You would think, me being a chemist and all, that I would be able to think up a better name than just ‘Metal White.’ After all, surely
amongst all of the elements, at least one of the metals must be white in color, right?
Fortunately, in addition to being a chemist I also have a long resume as a Magic writer, and I know that even if I think up a name such as that, it
will immediately be lost and replaced with “Metal White.” After all it is a deck that borrows elements from an old but
not-forgotten idea of Patrick Chapin’s called ‘Machine Red,’ and with a color change, the name is inevitably just
‘Metal White.’ But considering the horrible malfeasances of deck-naming technology I have been guilty of in my youth—writing an
entire article with a straight face (which has thankfully been lost to the annals of time!) in which I named the deck I played “Hello Kitty!” and
swerving the Invasion Block Constructed Pro Tour to favor fast R/G decks under the name “Rocket Shoes”—sometimes it is best not to fight that
fight and focus on the deckbuilding instead.
Right around the printing of Mirrodin Besieged, I played around with an update to ‘Metal Red’ that eschewed some of Chapin’s more
combo-oriented additions such as Throne of Geth to instead focus on a resilient control-oriented build. Since things weren’t quite so far gone
yet in Standard, I actually found the Caw-Blade matchup to be acceptable, since I had focused my kill cards around things that took out creature cards
for free, and was winning many a game with Inferno Titan, Koth’s emblem, and even Cyclops Gladiator, an underrated card that seemed well-poised
to take down hawks one squadron at a time.
But the real core of the deck was simple: Everflowing Chalice, Contagion Clasp, and Tumble Magnet, plus something else worth doing in the meantime.
I’d looked forward to New Phyrexia early on in the spoiler season, as I felt Karn Liberated would be the perfect top-end addition to the deck to
replace the underwhelming Destructive Forces I had included for no particularly good reason than that it could leave me with a Titan and some artifacts
while it left the opponent with nothing. As we all know actually happened, Batterskull existed, and there was no chance the pet deck I was
working on would actually be viable, for there is nothing worse than trying to play control with a Red deck against something like Batterskull.
I abandoned the deck in favor of Elves, and my only regret could be that I did not jump on that peculiar bandwagon fast enough, as it was not until the
day of Regionals that I realized God’s Honest Green Creatures might actually serve excellently in the metagame, being a potent aggressive deck
able to play Tectonic Edge. Figuring out “36 green creatures, 4 Dismember, 20 lands” came too late to prevent me from playing Caw-Blade for the
first and last time in a world destined to be filled with mirror matches I had no clue how to play.
Though there was almost a happy ending last week as I cruised through blue deck after blue deck in search of a Top 8 in the last PTQ before Jace and
Stoneforge were finally taken away. Almost, because at the end of eight rounds, I had the requisite 6-1-1 record, but my “round one intentional
draw” gambit seemed to leave the tiebreakers somewhat lacking, and I finished in tenth place, wishing I had played more tightly in the one match I
played outside of the draw bracket instead of phoning it in and assuming I couldn’t possibly lose to White Weenie. (Answer: you can, and it
involves multiple Mirran Crusaders.)
While everyone else playing the Battle Royale had Block Constructed Pro Tours, Limited Grand Prix, or maybe just pre- and post-banning Standard decks
to work on, I had the luxury of spending a fair chunk of time early on in figuring out what the real constraints of the Battle Royale were. Things
looked rougher than they were at first, since it appeared the $50 budget included basic lands, which were going for a quarter each, and thus that $50
was only $45. When that was figured out in all of our favor, some simple math showed me it was reasonable to estimate that between the maindeck and
sideboard, you could spend approximately a dollar a slot, and so the key would be to find good cheap commons and uncommons… or even rares… beneath
that dollar mark, so you could overspend on a few key slots and get a good deck using reasonable budget constraints.
Of course, my first two looks were just to amuse me. Lauren Lee had said “no Stoneforge Mystics!” but the bannings nonetheless left an avenue for
playing Stoneforge Mystic in Standard, and even if you think you’d be priced out assembling the War of Attrition deck just purchasing the
singles, there seemed to be every appearance of a loophole based on the fact that you could still buy the Event Deck as a whole piece for $24.99. Would
the precon deck be good enough to hold up in the Battle Royale?
