The Kitchen Table #124: Building Decks with Underused Cards
I've been working on next week's article for a week now. It's always a skill intensive article. As you may have surmised from this week's title, next week's article (hopefully, assuming that I am done by then) will be the next installment of my Underused Hall of Fame and the retirement of thirty more cards.
In homage to next week's article, I've decided to spend some time this week and build a few decks around previous retirees. After all, if I truly believe that these cards are underused, it would be hypocritical of me not to use them myself, right?
When I get really stuck on building a deck for one of my A Deck a Day articles, I always open my Underused articles and give the cards there a nice long look. I can always find deck ideas from these lists. Of all of the articles that I've written, I think this series is the best at giving deck ideas.
As an added bonus, one of today's cards will appear in next week's article. Therefore, it should be a bit of a challenge to find which card I think is worthy of retirement.
It's not a normal deck, and I'm not quite sure how it will play out. I started with a core of Avenging Druid and Ophidian. Two 1/3 creatures, that cost three mana for your pleasure, that will each get you card advantage as they attack. Note that the Avenging Druid will actually deal damage, while the snake does not.
I rely on my ubiquitous Wall of Blossoms for early defense. I love the Wall. It's probably one of the most-used cards in my decks.
Onto this I tacked Kaho, Minamo Historian. A Blue/Green deck seems like an ideal spot for a bit of instant goodness. Kaho can grab countermagic, card drawing, Naturalizes, and I also tossed in a single copy each of Capsize and Dominate for emergency Kaho tutoring.
I also saw an excellent spot for Holistic Wisdom. With several instants, including a pair of key single copy instants, I though that this would be ideal for a Holistic Wisdom. Remember that Avenging Druid will dump a few non-land cards in your graveyard as time goes by. As such, you'll get plenty of fodder for your Holistic Wisdom.
Since I had Holistic Wisdom, I decided to toss in a few useful creatures to round out the deck. I didn't have much space, but I did find a slot of a copy each of Mystic Snake and Uktabi Orangutan. Each can provide some nice answers.
Lastly, I wanted a few creatures that could serve for game. I went with the classic Rainbow Efreet as a flyer who can disappear on command, and the Patron of the Moon. The Patron is a great flyer, as well as a mana accelerator for those Fact or Fiction draws when you get multiple lands.
This deck feels like a “stream of consciousness” deck. One idea led to another led to another led to another and so forth. Hopefully, it will play a lot more smoothly than many “stream of consciousness” works actually read.
I started this, oddly enough, as a Commander Eesha deck. One thing led to another and I ended up with something totally different. I suspect that this deck is even more “stream of consciousness” then the previous deck.
Let's see if I can remember where I started…ah, yes!
I wanted some defense for Commander Eesha, so I went with Silent Arbiter, which is a great blocker and way to slow down an opponent. One Eesha and Arbiter can hold off ten thousand creatures. They make a nice tag team.
I decided to add Propaganda and Ghostly Prison to this mix. I wanted some more slowdown until I got the creatures that I wanted. I realized that I would need an alternate way to slow down hordes of creatures in case the Arbiter or Eesha bit it, or if I didn't draw either.
I wanted another set of flying creatures. Since there were already Propagandas and Ghostly Prisons in the deck, I figured I should stay on theme and go with Windborn Muse. Lastly, to round out my defense as well as to tutor for a Propaganda, I tossed in Drift of Phantasms.
Now I had a deck with a variety of defensive creatures and taxing effects on attackers. I thought to myself, “Gee, wouldn't it be keen if I could use the taxing effects to punish my opponent beyond preventing an attack.”
What would be the ideal card? I thought to myself that, well, Manabarbs is obviously the ideal choice… but that's Red, so I can't use it.
Then I realized that I certainly could use it, and in it went.
Since I had this “punishment for creatures” theme in my deck, I felt that Fade Away was a natural choice. You can use it after they tap out for your many taxing effects, or with a Manabarbs out. Either way, it really worked.
I then realized that my control/combo-ish tempo deck might die from taking Manabarbs damage of its own. Normally, opponents should take damage faster, but you never know how much damage that you take from early beats or burn later. There should be some way to prevent the Manabarbs damage… something in White.
And so there is. With Sphere of Law out, you can prevent two damage from every Red source, which Manabarbs just happens to be.
To round out the deck, I added Impulse, Enlightened Tutor and Sleight of Mind. The Sleight of Mind is a one-of as a way to change the color on Sphere of Law to something else in an emergency. It's the type of surprise that you can really only pull off once, so there's a single copy in here. That also helps to eliminate drawing the Sleight when there's no Sphere of Law to be seen. It also makes a Sphere of Law useful when you haven't drawn any Manabarbs, or if they've all been Cranial Extracted.
Since this deck relied so heavily on enchantments and the right creatures, I felt Impulse would smooth things sufficiently. It also helps out mana in the early game. With three colors, smooth can't hurt.
Lastly, the Enlightened Tutor will grab any Taxing enchantment, Silent Arbiter, Sphere or Manabarbs. That's a lot of work. If you want, toss in a copy of each artifact land in Red/White/Blue so you can tutor for land if you need it.
Let's look at a different way to build this deck, albeit one without the Underused Commander Eesha in it:
This deck is build around the same framework, yet uses many different cards. It is a different way to use White's taxing effect. If your opponent taps out in order to attack, punish with the Rishadan Thieves' Guild trio of cards, or use a Fade Away or Tithe. Feel free to use these together. Play a Tithe, tapping out your opponent, and then launch a Fade Away. Even if you lose a creature like a Member of the Rishadan Thieves' Guild, you'll be in a much better position.
