I am a brewer and I am a brewer. You read that right.
Whether it's a beautiful burgundy Imperial Russian Stout or the complex citrusy notes of an IPA (India Pale Ale) you will find me with my nose buried in a beer glass checking out the goods. Think Jim Koch on those Sam Adam's commercials. Oh I should mention this brewing obsession extends to Magic as well.
Any good brewer knows it's all about the ingredients. Do you slide in a couple Noxious Revivals and sprinkle in a few Temporal Masterys? Likewise do you use a six-row barley? Cascade hops? Yes cascade is a Magic mechanic AND a beer ingredient. What addition will make your brew a masterpiece? And which will turn your concoction into a through and through thorough flop?
A Magic brewer has a distinct advantage over his brewmeister compatriot; namely the ever expanding list of ingredients to explore. Sure every now and then you will see a brew boasting something exotic like cocoa nibs (no not nubz nibs) from Ecuador or coriander. But for the most part it's the same tried and true things. In fact in Germany an old Bavarian Purity Law called Reinheitsgebot dictated that beer should be constituted of only four components: barley yeast hops and of course H2O. Think of these like your Magic staples. Water is most like a reasonable land count. Barley is comparable to your killer creatures etc.
I have a secret… German beer is overrated. Sorry Kai Budde. Contrary to popular belief the best beer in the world in my not so humble opinion is from the tiny country of Belgium. Thank you Vincent Lemoine. These Flemish* folk have built cathedrals to beer. Their monks brew beer! Part of what makes Belgian beer so great is its variety and strength. An average American beer runs around 4% a.b.v.; most Belgian beers start at 7% and hit the 10% or 11% mark quite often. And they are delicious!
On the other hand a few hundred years ago German beer was ruined with the discovery of Lager type beers (think Budweiser**). Suddenly German beers became monolithic in nature. Everyone was on the new golden beer bandwagon with slight variations. Kind of the same way everyone is on the Delver bandwagon with slight variations. This beer monomania has spread to America. The companies that manufacture the three most popular beers in America (Coors Bud and Miller) are not even American owned anymore. In fact the biggest American owned brewery is now Sam Adams and it only comprises roughly one percent of the market. Basically these are the established archetypes.
It's all good; some people drink the same beer and play the same Magic deck and listen to the same friggin' tune over and over again. I don't begrudge those folks one iota…except for the music part. Really the 100th time you listen to "Enter Sandman"is not as not as good as the first.
So Magic brewers possess this distinct advantage: a bevy of ingredients waiting to be tapped. I am not going to bore you with a discourse over to brew or not to brew. I think guys like Chapin and Jesse Smith have beaten that horse. Let's just say that I am thoroughly on the "to brew" side of that coin. I get that icky feeling when I play the Caw-Blades of the world. Kind of like how I get sick when drinking Milwaukee's Beast…I mean Best.
Recently a few cards tickled my fancy from AVR. At first I had a brief infatuation with Tibalt and Dangerous Wager. I came up with this concoction:
I compare it to the time I thought raisins would be a good addition to my Oatmeal Stout. You know like Oatmeal Raisin Cookies. Yeah that turned out about as good as you would think. I know this type of deck is something that Brad Nelson was toying with and I agree with his assessment: the mana stinks.
I tried to cut blue so that I could have a red black and white base thinking that I could rely on Tibalt and Faithless Looting in lieu of Desperate Ravings / Forbidden Alchemy. Additionally I thought I would give Dangerous Wager a whirl. It didn't work partly because it is impossible to use that card effectively in this deck. With so many hands I wished Wager was a Desperate Ravings instead. I haven't given up on Dangerous Wager yet because I think the effect is potent and somewhat unique. When you are playing hellbent and you topdeck this thing it's like an instant speed Divination with a one mana discount. I'm guessing in a R/U shell with a severely low mana curve where emptying your hand is easy Dangerous Wager could be a real winner.
The deck above however is not the right home for it; sure the Wager can dump your Titan and Rites into the yard but it also dumps your third and fourth mana needed to cast said spells. "But" you argue "why not just wait for the most opportune time to roll the craps dice?" Well a tricolored monstrosity like this really doesn't have the luxury to always be holding its draw spells. The deck already lacks consistency as is. To add the severe restrictions placed by Wager on your ability to sculpt hands makes this an unworkable mess.
I love Desperate Ravings but the randomness is maddening (the card is aptly named). So many times you use it to dig for an answer and you are even holding three extra lands in your grip to pad your chance of not pitching the card you need only to draw and discard that Whipflare on a board full of Snappy McSnappertons Geist of Saint T. and The Fly (I know you have seen this movie).
My conclusion on this brew is that it is no Delirium Tremens (try this beer avoid the condition). Instead I give this brew the rating of a Bud Light Gold Wheat; the first taste has so much promise on the tongue and then it just kind of dies (repeatedly).
Return to Ravnica might save this deck if color fixing is plentiful. Would it kill them to reprint the non-Zendikar fetchlands? I am looking at you Bloodstained Mire. Anyway after about ten miserable facebeatings at the hands of the jank in the Magic Online tourney practice room I decided to shelf this deck.
The great thing about brewing a deck over brewing beer is while the failure of either is a disappointment the ingredients of a five-gallon batch of beer run 50 plus dollars. You might argue that is nothing compared to the price of a competitive Magic deck (and in case you are curious five gallons is about 48 bottles of beer; brewing is high EV). But let's remember that Magic cards can be reused in other brews. And the only thing reusable in brewing is the spelt.***
What that's it? You're going to leave us with a crappy deck that didn't pan out and some overwrought stories about beer?