A certain part of me that is easily amused, and a little bit ornery about being told what I can and cannot do, remembered that more than a few FNMs
have been won by these event decks, so while inexpensive options, they were nonetheless relatively potent and competitive. I wanted to do it just to
get the cheers of support and perhaps an occasional laugh, but ultimately when shopping around for low-price options to figure out what did and did not
exist in this budget-restricted format, I stumbled upon a few things that stopped me cold.
One thing, at the very least, that is. The price of Pyromancer Ascension. Given that a build without fetchlands or planeswalkers would end up mostly
commons and a few uncommons alongside that namesake rare, a perfectly viable Ascension deck existed within the budget constraints, and I couldn’t
imagine a way I could play the mono-white Event Deck against an opponent so readily able to trounce it.
Further exploration suggested that a Splinter Twin version built on a budget with only three copies of Splinter Twin was possible, if not necessarily
great, and that you didn’t have to spend much at all to get a Titan-less version of Valakut up and running.
Each of these things stopped me cold in my tracks and caused me to look elsewhere, so of course I next turned to my beloved Elves, but the budget
version required me to cut not just the Vengevines that were going to obviously price themselves out of the deck, but also each copy of Fauna Shaman
and the Joraga Treespeakers as well, just to be able to afford the lower-priced lords in sufficient quantity to approach a playable deck. Joraga
Treespeaker actually cost more than any of the rares in the deck, but was a crucial part of the deck working at all in the first place, and despite it
probably being what was expected of me, it was easy to stop beating my head against that wall trying to make it work within a $50 price range.
It seemed reasonable to me that someone would play an Ascension deck, and likely true that Valakut would be considered as well; Splinter Twin seemed
like a hard thing to assemble within the price constraints, especially as the price started to creep up on cards in the deck. I felt reasonably
confident that I was looking at prices and doing my shopping earlier than my opponents, since I didn’t have any other formats to work on or major
tournaments to attend, and by the time of Grand Prix Kansas City and the banning of Jace and Stoneforge at midnight of that same evening, prices had
shifted slowly but surely upward to the point where I felt confident dismissing it on price point alone.
More likely, to me, would be facing off against aggressive decks coming at me from an angle I didn’t necessarily see coming; aggressive cards
were far more consistently in the price range I would be comfortable with for the Battle Royale budget, and you could even build a Mono-Red deck
without fetchlands, Koth, or Goblin Guide and still be very good.
Slowly but surely the memories of my time testing out Metal Red came back to me, though only awkwardly at first, because I tried building a controlling
deck around Cyclops Gladiator without the ‘Metal’ support structure and ended up just wasting my time on something that was going nowhere.
I remembered as well Kibler’s control poison deck, as it had a lot in common with its use of ‘Metal’ cards to win the game, but I
didn’t want to explore the poison route and suspected I would end up dissatisfied at the price of Inkmoth Nexus if I looked at that any further,
and just browsed the in-print rares looking for inspiration at an affordable price point.
Inspiration came with the realization that Day of Judgment was for sale at the store for only $2, and a whole playset of four would provide a whole lot
of oomph while eating a small chunk of the budget we were left to play with. Putting Day of Judgment in made me remember the ‘Metal Red’
deck and brought Tumble Magnet and Contagion Clasp to the deck. I was saddened by the fact that at $2.99 it appeared I would have to go it alone
without Everflowing Chalice and went in search of other ways to profitably use counters. I hit very early upon the extra consistency of proliferating
that would make the whole deck gel together, putting in Kabira Crossroads and Tezzeret’s Gambit at the same time, happy just to get to play
Divination in my control deck and using the Crossroads to offset the life cost of never being able to add blue mana. With a little bit extra
proliferate going on, I became all the sadder that I couldn’t afford Everflowing Chalices, but set to work to figure out the shell of a deck that
worked with what I had already before coming back to the question of Everflowing Chalice. After all, if I could afford them at the end, I would add as
many as I could, even if it was just one copy.