This deck pulls the Manabarbs combo and some of the defensive creatures for the Rishadan Thieves' Guild (RTG,) and Tithe. In this deck, Tithes are paid to organized crime, in the form of your RTG.
Okay, let's move on to a new deck…
This deck is more concentrated than the previous two decks. It has creatures, burn, card drawing, and countermagic. Every card in the deck meets one of those themes. It's a classic counter-burn deck in that regard.
I focused on several cards from my Underused Hall of Fame to develop the deck. Possessed Aven, Illuminate, Tahngarth, Desertion, and Frenetic Efreet are all from that list. Just add countermagic, burn, Niv-Mizzet, and card drawing, and you have a deck.
Niv-Mizzet slides in well with the other creatures. He fits a nice niche. Between the card drawing of Illuminate and Fact or Fiction, you have an effective beater who can really amp the power of other cards in the deck.
For burn, I had started with the Illuminate. It's a very powerful burn spell later in the game, but it lacks power early, so I decided to focus the rest of my burn on the early game. Incinerate was chosen over Lightning Bolt because of its ability to nail River Boa and other assorted regenerators. This deck would otherwise die to a River Boa that Islandwalked it every turn and came down before countermagic came online.
Fire/Ice was an obvious choice as well. It can knock out two creatures, as well as supplementing other burn or being used as an emergency tapper or to draw a card in a pinch. It's just too good not to use.
Possessed Aven will be a 3/3 flyer for the first few turns, but this deck should have threshold fairly quickly, thus making the Aven a 4/4 Black flying beater for just four mana.
I began with Desertion as my countermagic and I knew that I wanted to supplement it. I knew that I wanted four Counterspells, but I had space for another set. I almost ran with Forbid, but decided against it.
I remembered that this deck needed a bit of help in the early game. Therefore, I added Mana Leak to help shore up that weakness. With Counterspell, Mana Leak, Incinerate, and Fire/Ice, we should be fine against a quick deck until the bigger stuff comes online.
Just in case we aren't, there's a Frenetic Efreet as a turn 3 play. It can block, put damage on the stack thereby ensuring the death of a quick creature, and then have a 50/50 chance of surviving by trying to phase out.
Alright, one more deck:
Void is a great - surgical mass removal spell with the promise of lucky discard as well. Crypt Angel is a fine flying beater, a great anti-White creature, and a way of recurring your dead Red creatures - of which there are many. In fact, every other creature in the deck is Red.
I included three Red creatures that go well with Crypt Angel. The ubiquitous Flametongue Kavu fits into any Red deck. Avalanche Riders are a great choice for tempo. And Underused Hall of Fame entry number three - Ghitu Slinger - rears its head and does a little damage before falling back to the graveyard. All of these make sense to recur with a Crypt Angel because they can do something when they come into play.
I also went with Eron the Relentless as a hasted way of getting a beater on the board. You might use his regeneration power on rare occasions. For some reason, I'd rather have Eron the Relentless over Skizzik. I think he's just cooler.
The last creature I used was a pair of Kumano, Master Yamabushi. It's a great card for Red/Black, and can burn down opposing creatures as well as players.
As removal, I packed Terminate and Urza's Rage. Terminate is probably the best pound-for-pound creature removal spell in the game. (By “pound-for-pound,” I mean in comparison for casting cost. It's an instant, and it kills regenerators, and it costs a mere two mana).
Urza's Rage can burn creatures early and are a guaranteed victory later in case your deck stalls. I always like having one or two backup plans just in case.
To round out the deck, I tossed in a pair of Duress. This serves two functions. The first is as the normal early game discard that disrupts an opponent. The second is to learn a player's hand before playing a Void, so you can use Void as maximally useful discard as well as permanent removal.
For example, suppose your opponent has a pair of threats out - one costing four mana, one costing five - and three cards in hand. You have a Void and you draw a Duress. Playing the Duress reveals a land, a four-mana threat, and a five-mana removal spell. Take the spell with Duress, and then play Void for four. You played two cards and eliminated three because of the information that Duress provided. If you had played Void for five, it still would have taken two cards, but the Duress would now be useless, and your opponent would have a backup threat ready to go.
Well, I hope that you enjoyed this dance through the Underused Hall of Fame (as well as a preview into next week's article). Do you think that you spotted one of the next entries in the Hall? Post your idea in the forum and you'll find out in seven days!
P.S. – Based on forum posts, there'll be no regular asides at the beginning of my articles. I'll not adopt the Cuisinart strategy of article writing. However, that leaves me in a pinch, because I said that I'd reveal who I thought was the best director of all time. If I think Hitchcock was the best English director and second-best director, then that must leave someone else as the best director. I could run a forum contest to find out who you think I am referring to, but I guess that you'd get it right anyway, so I'll tell you - Akira Kurasawa. Check out some of his movies, and you'll understand.
Several of his movies, Rashomon, The Seven Samurai, and Yojimbo, are major movies with massively significant influences on film, audiences, and scripts. Yojimbo may very well be the only movie to inspire not one, but two separate movie genres. (sorta)
This week's movie assignment… do you like Star Wars? I mean, really like it? Is it one of your favorite movies of all time? Would you like to see the original version? Rent The Hidden Fortress and watch the original Star Wars, courtesy of Akira Kurasawa. There's a princess, two scoundrels, and a general watching over the princess, and all are trying to sneak around while in enemy territory to get valuable help to others. Sound familiar? There are other major similarities, but I'll let you watch the movie in order to find them.