1800 or Bust!: Split Cards Make Things Harder

Jim’s Good Spells deck gets taken for a tournament ride this week, and he discusses the strategies behind the proper way to play split cards.

When split cards first appeared people thought they were a joke, or horrible, or had bad art, or were AMAZING. They seemed to partition the Magic community into two camps: Those who congratulated Wizards on a new idea, and those who saw split cards as a gimmick, another example of how Wizards R&D was running out of steam. Those of us who thought split cards were good were informed that they were, on the whole, nothing but two overcosted cards rolled into one, and with bad art at that!

Many of us disagreed with this evaluation, and now that so many Pros are playing Wax/Wane and Assault/Battery, maybe we’re right. The cards do have bad art, though.

So when should you use a split card? The obvious answer is when you need a card in your deck to do two things! Take a green/white deck for example. You might want to play Giant Growth to help your creatures survive a few Shocks or Earthquakes, whilst at the same time you probably need to be able to get rid of artifacts and enchantments and so, before Invasion, you’d add Disenchant too. Now, instead of adding eight cards, you can add just four, since Wax/Wane does (most of) both of these things. You’re also equally likely to draw a Wax/Wane as you were one Disenchant or one Giant Growth (but not, I hasten to add, as likely to draw one Disenchant or Giant Growth, if you see what I mean).

So, it looks like split cards are a great answer. No longer will you be left with a Disenchant in your hand against a U/W control deck with no artifacts or enchantments in. No longer will you draw a Giant Growth when you need the Disenchant to get rid of a Saproling Burst that is about to kick your head in.

When else might you use a split card? You might use one if you were using a card like Shock in a red/green deck and wanted a little more flexibility. Yes, Shock is an instant whereas Assault is a sorcery, but Shock can’t make a 3/3 Elephant token. Against a control player, if you can get a 3/3 threat on the table it’s probably more of a problem for them than two points of damage. Although you’re losing a little flexibility on the card you were using (by Swapping Shock for Assault), you’re gaining overall flexibility because you gain elephants. (That sounds just so odd! — The Ferrett)

Again, it looks like split cards are a bonus. So much of a bonus, in fact, that there are now eight in my pet deck Good Spells: Four Wax/Wanes and four Assault/Batteries, replacing Fact or Fiction. Assault/Battery was suggested to me Alan Hinds-Brofft after reading my last article on Good Spells; I think it’s a better card than the Shock or Rhystic Lightnings I proposed using. Cheers, Alan!

So why do split cards make things harder? I’ll try to illustrate with a tournament report, focussing on plays where split cards were important.

On Sunday last week I attended a tourney in Cricklade near Swindon, England. Tournaments used to run in Swindon on a regular basis, but stopped when their attendance dropped off a while back. With more interest in Magic in the area, they’ve started up again, and I must say that it’s a nice change to be travelling to a local tourney rather than travelling for hours on end into London. If you ever went to a Swindon tourney, pop along to one soon and support the guys there; they’re running it for us, not for themselves, after all.

Anyway, here’s the deck I took. I worked on it, especially the sideboard, with Steffen Runge, who’s been playtesting Good Spells and sent me a few emails about his experiences with it. Thanks, Steffen!

Good Spells (less blue)

Creatures (26):

4x Birds of Paradise
3x Utopia Trees
4x Blastoderm
2x Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero
4x Ramosian Sergeant
1x Ramosian Lieutenant
1x Defiant Falcon
1x Rebel Informer
2x Defiant Vanguard
3x Steadfast Guard
1x Thermal Glider

Other Spells (12):

4x Wax/Wane
4x Assault/Battery
2x Urza’s Rage
1x Ghitu Fire
1x Rhystic Lightning

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

Sideboard (15):
3x Blinding Angel
3x Armageddon
2x Artifact Mutation
1x Disenchant
2x Hurricane
2x Simoon
2x Kavu Chameleon

The only reason I didn’t play two Ghitu Fires was that I didn’t have any! (I was wondering that myself — The Ferrett) The mana has changed to accommodate the need for red mana earlier on than before, and the fact that I don’t need blue mana any more. I’ve upped the number of white mana producers a little (but still not enough, as it turns out) and added a Dust Bowl to help me out against other Dust Bowls. The main deck Rebel Informer was an idea I got after playing against Richard Edbury in Bath a month ago when he wrecked me with one (as it happens, he has taken his out).

The tournament began with 21 competitors. We were asked how we’d like the tourney to run, and the majority who heard voted for five rounds of Swiss, followed by a top 4 knockout.

