Battle Royale Round 4: Murray Matters

StarCityGames.com - Battle Royale!

After thoroughly destroying Ben Goodman in the previous round, Talen turns his laser eyes toward fresh meat. His opponent this week? Josh Claytor.

NOTE: This match has been moved to Saturday July 29th, 7pm EST, in the Anything Goes room on MTGO. Be there!

I’m scared of playing aggro.

I hate that feeling of being shy cards in hand, or of dying at the hands of removal. I’ve found myself to be a dedicated midgame player, wanting to blow up the world with something like a Deed, or even better, a Rout, then follow up with a retarded threat that can close the game on its own quickly — yes, Desolation Angel in all her glory.

Contrary to popular wisdom, this is not a pure control strategy. A control strategy would favor a win condition that would be resolute, inexorable, hard to remove, and the like, like Meloku, Keiga, or Millstone, and the speed with which that creature puts the game away being secondary to how easy it is to protect. If Keiga was a 5/1 untargetable flier, I daresay he’d be a lot less played as a control finisher, because the ability to thump down and hold the ground against outmatched attackers is just as valuable as the four-turn clock he represents.

But I am getting ahead of myself.

Welcome one, welcome all, to the most recent instalment of Battle Royale. Originally started as a kick-start to Chris Romeo ego, it has itself grown to be a popular and well-loved feature here on StarCityGames.com. Craig Stevenson, given that he is a humourless and sadistic nerk, whose shiny pate doth glimmer with the dying light of countless stars, felt that the taunting, inaccessible barrier of premium membership was not a sufficient evil to inflict upon those most blessed, lily-white souls who had not been caught in that particular trap. Instead, he decided that suffering should be further engendered — that even his loyal slaves should be forced to fight one another to the death, for his sick, twisted amusement.

“Bread and circuses,” he chuckled, frog-like, in the deep hollows of his cavernous throat. “Let them have their bread and circuses.” [That’s pretty much correct. — Craig.]

You want to know why you haven’t seen Ben Goodman online, lately?

Oh, I think you know.

I was caught up on this merry-go-round of jigsaw-esque suffering, and through a stroke of luck — and his best friend’s elaborate coaching — I stood proud as the victor. For today. Now, it’s once more unto the breach. For those of you who were interested in the original deck, here’s my latest update of the decklist and sideboard, for Standard:

It’s funny that Mike Flores wound up being to blame for this deck. He wrote about that delicious curve of turn 2 Signet, turn 3 bounceland-into-Compulsive Research, which has proven to be a truly beautiful thing. In Murray and Moroii, hitting four mana on turn 3 – even if I don’t get the Signet, Bounceland, Research draw — meant I could still do things like Last Gasp a threat, then Remand another threat. As Feldman pointed out in his win — control mirrors are all about mana.

Also, I’d like to suggest that if you want to make Murray and Moroii into a block deck, if Mike Flores is indeed correct about the importance of Land Destruction, you might want to shoehorn in some Caustic Rains. Yes, I know, that sucks. But still. It might be necessary.

Murray and Moroii was a UB deck. That pulls me in two easy directions — one Blue, one Black. Unlike other (better?) writers in this challenge, I’m not going to try and play multicolor shenanigans nowadays. There’s just not enough good stuff to reward you for a strong monocolor strategy right now — the closest you can get (thanks to Coldsnap) is the Jump Knights, and even then, I’ll expect to see them in Hand in Hand even if they can only ever be pumped once, or maybe twice. Two drops that hit like four drops are some good, I hear.

Monocolor’s not out. So what can we do with the Blue? Because if we go to the Black, I… I just know what’s going to happen…

Roads Not Travelled
Let’s look at Blue, first and foremost. I don’t know if I’m in the mood for Azorius Signettry right now — Ben Bleiweiss is already doing a fine job of that (though I think Tidespout Tyrant Does Not Belong). So, the Blue Deck can rule out Mono-Blue as an option right there. Mono-black, same deal. Mono-black doesn’t have the tools, per se. I contemplated a lot of options on the way to where I am. For a start, I was considering Green-Blue, which could play a turn sequence like this in testing:

1. Island, Sleight of Hand
2. Forest, Sakura-Tribe Elder. Sac it at end of turn.
3. Tap the lands for mana, bounceland, Compulsive Research.

Looks familiar, doesn’t it? I’m pretty obsessed.

The thing is, then what? What was I going to do with this opening? Green-Blue can curve out in a saucy fashion already without tooling around like this, and this gave my opponent three turns before I’d even made a blocker. I could use an expensive fellow to follow up the play (this curve leaves you ready to make a five-drop on turn 4 from a grip of seven), but it’s also mana hungry, using weenies with mana abilities, or fatties who want tap-outs.

This curve could lead into Plaxcaster Frogling, say, with mana open to use him, except without any buddies — no other graft fellows on the table to “help.” So I did a bit more exploring — finding that Vinelasher Kudzu and Cytoplast Root-Kin were pretty solidly essential to the deck. So was Patagia Viper (Snakes on a Plane).

