SCG Talent Search - Finding the Dampen Deck
Sometimes something happens to you in a draft that you couldn't see coming with a telescope radar or even a Magic 8-Ball. You come away from the table happy with your deck – you have a good curve a nice selection of removal a couple of bombs for the late game. You go back and forth over your last couple of cards. You sleeve up shuffle up and shake your opponent's hand.
Then you get hit by a truck.
Afterwards dazed you ask yourself if that really just happened. If that collection of twelfth picks that just stomped you into the ground really existed. Peer Through Depths? Psychic Puppetry?
Welcome to the wonderful world of the Dampen deck where men are men and opponents are confused. By the time I'm done you should understand a little more about the oddball archetypes and single-card strategies that break out every now and then and you'll be better prepared to start finding them on your own.
First of all let's take a look back at some of the archetypes (and one-off decks) that I'd place in this category and see what we can learn from them.
Let's take it back to the last time Magic visited the plane of Mirrodin a draft format that was home to all manner of unfairness. From Leonin Den-Guards wearing Vulshok Gauntlets to Bonesplitter-wielding Somber Hoverguards sailing gracefully overhead to Molder Slugs contentedly chowing down on entire decks. But would it be much of an outsider deck with those cards? Of course not. The Lashdraft deck in Mirrodin cared not for such petty trinkets. What was our plucky little underdog looking out for? Neurok Hoversail. Slagwurm Armor . And the little Zombie that could Nim Lasher.
But don't take my word for it. Just as Magic returns to Mirrodin so does Geordie Tait the original disseminator of Lashdraft technology on this very site return to StarGityGames.com. In Geordie's original words:
“I'd ask about stuff like 'Pewter Golem or Consume Spirit here?' and Samms would say something like 'Neither' and tell me in what I imagined to be the tones of a professor lecturing a prize student that I should be drafting more Nim Lashers and Disciples of the Vault.”
This is lesson number one of a Dampen deck or a Lashdraft deck – you violate every established pick order and ignore every piece of conventional wisdom about which cards are “good” and which are “bad.” You take what you think you know about the draft format ball it up and throw in the trash. You've heard the phrase “drafting a deck not just good cards?" Dampen decks are at one extreme of the “card quality – synergy” continuum. Cards that are all-stars in regular Draft decks can be miserable nothings in Dampen decks while cards that other people aren't even noticing in the pack become your windmill-slam eleventh picks.
Moving on to Champions of Kamigawa draft we hit the Big Kahuna the card (and deck) that really got me hooked on oddball draft strategies. Dampen Thought couldn't have been more innocuous if it whistled a cheerful song while lying in a hammock. For a good couple of months after the Champions Prerelease Dampen Thought could generally be found chilling out in the back of the pack making laps around the table before some value-conscious drafter picked it up over the trash commons. All that changed after a flippant comment on IRC got a few London drafters thinking about how hard it really was to kill someone with a Dampen Thought. How many times would you need to cast it? Six or seven times looked like the magic number. Was that actually that difficult? After all there are a lot of great cards in Kamigawa for a deck that literally just needed to buy time and didn't care about any “normal” defenses that might be put up.
The process that followed was more like working on a Constructed deck than a Draft strategy – when you're working out what an archetype looks like that's full of cards that you'd be shocked not to table you can build the deck first and then try to draft it. In this case a hypothetical Dampen deck would want several things:
2) A lot of cheap arcane spells to splice onto ideally spells that support our goal of buying time while we dig for and then repeatedly splice Dampen Thought. This means two types of card – spells that draw cards or filter through them and cards that prevent damage or disrupt the opponent's board. Some prime examples? Reach Through Mists Peer Through Depths Ethereal Haze Candle's Glow Consuming Vortex and Psychic Puppetry.
There was also something very important that said Dampen deck would not need:
3) Creatures other than cheap ones that can block well. I was ecstatic with my first ever Dampen deck and the creatures that it contained were as follows:
So… we tried it. And not only did it work out great but it was also kind of addictive. To the extent that I know for a fact that Sam Gomersall tried forcing the deck (an interesting plan given that if you don't see a Dampen you end up with a deck with literally zero way to win the game) and that Quentin Martin once drafted it at a Serious Event… in a Rochester Draft.