No. Here is where I fermented a delightfully yummy brew to share with you:
- 2 Acidic Slime
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Blade Splicer
- 1 Fiend Hunter
- 1 Geist-Honored Monk
- 2 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Phantasmal Image
- 1 Primeval Titan
- 4 Restoration Angel
- 3 Strangleroot Geist
- 1 Sun Titan
Yes it's a Pod Deck. Yes it's Bant. Most good brews start with tried and true base ingredients and then riff on them.
First of all the <s>meat</s> hops and <s>potatoes</s> barley of this deck are the four Restoration Angels and the four Blade Splicers; I can tell you from experience that the synergy between these two new besties is as good as expected.
Here's a little taste: I was facing down a Viridian Emissary with my Blade Splicer and her Golem gal pal (why can't it be a lady Golem?). I attacked with both into the Viridian and of course the player elected to trade the Elf with the 1/1 Human. In response to blocks I Blinked my Splicer with Mullet Dress Angel saved Splicey from death gained a token stopped the rampant growth on legs and oh forced three damage in. Yeah he didn't win that game. And that is a tiny sample of how flexible Restoration Angel really is.
But we are really here to talk about public enemy number one: Delver. How does this deck match up against it? Quite well. Obviously the four copies of Restoration Angel allow you to play their own game. Basically by narrowing their decision tree and presenting them with the Faeries dilemma. The difference is that our Angels actually generate real value by spawning tokens or resetting Strangleroots.
I think the next direction for Delver will be to cut Geist of Saint Taft and go all out on the Blade Splicer / Restoration Angel plan. Geist is easy peasey to deal with in this deck; the four mainboard Phantasmal Images tend to make Saint T's head explode from contemplating singularities. Not to mention this deck has so many things to clog the battlefield with between Strangleroots Golem tokens and flashed in Angels.
Additionally Stonehorn Dignitary in the board makes Delver's life a living hell. The deck has almost no way to profitably interact with it. Vapor Snag? Sure thanks. Dismember? Probably not a good idea since they won't have much life to spare as our game plan is moderately aggressive. They may be able to Mana Leak it but we have three Cavern of Souls and a healthy amount of mana to pay the Leak tax. Between the four copy effects and many Blink effects the Dignitary will go all Jay-Z on them performing encore after encore.
The one issue I did run into when playing against Delver is Consecrated Sphinx in the sideboard. Sure we can copy it with Image but a Sphinx showdown will always end up in favor of the Delver player since they have so many cheap pieces of disruption to draw into. Oblivion Rings in the board can help though a sorcery speed answer to Sphinx is always painful. The deck could consider other options like sideboarding Beast Within.
Why the 2/2 split of Cloudshift and Ponder? Yes I am not sure about this; I have been toying with these slots. Sometimes Cloudshift is the bee's knees with so many juicy targets and Cloudshifting an Acidic Slime is hilarious; it's like an anti-Primeval Titan. It certainly punishes these greedy 22 land mana bases and can blank a Vapor Snag or Gut Shot. Other times you wish this Cloudshift was any freakin' creature.
Another notable ingredient Alchemist's Refuge. I am still assessing this card; sometimes it leads to great lines of play and sometimes it sits there stupidly making you wish it could tap for whatever piece of the Bant pie you crave the most. Mmm pie (a good beer with pie is Berliner Weisse; yes a German beer). One thing I didn't notice on the first go around is that I thought Refuge was just a Winding Canyon in that it was only good for one target but really it's more like a Vedalken Orrery on a stick since you can dump your whole hand at flash speed. Three mana is a steep cost for this effect but it can be potent against control type variants. This may be better served as a second Gavony Township which is a proven quantity.
Cavern of Souls is mostly self-explanatory; however I would caution to play them last unless it's used to hit a spot on your curve. Since this deck contains so many creature types it's sometimes best to save it until you need it. If your spidey sense tells you they are holding up a counterspell at any given point then slam that puppy down and name whatever goody you want force through.
I am trying to test other matchups online but sadly the metagame is full of Delver right now. I imagine that this deck does well against ramp style decks since Phantasmal Image and Acidic Slime match up well. This deck is preboarded against Delver and aggro type decks. But the sideboard offers a whole host of things for control: Venser the Sojourner Vorapede Thrun the Last Troll and Sigarda Host of Herons match up well. Here I expect Alchemist's Refuge and Restoration Angel to shine. You Think Twice? I Angel in response… No longer are they allowed to abuse your end of turn step fearlessly. Oblivion Ring will be good too against Planeswalker.dec; I would sub out a Blade Splicer and Fiend Hunter for them.
Land denial with Acidic Slime is something to contemplate. Unfortunately Sigarda Vorapede and Venser compete with this five-drop slot. So it's really a called shot. Making the mana curve a little top heavy might be worth the risk of a slow start. This deck has some inevitability with Gavony Township and the Sun Titan/Image engine. A thought might be given to adding an additional Township in the board to go up to 25 mana and side out a Llanowar Elves since they are sweeper fodder half the time.
Well that's all I have for you. By the way this deck is like Skullsplitter Ale (a spicy Scottish number; seriously try this beer).
I hope you enjoyed and learned something about beer if not Magic. Make sure you drink and play good brews.
Joshua Knipp (AT gmail DOT com)
WryShadow on Magic Online
*Not everyone in Belgium speaks Flemish but "Flemish folk" is good alliteration and alliteration is at least as important as accuracy.
**Budweiser is actually a Czech beer co-opted by Adolphous Busch of Anheuser Busch but it was influenced by Bavarian techniques of the time. Specifically "lagering" (pronounced log-err-ring) which is the process of controlling brew temperatures (at that time accomplished by storing beer in caves) for an extended brewing process. The end result is a "smoother" beer with higher clarity. And some may argue less character. You can tell I am partial to ales.
***Spent grains used during the brewing process.