Battle Royale Round 5 – Building Rome In A Day

StarCityGames.com - Battle Royale!

The invincible Talen Lee takes on a fresh challenger… without a Skeletal Vampire in sight! How can this be? Is he ill? Read on to find out…

Talen Lee: Signets Rock.
Mournglash: That should be your next BR deck
Mournglash: 20 land, 40 signets.
Flawed Paradigm: It’s a bold metagame manoeuvre
Mournglash: It’s lacking something
Flawed Paradigm: Yeah. 4 Sleight of Hand, 4 Chord of calling, 20 Land, 32 Signets.
Mournglash: -4 Signet +4 Murray
Flawed Paradigm: Don’t be stupid. -4 land, +4 Murray.
Talen Lee: I hate you guys.

This is going to by the last Battle Royale article before Coldsnap becomes available online. Two weeks from when I write this, Coldsnap will hit, the Magic Online economy will heave, and everything will change. Certain card values are frozen in place, where people clutch at them, uncertain as to whether or not they’re going to go up or down.

This is a rare opportunity for me. I make a lot of budget decks – mainly because I just make a lot of decks, period. Coldsnap is going to change the card pool, making any decklists I have from before that point basically irrelevant. This means that I can finally let rip and talk about the Many Decks That Weren’t.

Generally, this is bad form. I don’t mean to do this kind of thing because every time a really good Battle Royale decklist is published, it feels like it removes it from the pool of potential entrants. There’s no hard rule that we don’t use the same deck twice, and there’s no hard rule that you avoid using a deck someone else has mentioned… but still, there is that feeling. I assume that my opposition are going to do that, and that’s what I’m doing.

(I found this week, that Our Lady of Assumption is the patron saint of Cajuns. That’s just kickass. Here’s hoping we hear Gambit making a joke about that in the future.)

It’s this kind of careful, unstated contract that ensures uneasy peaces. The Balkanised Metagame, as Ferrett once called it. It’s an extension, as it were, of the prisoner’s dilemma. I am playing the numbers to their best – putting myself in a position to best compromise between myself and my opponent. That’s why I’m not meta-gaming against my opponents, or asking who they are ahead of time (I did, with Joshua – but Craig told me one of two people who I was playing, and I never got it clarified).

But all it takes is one person who values the win above that silent contract and things could go to hell. Could. Chances are it will have no impact at all, because we’re not talking about nuclear weapons here, we’re talking about a card game.

Plus, navigating the complex situations of doubling back and counter-assuming my opponent makes my head hurt. In Game Theory, I’m sure there’s some kind of swanky name for this style of player – perhaps I’m a Loafing Giant or somesuch, someone who cannot be ignored but isn’t willing to let the game get too complex on my end. I have no idea at this point, and chances are this is not a winning strategy.

(Note: I am renowned for this in RPGs as well. If you want a clever, sophisticated plot ruined, invite me along.)

Scott Adams wrote about the Dinosaur Strategy, a policy of changing nothing while moving at your own pace, indefinitely, knowing full well that the process that would lead to project termination was shorter than the process that lead to management promotion. To wit, you’d never have a boss long enough for him to make any difference in your life, so there was no point changing what you were doing or the way you were doing it.

As for these decks, all of them, I feel, will be changed distinctly by the addition of Coldsnap. For all that people complain about Coldsnap, the ‘flattening’ of the draft format has given me a lot to be happy with. It’s put a lot of ‘powerful’ commons and uncommons into the format, ones that can do the job of rares. I’ll not get into this now, because I am still planning on doing a Coldsnap Set Review, but given that the format won’t hit online until the 14th of August, I’m deliberately keeping myself from saying too much about it. Those of you who want to test for Hard Core tourney stuff and the ilk, you’re going to want those set reviews ASAP. For the more casual crowd? Well, we can take our time. Plus, basically nobody is going to be rushing to get Coldsnap cards in the first week – the market’s retarded then.

Hopefully the general low opinion of Coldsnap will keep things from being quite so insane as normal.

By the way, just to remind everyone, Yosei was selling for 1 ticket for the longest time, because people were convinced Kamigawa was a crappy set. Even if those people were correct, you can understand my not being particularly inclined to listen to the Interpundits who are calling Coldsnap the Worstest Set Evar.

I’m not going to provide ‘complete’ decklists here. Mostly because I never really found optimal builds for the decks in question. They were all just close.

I mentioned this in the forums when Dissension wasn’t yet a blip on the horizon, hoping for some truly fun enchantments to be added to the UW heap by that set. Alas, Plumes of Peace is the best we got, with Writ of Passage allowing cute tricks involving ninjas, but still being, unfortunately, bad.

Of all the decklists I’d tinkered with, this was the cheapest. It had no rares, and only a few uncommons. Obviously, there were four Azorius Heralds and four Tallowisps, but that was all. Chanceries and Signets chimed in, but when you’re putting Pacifism in a 60-card heap because you have no better removal options that fulfil its particular problems, your deck probably sucks.

