Bad Deckbuilder’s Workshop: Revisiting

With Planeshift out, I’m revisiting the”Dark Ponza” land destruction build to see if it might be viable.

Before I go into my latest spiel, a side note: A few weeks ago, I was rallying support for a”Senior Tour,” sanctioned events for those of us over-30 types who just don’t seem to have the time to play as much as we’d like.

In recent weeks, however, we’ve had 30-plus-year-old Mike Pustilnik winning PT: LA and 50-year-old Tom Swan winning PT: Boston. FIFTY! Man, that’s old even by my standards. And even the venerable Ferrett qualifies for the Pro Tour! (On the bright side, this means that I now assume the mantle of”Most Lovable Scrub/Columnist” – or at least I get to fight Friggin’ Rizzo for it) (I was lovable? — The Ferrett, scratching his head)

As the saying goes,”old age and treachery will always overcome youth and skill.” Well, maybe not the treachery part, but it would appear that the old timers can still hang with the young’uns.

And I should go back to playing more and whining less.

On to matters at hand, as I reopen the dreaded Bad Deckbuilder’s Workshop with an old favorite of mine.

With cards like Blazing Specter, Void, Skizzik, Pyre Zombie, Urza’s Rage and Tsabo’s Decree – cards that have the potential to be insanely powerful – B/R decks looked to be among the top contenders for the Standard crown once Invasion entered the environment. But both at the State championship and PT: Chicago 2000, the first events to use Invasion in Standard, B/R was a disappointment. There were a few B/R decks that did well at States, but no B/R deck did well at Chicago – neither the controllish”Machine Head,” based on the Flores Black archetype, and the faster”Blitzkrieg” variants.

Why didn’t B/R decks have more success? Ostensibly, they’d be very good against straight Rebels and the mono-blue decks, especially after sideboarding, but one thing B/R decks have never been able to do is remove enchantments – not since Nevinyrral’s Disk went buh-bye from Standard. Hence, cards like Fires of Yavimaya, Circle of Protection: Red and Parallax Wave could dominate the massive amounts of burn and removal any B/R deck would bring to the table. Fires also packed Kavu Chameleon, a B/R killer, able to scoff at black removal and being tough enough to survive most burn spells.

I had my own version of B/R I was working that was based on the old mono-red Ponza land destruction deck that I had been testing for States, and while it saw some success, it was fairly ineffectual against the decks that would prove dominant; Fires and Counter-Rebel.

Now, with Planeshift out, I’m revisiting”Dark Ponza” to see if it might be viable.

Originally, the deck looked like this:

4x Stone Rain
4x Pillage
4x Despoil
2x Tectonic Break
4x Shock
4x Seal of Fire
3x Hammer of Bogardan
4x Trench Wurm
3x Flowstone Overseer
2x Cave-In
2x Fire Diamond
1x Charcoal Diamond
4x Sulfurous Springs
4x Urborg Volcano
1x Rath’s Edge
8x Mountain
2x Swamp

2x Void
3x Perish
3x Boil
4x Addle
2x Cursed Totem
1x Tectonic Break

This build proved rather suboptimal. Urza’s Rage, Pyre Zombie and Vendetta were eventually added, but I could never get the deck to work well enough to be truly competitive. However, with considerable tuning and the influx of Planeshift cards (and I must resist the urge to call it Planescape; why, I don’t know), I think Dark Ponza is ready for a comeback.

The land destruction component of the deck remains unchanged from the original design. Four Stone Rains, four Pillages, four Despoils, two Tectonic Breaks, two Dust Bowls. I tried fitting Implode in here, but it’s just too darn expensive. It would have been perfectly costed at 2RR or maybe even 1RRR; 4R is just too expensive.

The rest of the deck, however, has undergone considerable revamping.

Terminate: As good as Void is, the uber-kill Terminate is a better fit for the deck. No more do I have to fear the Kavu Chameleon who laughs at my Shocks and Vendettas. Lin Sivvi is not safe. Rith, the Awakener is not safe. No one will be spared! No one!

Well, except for Blastoderm. Terminate isn’t quite that good.

The beauty of Terminate is that it frees up burn spells that would normally be used to eliminate creatures in favor smacking an opponent upside the dome. Four Terminates are in this present build, and I’d put in five if I could get away with it.

Nightscape Familiar: Good for two reasons. One, he reduces the casting cost of all my red land kill and burn spells. And two, he blocks Blastoderms and lives to tell the tale. Regeneration good! Four of these currently inhabit the deck.