Honestly, I wasn’t happy with it. Too much of it relied on riding a lone dude to victory with a few +1/+1 counters grafted onto him, and I was never happy dropping a Vigean Hydropon in this world of Scab-Clan Maulers. Green-Blue has almost no removal — and Cytoshape’s a rare.

A junk rare, though.


More on this later

Or not.

Who knows?

Stopping Rizzoing now.

Anyway. I played a bit with UG. And then I realised that I wasn’t playing a control or aggro opening. There was no powerful control element, like Vedalken Shackles, readily available to me, a threat and answer in one. I could run Confiscate, or Dream Leash — that’s pretty cute — but I hate having my stuff stolen! Hate hate hate hate hate hate hate! I could try out Annex, but that’s so very 2005. Maybe I’ll give this a shot later. But I could tell that the UG shell I had wasn’t supposed to fuel a control deck, or a midgame deck. It wanted a combo deck.

This is not the story of how I made Eternal Dominion, or Endless Swarm, playable. Ideals are too expensive, Torment sucks, and nobody can do Undying Flames as well as Ben Bleiweiss.

Guess I’m not going into UG, then.

The Path That’s Been Taken Plenty of Bloody Times
Which left us with Black. Oh, good ole’ Black. Love you, Black. Blacky Black Blackerson. Wherefore shall the Black take us? Combining it with Green gives us Putrefy… and a lot of junk we’ve been trying to make good on since we got it last year. Combining it with Red… gives us just plain junk.

Seriously, it does.

Mono-Black’s out, Blue-Black’s been done, Black-Green has better things to spend six mana on than Murray, and Black-Red just makes me shudder right now. This put me into Black-White — a control strategy I’d been playing around with for some time in the casual room already. For a while before Dissension, I was playing what was being nicknamed “Syndicate Control” — Dimir House Guard running for silver bullets. Dave Meddish went and wrote about it when it was actually relevant, so by all means, go read his stuff.

Plus, my version would want Ink-Eyes, which I never wound up affording. Since my own list was a bit stuttery, and more of a multiplayer kingmaker than a serious deck on its own, I figured it was best to comb the pros’ latest offerings and see which decks have been doing Cute Things.

Funnily enough, I found a deck that not only got my attention, but really interested me — being played by none other than Mike Flores. And since I wasn’t playing block, I could actually pick up a really good card to add to his deck.

Batman Returns

3 Phyrexian Arena
3 Hour of Reckoning
3 Skeletal Vampire
3 Belfry Spirit
4 Mortify
4 Shrieking Grotesque
4 Blind Hunter
4 Orzhov Signet
4 Castigate
4 Faith’s Fetters

4 Orzhov Basilica
2 Orzhova, The Church of Deals
10 Swamp
8 Plains

If you pay more than 17 tickets for a copy of this deck, then you done got ripped off. Thanks to the power of mathematics, we are now able to deduce that that leaves us with 8 tickets to make a sideboard. But first, a bit of “under the hood” action for those playing along in our home game.

Tipping Points
Now, there are some more fine balancing points in this list. First and foremost is Last Gasp. You won’t see it in the list, because it’s masquerading as Castigate.

Last Gasp is a pretty good card, mainly because it deals with Genju, and other cheap threats end of turn, before they get a chance to get through. It deals with Scab-Clan Mauler, or Watchwolf, or even Drekavac, renovating in response to a Moldervine Cloak or some other scary shenanigans. But against combo, it doesn’t really do much. In those matchups, you’ll glare at the card in your hand and holler, why aren’t you a Castigate, damn you?!

The card won’t respond. It will merely sit there. Staring. Mocking you with its silent, Timothy S Baxa-illustrated face.

If you expect aggro, go with Last Gasps. If you expect combo, or control, go with Castigates. Castigate is decent against aggro, while Last Gasp is Good. But Castigate is fantastic against control and combo, where Last Gasp is rubbish. Your configuration of these two cards is one of the simplest choices to make for your own version.

Second is Faith’s Fetters. Another card that can afford to turn into Last Gasp, Fetters is in there to answer the permanents that bug you that you can’t get rid of some other way. Faith’s Fetters answers a handful of problems your conventional removal can’t terminally deal with — Firemane Angel, Golgari Grave-Troll, and so on — and has the added benefit of stopping some potentially objectionable equipment.

Is there that much equipment around that really bothers this deck? Well, no. In Standard, there’s Jitte. But there’s always Jitte. Probably always will be Jitte.

Here in Battle Royale land… I don’t know who I’m playing. I don’t know what they’re playing. This ignorance, this uncertainty, is going to work against me. I’m deliberately maintaining it — not asking too much of Craig, and not reading the work of some of the people he’s hinted at — out of some silly, perhaps outdatedly noble idea of fairness — I don’t have a huge history, or renowned personality, or even particularly well-studied style to work with.

Oh, by the way, I’m going to test. Since psamms said it was a bad idea, you can be sure that it deserves at least a few tries, just to tick him off.