The irony of this deck is that everyone else was making a better version than myself. I kid you not, three times playing this, a cantrip-based deck designed to accelerate into enough land and artifact mana to play the Tidespout Tyrant, then use him to control the board, and every time I hit an opponent who was playing a far better styled deck.

Specifically, I’d see opponents using things like Tron, or Tidings, or big, expensive spells, to get the Tyrant out and keep him fed. Myself, I was far more prosaic, opting for just cheap cantrips. The idea being that once I’ve got a Tidespout out, I can just cast cantrip after cantrip until I wind up making my opponent pick up their entire board.

Witchety GWUB
Believe it or not, I was able to produce this deck under BR cost.

4 Dark Confidant @ 3 each = 12 tix
4 Vinelasher Kudzu @ 2 each = 8 tix
3 Witchmaw Nephilim @ .33 each = 1 tix.

That left me with 4 tix for the uncommons. However, this was during a particularly fluctuative period, where Dark Confidants were selling low, down to 3 tix. While I could squeak this one in under budget, I ultimately feared that the Dark Confidants would be too prone to price fluctuation to make this a good option. This is an added complication to the system, by the way. Ben Bleiweiss used Debtor’s Knell in a period of time just after Release Week for Guildpact, and the hue and cry was ridiculous. Ben knew how little the Knells were worth – but he still found himself being lambasted for using an expensive card.

Kudzu and Nephilim appear to be holding their price, for what microscopic amount that’s worth.

Mob Hit
This one isn’t my deck. I was simply not going to play it for that very reason. The person who made it, however, is persuasive, and annoying, and also quite hairless, and… where was I?

RW Duracell Control
The point behind this deck was that its win conditions would just keep coming back. The deck wanted to prolong the game and win from there. To that end, it had a lot of ‘card advantage’ removal in its design. The win conditions were Firemane Angel (I paid 1 each) and Skarrgan Firebird (I paid .5 each). The rest of the deck, by and large, was just burn like Pyroclasm, Lightning Helix, and the like.

For a while there I tested out the engine of Journeyer’s Kite and Sensei’s Divining Top. It was a pretty neat setup, if I could get the pieces consistently.

Oh, and the Wrath Effect in the deck was Brightflame. In order to ‘let’ a Brightflame hit a Simic Sky Swallower, I was running Azorius Guildmages out of the sideboard, and Centaur Safeguards as game-prolongers in the main.

I did test it for a while with ‘real Wraths’. It still kept losing on card advantage.

Dune-Brood Nephilim
Ben Goodman will tell you, I just can’t get enough of the Sheep*. I can’t remember much of this deck beyond a love for land-based accelerants. Sensei’s Divining Top teamed up with Wood Elves, Sakura-Tribe Elder and Civic Wayfinder.

Ultimately, Dune-Brood Nephilim is a creature that will win you the game if he hits once. That’s cool and all, but the hoops you have to go through for that are annoyingly difficult. That said, this deck did have some fun dream draws. Turn one O-Naginata, Turn two Sakura-Tribe Elder, turn three Dune-Brood Nephilim, into turn four equip-and-hit was fun to do… but not very good.

Colour Xerox
This was a silly attempt to wed the cantrips in the format to the three creatures that most want you gassing up with more cards – Niv- Mizzet, Gelectrode, and Wee Dragonauts. I wasn’t able to hit the critical mass of cheap cantrips for my tastes, with Sleight and Telling Time being alone in their ‘do anything’ category, as opposed to Peer Through Depths (can’t find lands), Reach Through Mists (does nothing without arcane triggers), and Quicken (rare).

Still, it probably deserves a little more attention.

Hm. I’ll be right back.

Ah, that’s right, I own no Niv-Mizzets.

Still, it plays okay without him, though I imagine he’d make the whole thing a lot better.

Wherefore art thou, Accumulated Knowledge?

The Rest Of the Deck Will Cost You A Buck
By this, I speak of the 3-Wraths-and Arcane Stuff deck that I mentioned last fortnight. I put together and played it for a bit and had a real blast, and was routinely complimented on my deck.

Since none of my opponents were Mike Flores, I’m going to guess they meant it. Or I’ll tell myself that. *sob*

Of course, my first ever game with the deck was opened with a rude shock, as my opponent plonked down a six hundred card deck. Another time, I beat Battle of Wits with this deck, with the second time being a truly Herculean reach to Dampen Thought away thirteen cards in my opponent’s upkeep in order to keep a Battle trigger from resolving, on something like turn six or seven.

Wrath of God remains a good investment. If you’ve got 25 bucks to spend on a deck, make it this one. It’s a shame the rest of the deck is so self-dependant. Ultimately, though, the Chancery and Signets are what this deck really needed to be any good. You could also try it in an UR configuration, using Glacial Ray as your win condition instead (and even Ire of Kaminari, yes), but instead of opting for the explosive, combo-win of Ire.dec, opting to grind out a win ala a true control deck. I know my love of cantripping spells and effects has made this deck grow on me.

Green-blue-red is another option, but once you have Kodama’s Reach in the deck, you have to ask why you’re not playing Black as well for the Hana Kami Loop, and I’ve done that. Quite dull, really.

