Battle Royale Round 2: Snakes On A Plane

Fresh from his victory over Chris Romeo, the indomitable Richard Feldman returns to the Battle Royale arena to face a fresh challenge with a fresh deck. His opponent this week? Ben “Ridiculous Hat” Goodman. The Rules? A Standard deck built with $25 or less. The Battle? A best-of-five showdown on MTGO. The Details? Read on to find out…

Whenever I mentioned to anyone that I would be up against Ben Goodman for Round 2 of StarCityGames.com Battle Royale budget challenge, everyone said the same thing.

"Dude – budget Ghost Dad!"

Now come on, here, folks. Give the guy a little more credit than that. Just because BG was the deck’s most vocal proponent after he Top 32’d a Pro Tour with it, doesn’t mean he’s incapable of playing anything else. It’s not like Kai only ever played Trix, you know?

(Ben – check’s in the mail for that comparison, right?)

Besides, I think my trying to metagame against Ben in the first place would kind of defeat the purpose of the challenge. To me, this series is really all about getting some fresh minds to work on the budget format. To the best of my (admittedly limited) knowledge, Chris Romeo and Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar are the only guys who routinely cater to players seeking low-priced competitive decks, and it is always to the great benefit of any community to bring fresh perspectives to the table.

So it’s fine for StarCityGames.com budget mastermind, Chris Romeo, to build an anti-Feldman deck for the challenge; he’s contributed more than his fair share to the budget community as it is. But as the new kid on the block, I’d much rather lose my match against Ben but get an email from someone saying they took the deck I built to a tournament, than to beat him by metagaming (assuming that were even possible), but then to end up with a one-trick pony of a deck that no one else will want to use.

… Oh, right, I’m supposed to get to the part about the deck I built at some point, right?

Building The Deck

A week or so ago, fellow cardslinger JP Smee mentioned that he’d seen a couple of Snakes decks popping up in the Top 8 of a Standard Premier event or two on MTGO. He said they were "running the good Ravnica Snakes – Patagia Viper and Coiling Oracle – and also Coat of Arms." He said we should test against the deck for Nationals, but also said that it was way vulnerable to Pyroclasm, and so probably not a safe choice considering the popularity of MTGO’s Tron decks might spill over to the real-life metagame within a month.

So I didn’t think much more about the greenskins until I started brainstorming deck ideas with which to duel The Talented Mister Goodman. This brainstorming system essentially consisted of opening up the Marketplace trading window and noting that "Ooh! Ooh! Coat of Arms is retailing at 3 tix?" and deciding to give Snakes a shot from there.

I threw together a preliminary list that consisted of Scout and Elder from the Sakura Tribe, Oracle from the Coiling Tribe, and Seshiro and Sachi from Grandfather Snuchibuchi’s loins. Naturally, the masters of token-spamming, Sosuke’s Summons and Patagia Viper, were present as well.

An aside on Patagia Viper.

Did you know there’s a movie coming out called Snakes On A Plane?

Besides being in my Top Five Funniest Movie Names Of All Time list (and possibly #1 on that list), this is quite possibly the optimal nickname for Patagia Viper. I mean… look at it. There are these snake tokens, see, and they come on a 2/1 plane. It’s perfect.

Even better, Snakes On A Plane abbreviates conveniently to S.O.A.P., meaning that just as back in Kamigawa Block Limited, playing a Floating-Dream Zubera could be referred to as "dropping a floater," so too can playing a Patagia Viper be referred to as "dropping the S.O.A.P."

(My friends and I are all in college, by the way, which I view as a kind of transitory period between the third grade and adulthood.)

Moving on…

Somewhere along the line, I decided that splashing white for Glare of Subdual and Congregation at Dawn would be a good idea – and boy, was it!

Congregating for SOAP, SOAP, Seshiro generally leads one to "win the game," as the kids say. True story. Of course, playing a Glare of Subdual with Sosuke’s Summons in hand (or in the graveyard – not like it’s going to stay there for very long) isn’t any fairer.

Basically, what Coat of Arms, Glare of Subdual, and Congregation do for Snakes is exactly what Kamigawa Block couldn’t – provide reliable ways to make a smattering of 1/1s broken.

See, 1/1 fighters (not to be confused with 1/1 utility creatures like Llanowar Elves, Goblin Welder, and Weathered Wayfarer) have this problem in competitive Magic. The problem is that they… well, they suck at fighting.