This level of randomness means I’m not keen on biasing my deck towards or against a particular type of permanent. I geared the last deck to deal with aggro — to really smash aggro — operating on the flavor of the Dimir opposing the Boros Legion. I almost paid the price for it, too.

So what will Fetters answer that the other cards won’t? Loxodon Warhammers, being swung by Mortivores. Solitary Ink-Eyes, sneaking in on the back of Vitu-Ghazis. Vitu-Ghazis. Sunforger. All these decks inspire some ideas, which is a sure sign of a Bad Thing.

Fetters remains. And in the sideboard, of course, you’ll find the Last Gasps. Because I can never make up my mind.

So. The final decklist and sideboard.

The sideboard is because, in some matchups, you are going to have to be the beatdown. Against a pure aggro strategy, you already have the upper hand — your men are large or can block multiple threats, or they can negate a few points of burn a few times over, or, heaven help your opponent, you just get some kind of totally retarded draw that features Signet into Hunter into Belfry into Murray.

Against control, you have more threats in the sideboard. Razorjaw Oni is massive, and if your opponent’s not making many men, it’s not like your Black creatures are planning on blocking anyway. Seize the Soul is also good in some matchups — like Red-Green — where it can totally ruin a board position based on one combat.

Last Gasp is there to pants scary, cheap creatures that can ruin you.

Now, just the one final question.

Why The Hell Murray Again?
“Of course. You start every decklist with 4x Sleight of Hand, 4x Chord of Calling and 4x Murray. You start meals with that. Hell, you try and start your car with that. I swear, if you could marry Murray, you would.”
Flawed Paradigm

This is something someone — someone who is going to noise off in the forums like he always does – pointed out to me when he asked what I was going to do and all I could muster was “Well, something with Murray.” I get attached to cards. I like Murray. And I’d like to keep using the Murrays I have. I do, after all, already have them.

But that’s not the only reason I’m using Murray. I’m using Murray because I’ve already used Murray. One of my sub-goals with the Battle Royale is to lean as little as I can on my budget, trying to fly well under the radar. Consider the following decklist:

3 Wrath of God (24 tickets)
4 Peer through Depths
4 Reach through mists
4 Ethereal Haze
4 Consuming Vortex
4 Dampen Thought
4 Eerie Procession
4 Evermind
4 Candle’s Glow
4 Azorius Signet
4 Azorius Chancery
10 Island
10 Plains

Now, this whole deck is actually worth a hair’s breadth less than 25 tickets, if you trade well. Wrath at 8 tickets each (the 9th Edition one seems to go cheaper than the others), the uncommons sell in the 16-for-1 bots, and the commons, well, they’re free. This whole deck could even play a decent winning strategy — I’d be tempted to give it a shot (don’t be surprised if you see me piloting this pile in the casual room).

This deck has something else going for it, something subtle. If you, the viewer, want to play along with me, and have set aside the 25 tickets to make this deck, you will have three Wraths of God when we’re done. You have in this deck a library that’s effectively 56-or-so cards, you’re running a lot of mana (perhaps too much), and you’re able to control the board until you find yourself packing a Wrath to waste your opponent with. The Wrath is at your fingertips, so it’s very good in this deck and, it’s still Wrath of God. You can use it in other decks. Hell, it will hold its value, so if you play with it, find you don’t like it, and sell it, you can rack up the money you paid for it with relative ease.

Speaking as a collector of junk – It’s easy to pick up junk rares. You can see the 24 rares you could be getting for that one Wrath, and think but there’s so much more of them. But then, that Wrath will be used in multiple decks. This isn’t like paper Magic. I had to get eight Swords To Plowshares so my wife and I could play them at the same time. Same with Seedborn Muse, or Troll Ascetics. Eternal Witnesses? I have eight, just because I want her in that many decks.

But on MTGO… every time you build a White deck, you can look at it and decide whether or not you want that Wrath. That Wrath will continue to be useful for some time. In fact, you’ll find yourself able to put that Wrath in lots of other decks, making it the next step in getting yourself a better collection.

There are some people to whom the idea of owning Wraths is anathematic. These people — such as my wife, in fact —simply never want this card, because they never want to play the kind of deck it urges.

It’s rare for budget writers to focus on this kind of idea. JMS did it at length with the painlands from 9th Edition, and good on him. They’re not at a timid enough set of prices that you can often pick them up for as little as 4 tickets each, provided they don’t tap for one of the “hot” color combinations. Shivan Reefs and Caves of Koilos appear to be leading the pack, with Yavimaya Coast following up behind.

So that’s why Murray. Those of you who already have Murray can use him again, and those of you who don’t yet can spend the time to go grab them and enjoy them. He’s worth it.

Anyone think this is a good idea? To treat BR as a deck-building and collection-building exercise? Yay or nay? Sound off in the forum, if you’d be so kind.

The battle will take place on Saturday 29th July, at 7pm EST, in the Anything Goes room of Magic Online.

Come watch. It’ll be fun.