The Actual Deck
I decided when I won the first match that I wanted to only take a lateral step from my first deck. That meant that anyone following along (Anyone? Anyone?) could follow me more easily, and spend less. Plus, I wanted to be picking up staple cards that were good in multiple decks, instead of narrow cards like Tidespout Tyrant. To this end, I’ve been looking at uncommons as Focus Cards, and then looking to see what utility rares can bring to the table.

This meant I could use Phyrexian Arena, or Skeletal Vampire in my next deck. It was pretty tempting to run with Murray a third time. But I wasn’t going to do it, no matter how good Murray is. I needed something that could put the game away about as quickly, but wouldn’t be so dependant on Lots of Mana.

Also, being cheap is valuable.

The price breakdown works out pretty favourably. 3 Yukora go for about two tickets, easily less if you’re patient. The Phyrexian Arenas have gone up a bit, to a more stable 3 tix. That’s 11 tix of my budget so far, which is good – because this deck’s pretty uncommon heavy.

With the 22 uncommons, that I purchased at bots that ranged from 6/1 to 8/1, that works out at about 4 tix. With 15 tix spent, I could actually turn an eye to Expensive Lands. Supposedly, Sulfurous Spring is selling for 3 tix each. That’s ‘auction’ price, though – which translates, roughly to ‘I will pay 3 tix for it then sell them to you for 4′.

Since I can’t reliably get a price on those lands, I’m leaving them out at this stage. The deck’s designed to not need them, after all.

Note, not a single spell in this deck wants a lone red mana. They all want some quantity of colourless mana, and most red spells want some black as well. This is deliberate. It means you can have the Dimir Signets in the deck as additional mana sources, even though they’re only there to cast one spell – which a lot of the time, you’re not going to cast!

With 15 tix in the deck, I could go and buy 2 Sulfurous Springs, or maybe even 3, putting me at 23 or 24 tix, respectively. If you like Black-Red and are likely to play it frequently this is a great idea. Make the investment now.

This deck’s a real knife in the casual room. The art of making a good mana base isn’t yet refined to many newer players, so you’ll see people missing their second land drop… and suddenly, Fall leaps out to brutalise their hand. Turn three Wrecking Ball hitting a lone Karoo has transpired a few times as well. And then there are the games that come down to exhaustion of threats, won by a Rakdos Guildmage hitting an empty table, then a pair of 2/1 hasted goblins running sideways.

It feels like a control deck. Instead of reactively responding to threats with countermagic and removal, forcing your opponent to waste their turns and mana, you’re more aggressive, knocking their hand into the graveyard and forcing them to rely on the top deck.

Once upon a time, this deck was running 4 Dimir Signet, 2 Rakdos Signet, and 22 lands, including 4 Carnarium. Since that balanced up to something like 30 mana sources over time, it wound up being too much. Cuts were made – eventually the manabase which you see there was the result. It feels counterintuitive to me; you want, after all, to draw BB1 by turn three, and having more mountains than swamps makes that feel wasteful. On the other hand, the deck is actually running 16 ‘swamps’, or at least, 12 swamps and 4 charcoal diamonds, as far as the deck’s concerned.

Initially, the deck’s mana curve went up to six (For Murray, he admits, shamefacedly) and that mana base supported it. I wanted the early Arenas supporting the late fat. Once I cut Murray in favour of a four-drop, though, that large manabase became less essential. I’m not Ben Goodman – I’m not about to run 22 land when my optimal play involves spending four mana to throw one of them at you. So I shoehorned into the deck as many ‘early play’ cards that had late game applications.

Like, say, Rise / Fall.

Between Rakdos Guildmage, Blazes, and Rix Maadi, you generally have stuff to do with your mana in the late game, with Rise//Fall also allowing some late-game play as well. That said, this deck is breakneck to play against creature rushes. Most of your removal is pinpoint, rather than sweeping. This means that an awkward tap out on a Moldervine Cloak turn or the like can be quite embarrassing. That’s also why Pyroclasm is in the sideboard. I am so very sick of Silhana Ledgewalkers. Between Hit and Pyroclasm, I should have the means to deal with a Ledgey, even if he does get a suit on.

So far, the only problem I have with the deck is the occasional late-game mana flood. A dedicated lifegain deck or two have proven to be problematic, and this deck’s not that fantastic at dealing 30 or more damage. Often games play out with early wars over resources – blowing up lands, stripping hands, blowing up every creature who hits the board – and then are all about the late-game top-deck. Rise is fabulous in these situations, and Fall less so. Of course, by then, you will almost certainly have a signet, it seems.

For those of you wanting to watch this meeting of the minds, the match is taking place on Friday 11th August at 8pm EST in the Anything Goes casual room on Magic Online. Please, while you’re there, if there’s a PDC event, drop in and have a look at the format. Once you’re there, around half an hour ahead of the event, /join Battle Royale, to join in all the fun.

Catch you all there.

Hugs and Kisses
Talen Lee
Talen at dodo dot com dot au

* Flawed Paradigm, stop sniggering.