed at my head.
Flametongue Kavus die to both of my mass removal spells but, to be fair, they kill something first. I consider that an acceptable trade.
The last card here is one of my favorites – the TACO (T.emple ACO.lyte). With a cheap price, it gives you a quick life bump while also providing a decent sized blocker for the price. Taco is a great speed bump, and it also survives both of my mass removal spells.
No Graveyard Abuse:
4 Planar Void
I could play the new Black Leyline from Guildpact, but I think that I'll stick with the old classic. It's cheap to play, and I don't care about the Leyline of the Void's ability to only hit my opponents, since I'll not have anything that can abuse my graveyard in any way.
I find that this simple little enchantment often becomes public enemy number one. I've seen it taken out when Future Sight or Mind's Eye was on the table, simply because it completely hosed someone's strategy. It turns Squee into Scum and Genesis into Chump.
A Few Ways to Attack a Manabase:
First of all, this isn't necessary to do in each game, so I only want a few options. I want them to be versatile, for those games in which they are useful. As such, I'll keep it short and, well, you know…
The Vindicate can eat through lands just as easily as anything else, while the Shaman is a single card as a tutor target. It can pop Sol Rings, Mox Diamonds, and the occasional Fellwar Stone, all with relative ease.
It's important to have winning conditions outside the occasional Congregate/False Cure, and this deck is no different. Let's take a look at a few ways:
Each of these creatures can deal a lot of damage. Kumano and the Sloggers will die to Retribution of the Meek, while the Enforcers are good to go, being immune to both forms of mass removal in my deck. “Kumano and the Sloggers” sounds like some weird Magic tribute band that plays at local county fairs and pubs. I miss Tahngarth, and I might try to fit him in later.
Fleshing it Out:
These cards are designed to flesh out my deck and round it out in several important ways. For example, here's mana:
Here's a few comborific cards added to the mix:
1 Academy Rector
1 Mind Twist
1 Ivory Mask
1 Stronghold Taskmaster
2 Urza's Rage
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Vampiric Tutor
1 Enlightened Tutor
2 Diabolic Tutor
2 Scroll Rack
2 Engineered Plague
4 Mages' Contest
The pair of Rages are there to help me get past countermagic and just kill someone. The Ivory Mask is good against several types of combo decks, as well as burn and discard type effects. The Stronghold Taskmaster was a way of abusing my lack of Black creatures in the deck. The Plagues can hold off goblins or elves or soldiers, while also whacking the occasional Soul Warden or Prodigal Sorcerer. Toss in a few tutors and Scroll Racks in order to keep things moving.
The two controversial cards here are Mages' Contest and Simulacrums. I love playing Simulacrum and tossing damage I took onto a Mogg Maniac. I also have several regenerators that can just absorb the damage.
Ravnica and Guildpact:
I want a few more cards in my deck. I tossed in a few Ravnica and Guildpact cards where I could, because I like them.
I'll toss in one each of these cards, just to see how they play.
These cards were in my last deck, and I already miss them:
Cranial Extraction, Honorable Passage, and Order/Chaos all have their uses. The Chaos half allows me to attack someone through their defenses and score a surprise victory. Honorable Passage is a nice surprise against direct damage. Cranial Extraction can ruin a deck that has a highly specific purpose.
That brings me to 126 cards. Now, for lands:
I use all of the dual lands that I own to fill spots. Then I toss in a quartet of Cities of Brass and a pair of Grand Coliseums. Lastly, I round out my collection with a handful of painlands before heading to lots and lots of basic lands. The net result is that I end up with 60 lands, putting me at 186 cards.
That's a lot of cards.
I kept several keys parts of the old deck together. I like the False Cure/Congregate engine, I like the regenerators-Mogg Maniac-Yojimbo-Simulacrum. I really like the removal spots.
I took out a lot of fun cards – Witch Hunter, Tahngarth, Blessed Wind, Starke of Rath, Erratic Portal, Helm of Possession, Preacher, Radiate, Mirari, and more. Outside of fun cards, several effective cards came out as well. I pulled Tithe and Void. Flowstone Overseer was similarly yanked, as was Burning Palm Efreet, Phyrexian Arena, and Yawgmoth's Bargain. This took a lot out of the deck.
The deck probably needs more card drawing, in retrospect. Let me add a pair of Emmessi Tomes and two more lands to make it an even 190 cards.
I wanted to check my creature base and see how many creatures in my deck are affected by each of my mass removal spells.
Retribution of the Meek: 9
It seems like that is a lot, but then I remember that all of your creatures die to Wrath of God, and this is clearly better, so I relax. All of the creatures that die to Retribution of the Meek are either game winning creatures I play after I gain control of the board, or creatures that kill other creatures, like Flametongue Kavu.
I know that such a large deck is unconventional by some people's standards. I prefer it, though, in a lot of cases. It makes for an interesting challenge, and it makes the deck play differently each time. Plus, you'll have less whining when you do a False Cure-Congregate kill… you have a larger deck, which naturally prevents as much abuse of that combo.
Good luck building your overly large metagamed decks. Despite their size, they can be among the best decks you've ever built.