I work a long work week. Twenty hours of it is spent traveling by subway, train, taxi, or bus. In North America, this wouldn't be socially admissible, but in Japan it's perfectly normal. The worst part about getting around in Japan when you live there isn't the fact that the streets don't have names, but the fact that any moment walking on the sidewalk could be your last. No one in Japan seems to have mastered the idea that bicycles are for riding in the road along with cars in urban traffic. Instead, they all ride on the sidewalk. So you've always got to be on your guard when pounding the streets.
That's one good thing about Wizards' picks for Japanese Grand Prix and Pro Tour locations. They're a bit out of the way, which means you probably won't get killed by psychopathic bicycle riders. Probably.
How do you kill twenty hours a week on a train? Answer: my iPod. It's black, it's the whole monty with sixty gigabytes (Which should be eighty gigabytes for the full monty — The Ferrett), it's got a video screen so I can play Brick on it (I wish it was Arkanoid instead, but beggars can't be choosers), and it's got podcasts. Lots of podcasts. I get news on stocks, politics, the great debates of religion, and all sorts of good stuff.
Unfortunately, my content seems to be trickling down to a trickle these days. Yes, it's the holidays, which means most people are slacking off in their content production. That's understandable. But my brain is getting hungry. So if you've got a recommendation, why not chime in on the forums? News discussion's my favorite, but I'm amenable to any suggestions.
Speaking of podcasts, one I always look forward to is Top 8 Magic, which features the charming discussions and rants of New York City's finest. With myriad guests and Magic celebrities (half of all of them that matter, if you listen to Flores' ego) and interesting digressions, it's probably the finest Magic podcast out there. Wizards' monthly specials are getting released far too infrequently for my taste. (Then again, the Great Designer Search is cutting in on R&D's time, so it's understandable.)
Two weeks ago, in the recorded casts heading into Grand Prix: New Jersey, Brian David-Marshall couldn't keep himself from showing his love for his newfound creation, Pickles. He didn't give a decklist in the podcasts, but with the key parts of the combo revealed, it was a giddy challenge trying to reconstruct his vision without actually looking. (Of course, a decklist appeared in Frank Karsten's article at Wizards' site last week. Gavin Verhey went over the decklist numerous times, tweaking it. You can see his list here.)
The day those podcasts were released, I went out and started building and testing. Many iterations later, this is what I came up with.
Here's the cost:
4 Brine Elemental (8 for 1)
4 Vesuvan Shapeshifter (1 for 1)
3 Willbender (3 for 1)
3 Court Hussar (1 for 1)
4 Remand (4 for 1)
2 Calciform Pools (4 for 1)
Total cost: 10 tickets
With so little used to build the key components, we've got a ton of gelt to spend on our sideboard.
Unlike last week, I'm not going to monkey with the mana base too seriously. If we're running a set of four Fathom Seers, it seems evident we're going to need lots of Islands to make sure we can flip it regularly. The white splash is quite light and lets us get the most use out of the awesome storage lands.
Testing the deck in paper was a real blast. The local players at Nagoya's Big Magic were rather impressed with the deck's ability to lock down the other guy by turn 5, though it didn't happen all that often. "Your combo, it feels Japanese,” one guy said. It's actually from New York, but who am I to argue?
Incidentally, in my experience, the only good cities for Japanese food in the US are Philadelphia and New York City. NYC's Yoshinoya counts, though it's the Japanese version of McDonald's and has a very stripped-down menu in comparison to the homegrown version. But it's not that good. And no, Pocky, Pretz, or Fran do not count as Japanese food either.
The premise of the deck is simple — preposterously simple. It's just a little complicated as far as the rules go. Lock down your opponent by having a Brine Elemental in play. When Brine Elemental turns face-up, each of your opponents skips their next untap phase.* Also, have a Vesuvan Shapeshifter in play: Pay 1U every turn, and you get to make sure your opponent never untaps again. It even works through Ivory Mask! Then, you have what should presumably be all day to kill off your opponent. However, with two 5/4s in play, you usually won't have to wait all day to get the job done.
