1800 or Bust!: Good Spells Done Good

A Rebels build with burn and Blastoderms. It worked… but not as well as Jim had hoped. Find out what he would have changed.

Well, a long and well deserved Christmas break comes to a pleasant end. I’ve spent quite a time playing Asheron’s Call, sorting out furniture and, of course, playing with Magical cards.

Last Saturday was the first opportunity to test Good Spells (you can read the previous article HERE) in a real tournament. Still suffering from how Andy’s move to London reducing our card pool, we couldn’t build all the decks that we wanted – and so Tarik and I were left with a choice of playing Rebels or Good Spells. Tarik hates playing Rebels and is a better player than I, so I convinced him to play Good Spells while I took a Rebel deck, hoping to give Good Spells its best chance on its first outing. Did I mention how much I dislike playing rebels?

Anyway, here’s the deck Tarik took with him:

Good Spells.dec

4x Birds of Paradise
3x Utopia Tree
2x Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero
4x Ramosian Sergeant
2x Defiant Vanguard
1x Thermal Glider
1x Rith, The Awakener
2x Ramosian Lieutenant
4x Blastoderm
3x Steadfast Guard

Other Spells(12):
4x Fact or Fiction
4x Wax/Wane
2x Urza’s Rage
2x Rhystic Lightning

3x Brushland
3x Elfhame Palace
1x Karplusian Forest
2x Shivan Oasis
3x Adarkar Wastes
6x Forest
1x Island
1x Plains
1x Mountain
1x Kjeldon Necropolis

3x Blinding Angel
3x Aura Mutation
3x Artifact Mutation
2x Hurricane
2x Kavu Chameleon
2x Armadillo Cloaks

Rith was added at the last moment because Tarik wanted to play with a big dragon. A Nightwind Glider was dropped to fit him in. The deck can certainly support casting Rith, but it was a decision that Tarik later came to regret…

The number of 2 cc searchers has gone up because I found that with only one, Lin Sivvi often got lost in the deck and she’s a very important card to get out. I added the Defiant Vanguards after a game against Fires, where I survived a turn three Blastoderm, turn four Blastoderm, turn five Burst by chump blocking and searching out more blockers with Lin Sivvi. If I had had a Defiant Vanguard in the deck I’d have had a much easier game and probably won, so they were brought in. I’d already added two to my Rebel deck, and I had also seen how effective they’d been at the PT.

Given the choices of cards to take out for these three cards I took out three Fresh Volunteers, as I felt these were the weakest card in the deck. This left me with one Volunteer left, so I took it out and upped the number of Guards. Although they are two white to cast I felt – and playtesting proved – that the deck could produce the two white often enough (and that "non-tapping to attack" creatures are really quite good).

There are two Rhystic Lightnings because I couldn’t get hold of four Urza’s Rages… They’re $20 each now!

The sideboard was put together to fill a few holes and to give us a few extra good spells against the good decks out there. Artifact Mutation gave the deck instant speed artifact removal, whilst Hurricane gave it a way to get rid of other players’ Birds of Paradise, flying Rebels, Dragons, and Angels. The Cloaks came in to beef up our creatures against Fires and decks with lots of burn spells in, whilst the Chameleons would help us against Nether-Go, and other control decks.

The sideboard and Rith were two aspects of the deck I wasn’t happy with. I didn’t feel that we’d put enough thought or tested the sideboard enough, while Rith seemed wrong in the deck – funny yes, but wrong somehow.

So, not having played the deck I’ll leave a description of the day’s play to my teammate Tarik Browne…

— start of report —

"Good Spells Day Out" by Tarik Browne, Team PhatBeats.

Round 1 – Iain Rawlings, Bouncy blue/black.

I am feeling slightly nervous – as I always do when I’ve never played a deck that I am about to play – but feel slightly better when Iain reveals that this is his first tourney. He is playing a blue/black deck of his own construction. It has a bit of bounce and discard to stall the game until he can play fat blue fliers.