When your strategy is to aggressively crank out one-power attackers and then "swarm for the win," you may discover that your strategy can be foiled by a tricky counter-strategy that some players employ, which I like to call "block with my 2/2."

If I have six Saprolings to your pair of Grizzly Bears, one attack will ding you for four life and a full third of my team. Next turn I will have four Saps left, and can thus only get in for two, at which point the board will have you down six life from your starting total, and with two 2/2s completely outclassing my pair of 1/1s.

A far better strategy, I feel, is to deploy your six Saprolings as before, then play Coat of Arms and attack for 36 into the two Grizzly Bears.

The real key to the "swarm" strategy lies not in cranking out tokens – which is not, by any means, inherently broken – but by playing cards that become really, really good when you have a lot of warm bodies on the table.

In this deck, those game-breakers are Seshiro (since most of your warm bodies happen to be Snakes), Coat of Arms, Glare of Subdual, and of course Congregation for Seshiro.

Sachi did not end up making the final cut when JP posed the interesting question, "Why are you playing Blue and not Remand?" He had a point. Remand is pretty in-freaking-credible, and including it would likely up the deck’s power level a few notches. JP also made the valid point that I already had plenty of mana production capabilities even without Sachi, so I after I cut her for Remand the decklist was… nearly finished.

There are two more additions to the maindeck that I have not yet mentioned, but I will explain them after I show you the final list.

Have a look.

If you’re still searching for Coiling Oracle, let me save you the trouble – he’s not there.

This guy was a knee-jerk inclusion as a four-of until I realized two things. First, with only four Islands in the deck, it is almost impossible for me to reliably cast him on turn 2. Second, I am only happy to see him when he flips a land. Know why?

‘Cause this deck really, really likes its acceleration. It likes to play Snakes, play more Snakes, and then play Coat of Arms or Glare or Seshiro or Congregation for juice. All of these game-breakers are highly mana-intensive, and all hold the requirement that there are Snakes in play when I play them. Sakura-Tribe Scout is nice in this deck because she accelerates out a potential turn 2 Summons, or a turn 2 Elder-plus-Chancery, and then sticks around to give all her buddies +1/+1 when Coat of Arms hits the table. (And let’s not forget that the Coat came down a turn or two early because of her acceleration, either.)

But Coiling Oracle only accelerates if you get lucky and flip a land, and, again, I’ll almost never get this acceleration on turn 2 (when I want it) because my mana base makes a turn 2 Oracle nearly impossible.

Whenever he doesn’t flip a land, and is thus merely a two-mana cantrip 1/1, I feel like I just paid a million dollars for a lollipop. Yeah, he’s a Snake, but I have plenty of those even without him. I mean, some players pay two mana and get a Watchwolf or a Dark Confidant, and I get… a vanilla 1/1 and a refund on card advantage? Rip. Off.

Anyway, since I’ve already showed you the final list, you can see what I chose as the Oracle’s replacement: the humble Orochi Sustainer.

Of course, in this case "humble" really means, "exactly what I want." I can easily play it turn 2, it accelerates, it’s a Snake, and it sticks around after it’s done accelerating. Even the mighty Elder doesn’t accelerate me and get pumped by Seshiro in the late game!

Finally we come to the singleton Meloku. At a pricey 4 tickets, this guy worked out to be the most expensive card in my deck – and he’s not even a Snake. So why did I include him?

The answer is twofold, and simple: (1) because I’m playing Congregation at Dawn, and (2) yes, he is that good.

I can win with Meloku on a completely empty table. My opponent goes "Wrath you," I go "Meloku," and within two turns he is dead if he does not have another. My opponent thinks he has me with his Keiga and Ryusei, but then I play Meloku, and several turns later, he is dead. My opponent and I are in a topdecking war when suddenly I peel Congregation or Meloku, and suddenly I am able to muster 10 power worth of aerial offense within a turn or two.

Let’s not forget that playing a Meloku of my own is the most surefire way to remove an opposing Meloku – well, short of Arashi, that is.

By the way, Meloku might just be the most misplayed creature in Standard. I see players misuse this card all the time, when they have absolutely, positively no business losing once they have cast him.

Wanna know the secret? The way to make Meloku win you the game all by himself?

Pick up your lands.

Just pick ’em all up – leave at most a couple back if you need to cast removal or countermagic – then just come in aggressively with your team, leaving home only enough chump blockers to live through the counterattack. Your opponent will be dead before you know it.