Now if you look at Lashdraft and Dampen you should notice that they aren't quite the same type of “odd” even though they're both niche draft strategies. There are actually three broad types of oddball draft decks:
1) Niche or unnoticed strategies that are essentially synergy-driven and not reliant on a single specific card or combination of specific cards. These strategies will take advantage of some underutilized mechanic or cluster of synergistic individually unappealing cards. Often they'll also exploit a blind spot in the format (going aggro in a slow format finding a way to be controlling in a fast format.) Lashdraft falls into this category as would Raid Bombardment in Rise of the Eldrazi draft the Sliver strategy that Jacob Van Lunen and Chris Lachmann employed to take down Pro Tour San Diego and the Champions of Kamigawa Zubera archetype (although the raw power of Devouring Rage and Greed arguably push that deck to somewhere between this category and the next.) And for something less well-known one of the Lorwyn archetypes I had the most fun drafting was a super-aggressive R/b or R/u deck that wanted nothing more than to play as many copies of Boggart Sprite-Chaser and Blades of Velis Vel as it could get its hands on trying to out-aggro a format that could already be pretty fast.
2) Strategies based around an undervalued or particularly powerful single card or single interaction. Dampen Thought is the classic example as picking up a single uncommon early in the draft sent you off into an otherwise nonsensical creatureless combo archetype. Every card in the deck is there to support find or otherwise positively interact with that card with the exception of a few possible bombs or particularly powerful defensive cards. (Dampen would windmill slam a Ghostly Prison for example.) Lightning Rift as another example was a card that could reward this kind of total dedication and an early-picked Rift would often be followed by even off-color cycling cards being picked far higher than would normally make sense. The Junktroller / Tunnel Vision combo in triple Ravnica draft was another (supported ably by the transmute ability) or perhaps Echo Mage / Reality Spasm in Rise of the Eldrazi. While this kind of deck is relatively rare one of the reasons for writing this article now is that I believe that Scars of Mirrodin contains a card of exactly this kind.
3) The real freaks. These are the decks that only come together once in a blue moon because they require particular gymnastics from the packs in the draft. Nevertheless shouldn't you be ready? Mark Zajdner's Searing Meditation deck from Grand Prix Richmond in 2006 is a perfect example of what can happen if the packs go crazy and you're paying enough attention. Or how about Frank Karsten at Grand Prix Malmo in the same year probably the player in the room most likely to mulligan for Thrumming Stone ?
Now I mentioned earlier that I think Scars of Mirrodin contains a card that has the potential for the kind of archetype spawning that I mentioned earlier and it's a card that's been getting relatively little attention. Anyone who remembers triple Onslaught Lightning Rift draft decks may well have felt the hairs on the back of their neck stand up when they saw Furnace Celebration which leads to two important questions when it comes to this kind of thing:
1) Does the support exist within the set to make this card the focus of a deck and if so what does that deck look like?
2) If everything goes well is the resulting deck any good? It's all very well being cool and unusual but cool unusual and losing is no place for a self-respecting magician.
To answer question 1 head over to Gatherer and search for Scars of Mirrodin cards that allow you to sacrifice permanents. Of the 32 results I'm happy to discount around a dozen straight off the bat as they're either rares mythics or don't really do something appropriate. That still leaves plenty of cards (and importantly sixteen commons) with which to potentially celebrate some furnaces. If anything Scars provides an embarrassment of riches when it comes to satisfying Furnace Celebration's trigger condition. A more careful look through the cards on display lets us start to think about what our hypothetical deck might look like.
The red core of the deck is very redundant when it comes to specifically enabling the sacrifice of artifacts. Kuldotha Rebirth Ferrovore and Oxidda Daredevil will let you do so cheaply or for free. Vulshok Replica fits in perfectly with a Celebration deck trying to burn the opponent out with minimal combat and Panic Spellbomb can help get a Ferrovore or Replica through for some supplementary damage even as it triggers the Celebration.
Blue black and white all have things to offer a Celebration deck. If we can probably through the use of Myr we'd like to make use of cards from more than one of these colors.