The first game takes an age, as I take my time to establish control with Lin and friends. I win eventually after wearing him down by trading creatures which, thanks to Lin, I can recurse whilst he cannot.

We start the second game, and things are going well when I draw Rith with the mana to play him. I get far too excited and enter kid mode, attacking without consideration and generally playing badly (or "like Alan," as we say in the team). I managed to not even squeak out a win in extra turns in a game I should have won easily. A draw.

Matches: 0-0-1, Games: 1-1.

Round 2 – Nat James, Fish.

Nat is a regular attendee to the Bath tournaments and, considering that he has not been playing for that long, always gives me a good game. Today he is with a deck that is trying to be Control Fish. Nat decided to play the deck because he has never played Blue in a tourney before and wants to see what it is like. Fair enough. The first game Nat never got rolling, whereas Good Spells does a good impression of a Rebel deck that is splashing green for Wax/Wane.

Game two Nat gets a better draw, and manages to get quite a few Lords of Atlantis on the table. He can’t really attack with them due to a few rebels holding the ground, and by the time he gets some merfolk to back them up I have control. I win with a Rage after flying over repeatedly with a Glider.

Matches: 1-0-1. Games: 3-1.

Round 3 – David Inker

My memory fails me and I can’t remember what David was playing – sorry, folks. A win.

Matches: 2-0-1. Games: 5-1.

Round 4 – Martin M Hayden, Blue/white control.

Martin has already beaten Jim today so revenge is on the cards 🙂 I already know he is playing blue/white control with a splash of black. Martin qualified for Nationals last year on ranking, so he is obviously a good player who is very consistent.

Even the best players can’t fight the screw, however, as I managed to cut the land out of his deck and he draws only two all game. Mister Blastoderm likes this and makes short work of him. In game two, I keep a shaky hand and he keeps a better one. I get both of my sideboard Hurricanes, but it’s not enough, since after he runs out of Angels he plops Mageta onto the table.

Game three sees Martin in trouble with his land again, but this time it’s his white mana he’s missing. A turn three Blastoderm is joined the turn after by another one. I decide to risk playing both after Martin did not lay a white mana on his turn three, meaning I was going to get at least one attack with both before he could Wrath. I did.

Matches: 3-0-1, Games: 7-2.

Round 5 – Chris Hardy, Nether-Go.

Chris is a friend and sometime test partner, and these decks have met in testing before (although I was not piloting the deck at the time). It turns out the matchup comes down to Misdirections for my burn (well, so he says) and due to the fact that he has none he correctly guessed what the outcome would be. The deck’s ability to apply pressure through all stages of the game overwhelms him, as he doesn’t find the constant supply of counters he needs to cope.

The Necropolis, fueled by searchers, ensures that his Spirit is out of the way of the Blastoderms and it is over fairly quickly.

Matches: 4-0-1, Games: 9-2.

Round 6 Styfen Batten – Blue Skies

Styfen is one of the Welsh players that regularly crosses the border to play in Bath. The group includes PT vet Richard Edbury who some say is mad to play in Bath with his 2000+ Standard ranking when the place is full of kids on 1600. Good on him, I say; it gives the youngsters a good example.

I mulligan a one land hand game one and was Washed Out multiple times fairly early on as Styfen fliers do their job well. Game two I get an okay hand with a seacher, burn and some land. Styfen comes out strong with a Bouncer, but I manage to remove it eventually with the aforementioned burn. Wash Outs again slow me down but I manage to hang in there; Styfen is applying pressure with an Airship, and I am praying he plays another flier before I have to use the Hurricane in my hand. He does, and it is a Troublesome Spirit. I Hurricane for four with him tapped out, and luckily Stephen does not have any other threats in hand. I use the few turns where he is on the back foot to get him within Necropolis range. He does not have a counter spell for the Sergeant I have to recast after he bounced it, and it is sacrificed for the last two damage. We go on to game three.