Flowstone Overseer: Originally included for his Masticore-like ability to kill enemy creatures. While he’s better in some ways than Masticore (in that he does not require feeding), he’s inferior in other ways (he does not regenerate). However, he’s been removed from the build in favor of…

Phyrexian Scuta: Just too darn good not to include. Unless my opponent has a Terminate, counter, or bounce, he’s going to dominate the table. Can’t quite fit four, but three do quite nicely.

Trench Wurm: The original replacement for Avalanche Riders, it just suffered from one problem – no haste, and kind of mana hungry too. He’s been removed from the build for now.

Razing Snidd: A doubtful addition to the deck but I thought I’d mention him anyway. He’s kind of unique; an overcosted gating creature. But you can use him like a Marsh Crocodile or Sawtooth Loon as a sort of Raze-with-buyback. Once you get ahead on lands, you cast it, then do the gating-then-ability on the stack trick and keep bouncing him as need be, as long as you’ve got 4BR handy. Interesting in theory – pretty lousy in fact, though, kind of like the XFL.

Pyre Zombie: You’d think the Pyre Zombie would be perfect for the deck. Curiously, though, he just doesn’t work as well. He’s expensive to recurse, cast and sacrifice, and there are time when you need something a little beefier. Essentially, the Hammer of Bogardan fills the slot that would go to the Pyre Zombie. The Nightscape Familiar fills the”hard to get rid of blocker” slot adequately, and the Hammer is basically the late-game kill card.

Burn: I’ve been vacillating over the composition of the burn component of the deck. Four Seals of Fire, that’s a given, being the only one-drop the deck has. Shock is not in the current build, and there simply wasn’t room for it and I wanted burn that could take out three-toughness creatures. The question is, what kind of mix will it be with Rhystic Lightning, Urza’s Rage and Hammer of Bogardan?

Rhystic Lightning can take out four-toughness creatures, but is highly situational, often ending up as a three-mana Shock. If it’s intended as removal, Terminate is better. If I want to use it to burn out an opponent, Rages and Hammers are better.

Urza’s Rage is good in that it’s uncounterable, an instant, and, in rare circumstances, I may even be able to pay the kicker. The Hammer has the advantage of being recursable, which makes up for its slower sorcery speed. At present, the deck runs two Rages, two Hammers and no Lightnings, although that is subject to adjustment.

Earthquake: Good global burn and board clearer as well as effective finisher. Dark Ponza otherwise has no main deck global removal spell, so I decided to put in two ‘Quakes.

Urborg Volcano: None. Why no Urborg Volcanoes? Too slow. The come-into-play-tapped ability slows the deck down too much. If this was a slower”Machine Head”-type deck, the slowness wouldn’t affect it. But this is closer to the”Blitzkrieg” deck, wanting to come out of the gates fast. The last thing you want is to draw that third land you need to cast Stone Rain -and have it be a come-into-play-tapped land. It’s better to stick to Sulfurous Springs and more basic swamps and mountains. A possible addition, though, would be the underrated Terminal Moraine.

Sideboard: The original sideboard was horribly random, and having a better feel for Standard, I have a better idea for what to defend against. For anti-Rebels, my choices are Massacre, Dread of Night, Marauding Knight and Tsabo’s Decree. Each has advantages and disadvantages. At present, I’m going with Tsabo’s Decree – which, while expensive, is more versatile and kills the Rebel chain dead – and Marauding Knight, who can pretty much only be stopped by a counter or Wrath. Boil for the blue mage, and Perish for Fires. One Obliterate added for seasoning, and two Voids – which I had to find room for somewhere – fill out the rest of the slots.

Dark Ponza 2.0
4x Stone Rain
4x Pillage
4x Despoil
2x Tectonic Break
4x Nightscape Familiar
3x Phyrexian Scuta
4x Terminate
4x Seal of Fire
2x Urza’s Rage
2x Earthquake
2x Hammer of Bogardan
3x Fire Diamond
4x Rishdan Port
2x Dust Bowl
4x Sulfurous Springs
6x Swamps
8x Mountains

2x Tsabo’s Decree
2x Marauding Knight
4x Perish
4x Boil
1x Obliterate
2x Void

So for the acid test: is this deck any good?

Sometimes yes, sometime no. Some games it will roll over an opponent, some games it will just roll over. The potential is there, but I haven’t quite stumbled up on the perfect build.

But that’s why we call it the Bad Deckbuilder’s Workshop.

Dave Meddish