Round 1: Mark Knight

I’ve not played Mark before, but as most of the people at the tourney had travelled to get there and I knew most of them were very good, I assumed he’d be quite good, too. As we started game one, I got going well with a second-turn Lin Sivvi. After a few turns it looked like he was playing Fires without Fires in it, so I knew that I needed to attack his mana. Assault/Battery became Assault. I couldn’t see how Battery would help me much against Blastoderms, Rith, or Bursts other than as a one-turn chump blocker. I drew a few Wax/Wanes and had more of a dilemma with those. I felt that I needed the Wanes to control Saproling Bursts, but when Lin was dealt three damage I also felt that I should keep her alive.

This is where the downside of split cards comes in. Four Wax/Wane are not, in fact, four Waxes and four Wanes. An obvious statement, but let’s look at it in a little more detail. I had added four Wax/Wanes to give me four enchantment removal cards and, as a side effect, gained four mini Giant Growths – BUT every time I use one of them as a Growth, I lose enchantment removal. Against a deck like Fires with Bursts in it, enchantment removal is VERY important.

In many ways it’s a dilemma that has been around for a while. Against Rebels with Crusade and Parallax Wave, you have to decide whether to keep your Disenchants for their Crusades or Waves. If you take out a Wave, they’ll cast a Crusade straight afterwards – it’s Murphy’s Law in action. This dilemma is one that is overcome by experience and nothing else.

I both games I gained control with Defiant Vanguards and Lin Sivvi and started an air attack with my Falcon and Glider. I won game one quite quickly, but in game two Mark cast Rith and I stopped attacking. After a few turns, I slapped myself on the head.

"I’ve made a mistake," I said.

"Untap, upkeep, draw <pause>, declare an attack. Attack with the Glider."

I’d forgotten that Rith was red – and so had Mark it turns out! The only reason he hadn’t attacked with Rith was that he thought I could kill it – not because I had a protection from red blocker! A few turns later I won 2-0. I’d chosen the Thermal Glider over the Nightwind Glider precisely because it seemed to help against more of the oft-played Dragons, and then I’d gone and forgotten all about it! I’m glad my subconscious reminded me.

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

Round 2: Stu Cresswell.
I haven’t played Stu before, but I know he’s a good player and didn’t quite know what to expect. We started off and he laid a Swamp. Hmm… B/U control, maybe? Black control, maybe? I put a searcher down, which Stu quickly killed with a Vendetta. Then on his turn he played a Mercenary.


How rogue can you go? Stu killed most of the rest of the things I put down while playing a few more Cateran Brawlers, Rathi Intimidators, and searching out some Rampart Crawlers. I killed a few things but, as it turned out, I didn’t kill the right thing. Although I’d played a few blockers by now, I was down to fifteen life and Stuart had a lot more attackers than me. In his turn he played an Agent of Shauku and I knew pretty quickly what was about to happen… And I was overrun. Even Instant speed removal wasn’t going to help me much.

Game two I kept a hand with green and red mana and some burn. It was a mistake. Since that game, I’ve always called a mulligan if I can’t get white mana from a land or a BOP or a Tree. If my opponent is playing burn spells I’ll try for a land, even going down to five cards if I have to. White mana is THAT important in this deck.

I burned a few of Stu’s creatures as he searched out more and more. I’d sideboarded Simoon and Kavu Chameleons against him – most of the one and two casting cost mercenaries only have one power, so I desperately wanted to draw one, but I didn’t and I was overrun again – finishing with four rebels in my hand.

His deck works great when people aren’t expecting it. I guess if it became popular it would be easy to wreck; we’ll have to wait and see.

Matches: 1-1, Games: 2-2.

Round 3: Alan Paull

I’ve seen Alan at a few Bath tourneys and I’m pretty sure he’s won at least one of them, so I know that he’s at least a reasonable player. We start playing, and I lay a whole lot of creatures as he starts to put Islands on the table. Pretty quickly he’s laying Plains and Coastal Towers too, so I stop casting creatures anticipating the Wrath of God. Every turn I lay land and attack. Eventually he casts Wrath, and the following turn a Blinding Angel.

Now in this matchup I expect to see a few Story Circles, maybe even Teferi’s Moat, and so Wane is very important. On the other hand, I have no creatures in my main deck that can kill the Angel without me casting Wax on them, so again I have to make a choice: In this case, I might be able to cope with a Story Circle on the table, but I won’t win while Alan has his Angel, so I kept them back, hoping to kill his creature.