Game three he just has a better sideboard than me, and I mistakenly assumed his deck ran on Waters – so I had three dead sideboard cards in my hand. This deck really needs a good sideboard, and hopefully we will have one next time. Another thing this matchup showed is that the deck needs a reset of some sort to fight decks that try to win on tempo. The deck’s first game loss. Styfen went on to win the tourney.

Matches: 4-1-1, Games: 10-4.

Round 7 – Dave Fry – Red/Black Void/Discard.

Good Spells decides that it is not in fact, anything but a red/green speed beatdown deck as I crush Dave in both games with quick Blastoderm beatdown. Not being able to draw land game two hurts Dave and helps me a bunch.

Matches: 5-1-1, Games: 12-4.

This puts me in fourth, which is pretty good in a forty-seven player tournament with a deck I have never played before. Good Spells, indeed.

— end of report —

I’ve spent some time going over the matches with Tarik and I watched a lot of his games (as I started with a bye and kept finishing before him). He had quite a few thoughts about the deck.

First of all, there isn’t enough burn. I added burn because I wanted the ability to get rid of a few annoying creatures; a Thornscape Apprentice here, a Waterfront Bouncer there. I didn’t put enough in to get rid of creatures that were in the way of the Blastoderms in the same way that Sligh’s burn gets rid of blockers for a Ball Lightning. The deck is much more controlling than aggressive.

His second point surprised me a lot. He didn’t want to see Fact or Fiction. For one thing, they are four mana. This is fine for a deck like Nether-Go or U/W control, which sits back and counters things; if nothing has been countered, you cast FoF instead. This deck wants its mana to search out rebels and put rebels back into the library. Fact or Fiction also seemed to show the same thing every time: Land, Birds or Trees, and a rebel. None of these are real threats that can confuse your opponent into making mistakes. The rebels can be searched out anyway, and the mana producers are probably redundant in the late game. The best that could be said of the FoF was that they helped dig into the deck past land/mana producer draws. Tarik reckoned that the deck spent so much of itself producing four colours of mana that there weren’t enough threats in it.

Another important point was the lack of Dust Bowl. With so much non-basic land in the deck, an opponent’s Dust Bowl becomes a very disruptive card indeed. Good Spells needs one or two Dust Bowls main deck to deal with them.

The final point was that in one or two games during the day Tarik didn’t see the second white mana as early as he’d have liked, meaning that Lin Sivvi didn’t hit the table as early as she might have.

So, the deck did well but can do better in several ways. First, the main deck can cut a colour to go to three (red, white, and green) leaving four slots for a new threat to be brought in – and at the same time, allowing us to increase the number of white mana producers.

Secondly the sideboard needs as much work as the main deck has had so far. What I’d really like is a twenty-card sideboard that I can choose cards from depending on the environment I think I’m going to face. (Who wouldn’t? – The Ferrett)

Suggestions for the four empty slots so far have included Hammer of Bogardan, more Rhystic Lightnings and Urza’s Rages, Parallax Wave, Wrath of God, Saproling Burst, and Chimeric Idol.

The Idols are a great card but lock up mana that would otherwise be used for searching out rebels. I know that you can search out a rebel and then use the Idol, and that several well-performing PT decks did just that… But there’s something about it that I just don’t like. The deck also has no Disenchant targets at the moment, forcing lots of decks to have dead cards against me.

Parallax Wave and Wrath of God have two white in their casting cost, and although more white sources will be added, I feel that it might push the deck into producing more white than I’m happy with. Of the pair of these, the Wrath is my least favourite, whilst Tarik and I can both see a place for the Wave as a tempo-controlling card, which would bring the deck into the mid- to late-game where Lin Sivvi can really wreak havoc.

Hammer of Bogardan is a really good card if you can start the recursion – but unfortunately, unless two or more of the Birds or Trees are on the table, I don’t think that the three red mana needed to do so will be easily available. Tarik agreed and said that he didn’t have three red mana available very often at all.