Searching Gatherer for the color white and the word ‘counter’ obviously hit upon the Allies, and I had something else to ramp up with
Contagion Clasp to make things worthwhile. Suddenly the idea of a board control deck was actually working, and some more card advantage came to mind
when I remembered Wall of Omens. Having not played the card in some time, despite how good it is, I was pleased to put it in the deck and remarked to
myself just how readily I could force an opposing creature deck to overcommit into a Day of Judgment between Walls and Magnets, and further searching
for more control cards hit upon Steel Hellkite and Ratchet Bomb to work upon the board-control theme. I wanted something in the last few slots to go
with the fact that I had a lot of mana and a fair bit of card-drawing but little beyond Steel Hellkites to spend that mana on, and White Sun’s
Zenith (or as I like to call it, “OMG! Cats!”) came up as a low-price inclusion that let me do something useful with my mana once I had started
to gain control.
I came up with the following decklist and was happy as I considered it:
Happy, that is, until someone invented the “counting” technology and came up with 62 cards where I thought I had 60, so something wasn’t
quite working out. I was spending a bit more than I liked on those Ratchet Bombs and was able to just cut two lands to go down to 60 when I realized I
had both Walls and Gambits to help draw more mana, but it wasn’t really gelling in my head quite yet.
I liked it, but wasn’t in love with it, since I looked like I was relying on Day of Judgment too much as part of my mana base as it
were: I could only expect to be able to cast Steel Hellkite after Day of Judgment and would have a very hard time getting to six mana to cast it
otherwise. At least I had more copies of Day of Judgment thanks to Ratchet Bomb, I guess you could say, but that same level of stress was going to
impact itself on my Contagion Clasps, where I would be spending all of my mana each turn to activate Clasp and hoping that was good enough. I missed
Everflowing Chalice, but I couldn’t afford them and have a sideboard, not at the price they wanted. I could trade out Ratchet Bombs
one-for-one, but wasn’t getting what I wanted out of that since I lost a key support card and could only get two copies of Everflowing Chalice.
I was saved on the morning of the Battle Royale, however, when Lauren asked for our decklists, and I resolved myself to do one last price check on
every card to see where the budget stood. Talus Paladin had gone up from $.59 to $.65, not really noteworthy, but Day of Judgment had gone from $1.99
to $2.49, Tezzeret’s Gambit from $.99 to $1.49, and the sideboarded Dismembers I had settled on jumped from $0.99 to $1.99. I wouldn’t have
to pay the price differences—the advantage of doing your shopping early—but neither could I benefit from a price drop that suddenly let me
afford more copies of Everflowing Chalice in my deck. Or so I thought, at least, until I checked the price of Everflowing Chalice as well, and saw that
it had dropped from $2.99 to just $1.99!
Suddenly I could cut the two Ratchet Bombs for four Everflowing Chalices, and not miss the lack of Ratchet Bomb now that every other
interaction in the deck would be made more profitable by the fact that I had Everflowing Chalices that could proliferate upwards and ease the price of
further proliferation. Suddenly thoughts of getting a screenshot of an absurdly large number of cats coming into play to purr my opponent into
submission flitted through my head, and I knew what I must do.
Of course, the best laid plans of mice and men go often askew, or worse yet if you return to the original translation “gang aft agley,” which
just sounds even more painful. It would seem instead of doing anything at all like what I expected to occur, three of us reached the same bizarre
decision of playing mono-white control decks, and the matches did not play out to my favor.
In the first, Ben cast Emrakul many a time, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster was tapped many a time with Tumble Magnet while the game stalled, going
nowhere. Unfortunately, at some point I misclicked and let Emrakul attack me once, and while it was not so big of a deal—I sacrificed six things
that didn’t matter, didn’t die, and still had well over 40 mana for the White Sun’s Zenith I expected would close out the
game—it was nonetheless one of those very embarrassing mistakes that put a game that should never have been in reach back within reach. And
unfortunately, with the game now within reach, after many a turn of tapping the scariest Eldrazi there is with Tumble Magnet, a plan became contrived
in which all three of my Tumble Magnets would be tapped at the end of a flurry of Emrakul turns, requiring the fifteen to cast him, the seven to search
for him with Eye of Ugin, and another four besides for a Day of Judgment each turn, of which he had to have three copies in order to pull it off.