Blue provides more tools for getting a pumped Ferrovore through in the form of Flight Spellbomb and Neurok Invisimancer although Invisimancer's 1UU cost and Furnace Celebration's 1RR could make a third color tricky in a deck comfortably able to use both. A U/R deck might be better off as a more conventional deck that might run Celebration if it can get enough value from Ferrovores and Spellbombs but doesn't seem best placed to really abuse it.
Black offers a great Replica the wonderful little Fume Spitter and a creature-sacrificing corollary to Oxidda Daredevil in the form of Dross Hopper. And although Nihil Spellbomb is probably the worst in Draft in general cycling cheaply is the most important thing to us.
While the white cards that we're interested in are probably weaker in normal situations they have the potential to be truly abusive in the context of a Celebration deck. Origin Spellbomb not only provides a trigger and a card but an artifact creature body ready to sacrifice to Oxidda Daredevil or Ferrovore. Salvage Scout will not only trigger Celebration himself and cheaply but he can then return said Origin Spellbomb for even more shenanigans.
All in all my first impression is to look at a Celebration deck as some combination of a red base and varying quantities of black and white. The exact mix will obviously depend on the cards available – cards like Myrsmith multiple Salvage Scouts or Razor Hippogriff might push you more towards white while Skinrender or Grasp of Darkness might push you further into black. Regardless I'd prefer to have access to three colors of Spellbombs (and in black a Spellbomb that will be a low pick for everyone else) to properly fuel the Celebration.
Of course you need cards in your deck other than those that explicitly combo with Celebration. Beyond obvious hits like Perilous Myr Barrage Ogre and Galvanic Blast there's a question of what the actual game plan is – are we an aggressive burn deck or are we a control deck with a combo finish? Do we want Necrogen Censer? Do we want Bleak Coven Vampires or Blade-Tribe Berserkers to take advantage of our mess of Myr and Spellbombs? Do we want Exsanguinate or Wall of Tanglecord? Might this actually be the deck that can give Vigil for the Lost a home? (I'm going with “no” on that last one for now but I look forward to being proved wrong!)
My instinct is that most of the time the deck will play to its strengths best in attrition fights grinding out card advantage with Celebration and getting additional value wherever it can. Bleak Coven Vampires for example can trade with virtually anything on the ground while getting a freebie Soul Feast thrown in. The card may well come around later than you might expect simply because other black decks are so likely to be infect-focused. Blade-Tribe Berserkers is less appealing as your early turns are unlikely to involve applying much pressure – even if your opponent doesn't have a blocker there will be plenty of times where you can't really afford to actually attack with the Berserkers when you play them. One way of thinking about it is that Berserkers gets +3/+3 and haste for the turn while the Vampires get haste vigilance lifelink and are unblockable for the turn. If you do want to try out a more aggressive burn-oriented approach then I'd recommend looking out for cards like Necrogen Censer Vulshok Replica Necrogen Scudder Trigon of Rage and Kuldotha Rebirth.
Now of course comes the hard part: working out whether this particular niche draft strategy is actually worth pursuing. I'm going to be looking out for opportunities to try to put all this theory into practice and there will certainly be a lot more people doing a lot more drafts once Scars of Mirrodin hits MTGO. If you're one of those keen people who like homework then keep your eyes open for an early Celebration when you draft Scars and do some research of your own.
Even better take a second look at the set and see if you can spot an overlooked gem or even a rare that could take you off down an unexpected road. How many Perilous Myr could you get hold of to go with a first-pick Myr Reservoir? Can Screeching Silcaw actually get there and if so how? Panic Spellbombs? Neurok Invisimancers? Fulgent Distraction? What's the best common to gun for multiple copies of to go with a Prototype Portal? What's the filthiest thing you can do with Necrotic Ooze given the number of blue “looting” effects to get even expensive creatures into the graveyard?
I hope you've enjoyed this trip to the wild side of Booster Draft and I hope you've been inspired to start looking at new sets as I do adding the joy of an Easter egg hunt to the already satisfying exploration of a new format. Until next time (contest permitting) enjoy Scars of Mirrodin and let me know in the forums if you pull off anything awesome!