Yeah, okay, don’t do this if the opponent is representing mass removal. I’m not telling you to waltz right into a Pyroclasm or Wrath here… but against anyone who you know would have no reason to play mass removal, wussing out and creating Illusions conservatively will rob you of easy victories.

One of my recent opponents on MTGO played a Meloku against my Snakes deck, and I had no immediate answer. I had literally no outs as soon as he untapped with it in play, but rather than conceding, I decided to play the game out anyway in case he found a way to screw up his unlosable game state.

He tapped six for Keiga, leaving only one mana left with which to make Illusions, I ripped Faith’s Fetters for Meloku, and my pair of Patagia Vipers represented two turns worth of Keiga chumpage while the rest of my team swung past the dragon for lethal over the next three turns.

Had he picked up his lands (leaving, say, two behind with which to Mana Leak Seshiro or Coat of Arms, which would have been my only possible way to race at that point) and just attacked me with the horde of 1/1s, I would have been dead as a stump in two swings.

So that’s why I shelled out for a Meloku.

And if you’re still not convinced, just picture the potential cuteness of Meloku/Sakura-Tribe Scout or Meloku/Coat of Arms. That ought to do it.

Buying the Deck

As I mentioned earlier, the most powerful card in my deck (Meloku) was also the most expensive to acquire. Everyone seemed to be selling for exactly five tix, so I had to leave up a buy message for quite some time before I found a taker at four.

The only other card that I had to leave up a buy message for was the least powerful (on its own), yet most synergistic card in my deck: Coat of Arms. There were a good deal of people who were advertising this card at two and three tix, but all but one of the two tix dealers were sold out when I stopped by. Everyone else had raised the price to match the high-water mark of three tix, which I was not about to pay when I knew the card could be had for two instead. A seller who had the remaining copies on-hand responded to my two tix posting faster than the Meloku-at-four had taken to find a match, but it still took longer than I would have liked.

It was easy to pick up three copies of Glare of Subdual at two tix apiece, and likewise for Seshiro at one apiece. (I wasn’t all that optimistic that I could find Papa Snake at a 2-for-1 bot, and was not surprised when I did not.)

Remand, Sosuke’s Summons, and Patagia Viper were all easy four-for-one deals, except for one problem: no one had any Summons or Vipers in stock! There was no way I was going to accept a two-for-one deal on negligibly-played cards like those, and yet all the four-for-one bots that had any were packing at most one copy of either card.

When I finally found a bot that had them, I was impressed to find that it actually had both cards, four copies of each, and the Remands I was looking for as well. All at the affordable rate of four-for-one! I was so pleased with this discovery that I overpaid on the Congregations and the Viridian Shaman (which I could have easily gotten from a six-for-one bot instead, with some bonus cards no the side) just to reward the bot’s owner for making my life easier. The bot’s name, in case anyone is wondering, was simply "GOOD UNCOMMONS."

Tidings and Condemn were unsurprising two-for-ones apiece, bringing me right up to the 25-tix limit.

1 Meloku the Clouded Mirror = 4 tix
3 Coat of Arms = 6 tix
3 Glare of Subdual = 6 tix
2 Seshiro the Anointed = 2 tix
4 Remand = 1 tix
4 Sosuke’s Summons = 1 tix
4 Patagia Viper = 1 tix
2 Congregation at Dawn, 1 Viridian Shaman = 1 tix (though I’d expect you could find them in a six-for-one bot, or better)
3 Tidings, 3 Condemn = 3 tix

Total: 25 tix

I should mention that if you are especially worried about aggressive decks, you could pick up a Loxodon Hierarch instead of a Meloku to tutor for, which currently shares the Clouded Mirror’s market price.

Additionally, if you don’t feel like price-hunting as aggressively as I did, you could swap out the Tidings in the board for Compulsive Research and the Condemns for Terashi’s Verdicts. (That would allow for a convenient six-for-one purchase of 2 Congregation, 1 Viridian Shaman, and 3 Terashi’s Verdict, which would not increase the deck’s cost.) You could even replace the maindeck Remands with Mana Leaks (and the sideboard slots with whatever you can spare) if you’re especially low on tickets.

I’ll discuss strategies for playing the deck, as well as the reasoning behind my sideboard choices, in the post-mortem report. Can’t be giving away my boarding plans to ol’ B.G., now can I?

The battle will take place Monday 3rd July, 8.30 EST, and will take place, once again, in the Anything Goes corner of MTGO’s Casual Games room for your viewing pleasure.

Be there!

Richard Feldman
Team Check Minus
[email protected]