Just looking at the names, I don’t think anyone really thought me to be favored here, but I wanted to at least represent myself well. My
standard for play in recent years has been to ignore everything that doesn’t matter, like who I’m playing or what needs to happen in the
tournament for me to do well, and focus instead only upon whether I played correctly or not. And a match which I might presume hopefully to win best of
three because of a decent strategic advantage to the interaction—a lot of money was spent on Emrakul to get it online, and my Tumble Magnets were
very cheap—instead sees me exit 0-2 because of a misclick that made the first game even possible to be won, and a second game that went off to a
rocky start and was lacking a second Tumble Magnet when Kor Sanctifiers showed up. And I could not be happy with how I played, not in the least.
The other two matches, unfortunately, I was never in. In the matchup against Gavin’s U/B control deck, I knew it would wind up with me being just
too light on threats, bound to be chewed up by what looked to be two very well-placed copies of Liliana Vess. Perhaps it is irony, then, that the
matchup I felt I was never in is the one where I actually won a game, subbing out the controlling cards that did nothing in favor of some more cheap
drops to at least try and not auto-lose to the planeswalker. One too many awkward hands buried me in the third game, and it became all too evident that
I was going to get beaten to death with Neurok Commando and had to keep back extra blockers instead of try and attack, knowing that three life plus his
bounce spells would be well worth the tapped blocker to him. This was not a storm I was meant to weather, however, and certainly not one I could
wriggle out from beneath with my copies of Day of Judgment in the sideboard, so with the beatdown initiative lost with him still in the teens there was
little enough to do to his shroud creatures but die to them.
Last I checked, dying was still not an effective plan.
The third matchup was against Jason’s other version of mono-white control. For people who seemed to have copied each others’ work
significantly, agreeing upon the conclusion that Day of Judgment and Wall of Omens was where we wanted to invest our capital, we nonetheless reached
very different results… and against Jason, who invested most of his disposable wealth on Sun Titans, I was to sorely regret the fact that I was not
able to fit Tectonic Edges into the deck due to their high price. I expected to have difficulty with a land from Zendikar, but not the one that came to
the table… I figured an Expedition Map–Oracle of Mul Daya Valakut deck would be worthwhile enough to show up, not an Emeria deck that I’d hoped
would be beatable thanks to its overreliance on creatures that ultimately can just be killed with Day of Judgment. Unfortunately for me, however, when
you don’t have a lot of money left except for awkward creatures, you can reach for some awkward creatures that provide good utility while
you’re at it, and I saw Leonin Relic-Warder, War Priest of Thune, and Kor Sanctifiers all out of him in game one, and those Relic-Warders and
Sanctifiers made it very difficult to get anything rolling and eventually grew out of control once Emeria turned on.
I thought I was going to have a shot in the first game, with a Steel Hellkite that looked as if it would be able to get through a few Pilgrim’s
Eyes in time to bring things to reasonable parity, but Journey to Nowhere ruined that hope past the point even where my second copy the next turn was
no longer going to do the trick. There was stalling but frankly no hope. I drew things out as long as I could with the idea being that at least my
draws might still be live if only I drew White Sun’s Zenith soon and followed it up with a second drawn copy, but it was only two or three turns
before even that unlikely hope disappeared, and it was off to the sideboard where things unfortunately did not improve considerably.
For the second game I didn’t even have a decent draw, and the best I could play for was some small moral victory. With Jason lambasting his play
over and over again through the matches, due to his remarkable inability to remember to equip Mortarpod except when he wanted to protect a Sun Titan
from Condemn, I took the only victory I saw at the time and after three or four more turns of him remembering after the fact that he forgot to equip
despite having the mana and laughing about it in the chat window, the best I could muster was to draw my line in the sand and not allow
Mortarpod’s equipping to resolve. There are always possible responses, after all, when concession is included in the list of acceptable options.
Why three out of four picked mono-white control, frankly I couldn’t say; it clearly doesn’t say anything about the metagame, either above
the fifty-dollar high-water mark or below it in the budget-deck decision tree. I picked something I thought would be fun and have some good tools to
handle a variety of decks, but unfortunately we did not bring a variety of decks to the table.
I think I should have been able to win my first match, certainly not preventing the ignominy of finishing in last place but at least representing
myself well, when the Battle Royale was announced as “ringer, ringer, ringer, who?” As it was, if I wasn’t going to win a match, I could at
least have attempted to represent ‘my constituency’ as it were and build 99-card highlander decks for the Battle Royale, and at least try
and get the laughs while getting my face kicked in by your choice of Emrakul, Sun Titan, or Sphinx of Jwar Isle.