If your opponent has too much on the board, use another Shapeshifter to Fathom Seer to get the resources necessary to get the job done. Court Hussars and Compulsive Research allow you to go through your deck to find the missing tool you need, and Remand and Gigadrowse help us get our combo through.
Here's an explanation for those of you who want an explanation in clear English. Yes, this deck's combo works. No, playing Momentary Blink on your face-down Brine Elemental doesn't let you use the unmorph trigger. The morph leaves play, and comes back into play unmorphed as a Brine Elemental. So what? The next turn you're all set for playing and unmorphing your Shapeshifter. Yes, unmorphing your Shapeshifter and picking Brine Elemental lets you put the copy's unmorph trigger on the stack. The same thing works for copying Coral Trickster and Willbender. Or Thelonite Hermit, for that matter. You'll want to play the deck a few times in solitaire mode to get used to how the mechanics work.
Vesuvan Shapeshifter's an incredibly versatile card. I know, it's a copy card, it would seem obvious to most people: Flip copying Brine Elemental, do your thing. Not there yet? Flip copying Fathom Seer, draw more cards. That seems straightforward enough...
But there's no end to the fun tricks I've pulled off with this card. Remember, you can copy your opponent's creatures. If you play him from your hand with an opponent's Angel of Despair in play, you get to Vindicate something. How can you say no to that? Having trouble with legends? Want to kill Akroma, Angel of Wrath? Just copy her. You can even churn out a draw by copying Court Hussar, though you have to be careful with how you pay for the Shapeshifter.
How to spice this deck up? Adding three Willbenders does the trick. Willbender is an excellent morph that turns your opponent's removal into card advantage. It also helps protect your other morphs. Even if you're tapped out, you can use the order in which you played your morphs to trick your opponent. Battle Royale decks often sport finishers like Blaze or Consume Spirit to deal the last few points. My unlucky opponent isn't going to be able to trust his finishers.
The sideboard's a nasty one: We've got two different legendary Wizards who make casting spells a pain in the rear end, and a small suite of countermagic. The Countermagic's a little expensive, but it's well worth it. Three Marks of Eviction help slow down aggro decks, and we've got one more Willbender in there to make my opponent's head hurt even more. Decks with counterspells are going to hate this deck.
The deck has issues with efficient thugs, like Scab-Clan Mauler and Kird Ape. Serra Avenger's even worse. Against cheap beater decks, it's saddening to play face-up Fathom Seers, but it's the right play more often than you'd think. Decks with a ton of counterspells will require you to test-spell them to death, but you should be able to do it. As is common with Battle Royale decks, efficient mass removal is the last thing in the world you'll ever want to see.
How do you sink more money into this deck? Easy. Just add Hallowed Fountains and Adarkar Wastes. You'll get a more consistent mana base and a lot less headaches. On the other hand, this mana base gets the job done without too many cards coming into play tapped. Other than that, go nuts. It's a fine choice for a Friday Night Magic deck.
I'm putting the odds of my opponent running a similarly themed deck at 3:1. I have no idea what a mirror match would end up looking like, though. I hope that isn't the case. Who is my mystery opponent? You got me. I hope they bring their A-game, though. I know I'm bringing mine. Be sure to tune into the match. Hopefully, it won't clash with Worlds live coverage. This weekend is going to be hot.
japaneli at hotmail
Who wanted to get a Homarid into this deck ever so badly, but just couldn't do it
* - If you can get this combo to work in multiplayer, you're fairly clever. If you can get this combo to work in multiplayer in more than one game, then your opponents are denser than lead.
[EDITOR’S NOTE: The Battle takes place on Friday, December 1st at 9 p.m. EST, in the Anything Goes Casual Room on Magic Online. That would be tonight. Be there!]