Assault/Battery is another difficult choice. As stated earlier, playing a 3/3 elephant means Alan has to control it or die in seven turns. But again, I need to be able to get rid of the Angels or I die. With BoPs, a Glider, and a Falcon, I have to be careful with my blockers or I’ll be stuffed. Whenever I could, I used an Assault to try to kill and Angel (often after casting Wax on a BoP) and tried to keep them in my hand for this situation. I won game one pretty convincingly, but overextended myself in game two and lost to a well-placed Wrath. One problem I seem to have is that I see BoPs and Trees as Land. I had two land and three creatures producing mana, and didn’t notice that I wasn’t drawing land. Perhaps twenty-two land is too low after all.

Now, I’d sideboarded the Kavu, Hurricanes and Armageddons in and game three was won by Armageddon. With a BoP on the table and a couple of rebels and land in my hand, I was happy to wipe away Alan’s land and win, thanks to an Elephant token and a Blastoderm. There’s no point holding back an Assault for an Angel if your opponent isn’t going to get to five land now, is there?

Matches: 2-1, Games: 4-3.

Round 4: Kurt Bath.

As stated previously, Kurt and I always seem to be running into one another. He’s a good player with a high ranking and plays online a lot. This time around he was playing a blue/black/red control deck with Power Sinks, Decrees, Crosis and a few other nasties. Kurt’s deck does seem to need to get up to four or five mana before it really gets going, and game one I played a few rebel searchers and followed them up by Guards. In this matchup I need to be the beatdown player and kill him as fast as possible since, as the game goes on, Kurt’s spells become more powerful and I lose advantage. I won game one and quickly brought in my Armageddons and Kavu. I got off the blocks quickly again, with a BoP followed up by a few creatures to start the beatdown. I then got to four land with an Armageddon in hand. Kurt laid an Urborg Volcano, leaving him three untapped mana.

With a few creatures on the board, I felt that I would have the advantage after a ‘Geddon and laid a fifth land and cast ‘Geddon. The Fifth land meant that I could pay two mana (the most Kurt could manage) if he tried to Power Sink me. The ‘Geddon went off, and I continued the beatdown whilst both of us looked for land. I added another BoP and a Tree to my mana as well as another land, again giving me five mana. With Kurt on three, one tapped, I cast Geddon again to seal the win.

In this matchup The Assaults weren’t really needed, nor were the Wanes, so I used Wax to do a little extra damage (I was the beatdown player, after all) and a Battery to put a 3/3 creature down to try to pressure Kurt. It seemed to work.

Matches: 3-1, Games: 6-3.

So, going into the final found of the Swiss I was fourth. If I could get a win, I’d be in the knockout! Just before we started Tom Cleaver, one of the two organizers came over and asked if we wanted to change it back to 6 rounds of Swiss, as it was getting late and a lot of players wanted to leave soon. All of us agreed that that would be fine and I started my next match hoping to win to guarantee a positive record.

Round 5: Phil Card

I’ve played Phil before and lost a number of times to him, I also know that he has a higher ranking than me, so it’s time to be weary. (Technically he meant "wary," folks, but I kind of liked his version better — The Ferrett) I’d spotted earlier that he was playing a Tide/Ankh/Blue Skies variant, and I knew that things could be bad for me because I had no artifact removal in my main deck!

The game started well, with me playing a few mana creatures and getting Blastoderm on the table. I managed to sneak a rebel searcher onto the table and started bringing out some rebels to add to the pressure. Meanwhile, Phil cast a few fliers and a Troublesome Spirit to slow my assault. A Tide hit the table, but I’d kept a Wane back to keep it off the table for too long. In this matchup, I felt that I should keep the Assaults back to deal with fliers (and Spirits, if they block a 2/2), whilst the Wanes were more important to keep Tides off the table. Although the game went one way and then the other, I eventually put more monsters down than Phil could deal with.

In game two I brought in all of my artifact removal and my Hurricanes. I guessed that I’d need to get rid of the Ankhs somehow, and Hurricane seemed a good choice against all the creatures in Phil’s Deck!

Things started well with a BoP, and then Phil played a Cursed Totem. Luckily, I had an Artifact Mutation in hand and dealt swiftly with it before playing a Sergeant. Phil quickly played a Tangle Wire to shut me down.

In my upkeep, I reasoned that, as all my things were going to be tapped anyway, I might as well search out another permanent to tap the next turn, I did the same thing the next turn until I had enough permanents and the Tangle Wire faded away. Phil then put all my White creatures back in my hand with a Wash Out.

I don’t rate Wash out too highly against Rebels. I’ve had it played against me in lots of games, and my response is always to hard cast as much stuff as possible the turn after, often leaving me with a searcher in hand – very useful against U/B and U/W control. This time I responded by replaying Lin and letting Phil play his go. He played an Overburden.