It seems that everyone is ready for Saproling Burst at the moment, so I don’t really want to rely on it as a big threat. Too many people have been saying, "If you can’t deal with Saproling Burst don’t bother playing" for my liking. I’ve just seen too many people with lots of main deck or sideboard cards that kick it in the head – plus, I really don’t want to turn my deck into a sub-optimal fires variant.

So that leaves more burn. A rebel deck with Blastoderms and burn in it sounds like a powerful thing to me, so that’s where I’m headed at the moment. I’m caught between using four Rages and four Shocks, or four Rages and four Rhysic Lightnings. Okay, the Lightnings can kill Blinding Angels, Kavu Chameleons, and lots of other creatures, but Shock can kill the early Elf or Bird that Fires relies on for a turn-three Blastoderm.

More burn or some Waves? Perhaps a mix of both? The exact mix of spells needs to be determined. I’m pretty sure that more burn is a good thing, but it’s the exact numbers I need to work out. For now I’ll stick to the ‘four of each is simple and consistent’ idea and just add four Shocks (and take the Lightnings out to go back to four Rages, even if I don’t have four yet).

After all of that, another version of Good Spells for you:

Creatures (26):
4x Birds of Paradise
3x Utopia Tree
4x Blastoderm

4x Ramosian Sergeant
2x Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero
2x Defiant Vanguard
2x Ramosian Lieutenant
3x Steadfast Guard
1x Nightwind Glider
1x Thermal Glider

Other Spells (12):
4x Urza’s Rage
4x Shock
4x Wax/Wane

Land (22):
4x Brushland
3x Elfhame Palace
2x Karplusian Forest
2x Shivan Oasis
3x Plains
1x Mountain
5x Forest
2x Dust Bowl

I’m slightly more uncomfortable with this build than the last one; not because of the main deck spells, but because of the mana. The previous version needed white and green most of the time and splashed for blue and red. In this version, red is needed much earlier as you expect to be able to deal with early mana producers. That in itself may be a case for going for Rhysic Lightnings instead of Shock, and going with only six burn spells whilst finding space for Parallax Wave. After all, we want to put really good spells in this deck, not just burn!

I’ve also had to drop the Kjeldon Necropolis – a card I saw used to great effect over the weekend. The deck just can’t survive on 22 land if three of those don’t produce coloured mana. One answer could be to drop a Utopia Tree. After all, the deck only needs three colours of mana now and so seven five-colour producers may be too many. You could then add a 23rd land instead.

One thing to consider: If the deck does go down a more even, three-colour path, then one of the new Planeshift cards has to be kept in mind:

Rith’s Grove
Rith’s Grove is a Lair in addition to its land type. When Rith’s Grove comes into play, sacrifice it unless you return a non-Lair land you control to its owner’s hand.
T: Add R, G or W to your mana pool.

I have no idea how the returning a land will affect the deck as yet, and these land won’t be Type II legal until March 1st, but I’m sure as hell going to proxy a few of them up and test them out because they give me all the colours I need. These will slow the mana down on the turn AFTER you lay the Lairs (because you tap a land for mana then return it, laying the Lair and can then tap the Lair for mana) and will mean that you won’t have the devastating four mana until turn four – turn three Blastoderms are out of the window (well, you can do it, but only if you put a Lair down on turn three). I do think that I’ll need to change the number of coming-into-play-tapped lands if I play the Groves, that’s for certain.

All in all, I think the build above needs a little more work. The Shock/Lightning slots are the most contested in my mind, and knowing how good Parallax Waves are doesn’t make the choice to not add any at all very easy. I will be taking the deck to the next tourney I attend in just over a week and I’ll let you know how it performs there.

On a final note, I’m waiting for ADSL to be installed at home and so don’t have net access at home. This means I can’t play Apprentice at the moment, but I am going to start once I have access back. I’ve got the hang of building decks, but the playing interface seems like it’s from a different world! Thanks again to all those who offered to let a total novice play against them – I’ll get in touch once I’m back on-line.

Cheers, Jim.
Team PhatBeats.