I haven’t seen it played before (although I’ve been told it’s Pro tech), and was surprised. I also hadn’t seen any Wanes yet either so it looked like it was going to stay. With a BOP and Lin on the table I figured I’d be OK and searched out a Guard at the end of Phil’s go.

"You have to return a land."

"Erm… why? I didn’t put it into play. Lin did."

I had confused casting and putting into play. With a quick check with our resident level III judge, I was corrected and returned a land. Next turn I laid a land and played out a rebel, and again the next turn. The turn after I attacked with three 2/2 guys. Phil blocked one with his Drake Hatchling and I searched out a replacement. This continues for a few turns until Phil was dead.

I reckon Overburden isn’t that good – I’d welcome your opinions.

Matches: 4-1, Games: 8-3

So if we had played a top-four knockout, I’d be in. Never mind – one more round to go.

Round 6: Richard Edbury

Richard was playing a very similar deck to the one I’d lost to at the start of the month, so I knew most of the cards in his deck. This time around, though, I had burn – and decided that the Assaults needed to be used to kill Richard’s early searchers, whilst the Wax/Wane should probably be used as a Wax to enable me to kill creatures he blocked with.

Unfortunately, I didn’t see burn early enough, and suffered again with a lack of a second white mana as Richard Wrathed away a whole bunch of good spells. I followed up quickly by getting a BoP into play and casting my Rebel Informer. Again, Richard responded with a Wrath to kick that strategy in the teeth, followed by a Lin Sivvi, stopping me from casting my own.

Richard plays four Lins in his deck – something I’ve considered, but I can’t see how I’d get any offensive rebels into my deck – I’d probably have to take out some Blastoderms! I only managed to get him down to sixteen, as his Absorbs kept his life topped up. He eventually smacked me down with his 3/3 flier.

In the second game I brought in my Armageddons; with my BoPs and Trees I should have the advantage. I also managed to get some early searching going on before a Wrath destroyed everything. I responded quickly and managed to get Richard down to one life. All I needed now was to control his creatures and see some burn. The creature control came my way thanks to Rebel Informer, who started putting Richard’s rebels back on the bottom of his deck. At nine mana I felt like I was beginning to gain control, as three of Richards creatures would soon be gone every turn. After getting rid of his Lin, he kindly cast Wrath and removed my control. We both started building up our rebel defences again, but both of my Lins were now in the graveyard (a playing mistake on my part) and I had only a few rebels left in my deck.

Richard then played a Mageta, a perfect answer to the rest of my deck. The next turn I drew an Urza’s Rage and in my haste made my final mistake – I cast it at Richard and he Absorbed it. Okay, the Rage isn’t countered, but Richard still gains the three life and stayed at one. I should have raged Mageta. Oh well, you live and learn. Richard kept control most of the rest of the match and took his time beating me down for the win while I hoped for another burn spell – it didn’t show.

Matches: 4-2, Games: 8-5.

I came fourth. That’s the second fourth this deck has had in two tourneys, so it can’t be too bad. I’m also very proud that I did this at Swindon as, even with only 21 players, the field has a lot more experienced players than at Bath, and it’ll only get harder as the tourneys gain popularity again.

So as you can see, the split cards make you think a lot harder than just having a Shock or a Disenchant in your deck might. They are not dead cards most of the time – and that’s just the problem. It’s too easy to find something to use them for when you should be holding them back.

All in all, I’ve started thinking of four Wax/Wane differently for different match ups when I’m building a deck. Against Fires, they’re really one Wax and three Wanes, as I’ll want to get rid of enchantments a lot but will probably use one Wax to keep Lin alive after a Rage or an Earthquake at some point. Against other rebel decks, Assault/Battery is almost always four Assaults, whilst against U/W control they’re two Assaults, two Batteries.

This does change the way I think about certain match ups. Previously I could look at my sideboard and bring in a number of cards against Fires, with the extra Disenchant I had five enchantment removal cards, whereas now I know that I only have four, really, as one will be a mini-Giant Growth at some point.

All in all, I think split cards are great. Sure, some of them are bad and they have bad artwork, but they raise the number of true utility cards in a deck and reduce the number of dead cards against some matchups in game one. I do think they make people think a little harder, but that’s no real drawback, as that’s what half of Magic is about anyway – thinking.

What I’d like to see is a few Split cards in Planeshift. I haven’t looked at any spoiler sheets yet because I’m off to a pre-release on Sunday and I want to be surprised. If there are any, I hope they are as good as Wax/Wane. I also hope they have some good art this time. (Little does he know — The Ferrett)

Cheers, Jim.
Team PhatBeats.