Bear With Me: There’s Three Decks at the End

“If one color could do everything, there would be no reason to play anything else.” – Elaine Chase, Research & Development
Strangely enough, that seems to be true.

Bear with me while I get something off my chest. Not long ago, on MagicTheGathering.com’s”Ask Wizards” column, the following was part of an answer as to why green doesn’t get any good counterspell effects:

“Part of what keeps Magic balanced is that each color has its own strengths and weaknesses. If one color could do everything, there would be no reason to play anything else.” – Elaine Chase, Research & Development.

Pardon me while I gag over the”balanced” reference. What’s gotten me so steamed? It’s the constant deluge of blue-based control decks I have to wade through week after week after week. It wears on those of us who aren’t control freak Magic players. I’ve been playing Magic a long time – and if there’s one constant in this game, it’s that blue always gets the best stuff and inevitably dominates formats. In Extended, things got so bad that Pyroblasts were maindecked. In IBC, you played U/x/x if you wanted to win consistently. Now we’ve got Psychatog, Upheaval/Infestation, SnakeTongue, and Kibler’s Enforcer deck… All featuring blue. In the current Type 2, people are rewarded for maindecking Gainsays.

The problem stems from Richard Garfield and the people who launched Magic back in the day. Somewhere along the line, someone decided that each color would have certain”themes” that would be that color’s strong points. That sounds all well and fine, right? Black got hand destruction and graveyard manipulation. White was healing and protection. Red was fire and land destruction. Green was fat creatures.

And blue got this nebulous”mind control” designation that somehow translated into counterspells and card drawing.

The problem with this is that blue’s assigned”themes” represent a distinct advantage over basic tenets of the game. It’s no secret that in any game where a card = an option, the person who can net more cards either through card drawing or card-advantage has a much stronger ability to win. Then we’ve got the Counterspell”theme” which prevents someone from participating in another facet of the game – playing his or her spell. So if we take an honest look at each color’s assigned”strengths,” I think it’s easy to see why blue is just so dominating– it’s been rigged that way from the beginning. Even blue’s supposed”weakness” – having difficulty in handling permanents – is a total sham, buried in an avalanche of quality bounce spells over the years. So while we can laugh at Elaine Chase’s first sentence about color balance, the second sentence rings a hollow truth.

If one color could do everything, there would be no reason to play anything else.


What’s the solution?

I think Wizards needs to realize that card drawing and counterspelling should be game themes, found in all colors. Maybe some colors do it better than others do, I could buy that. But to truly be able to say there’s an attempt to balance out the colors, there needs to be a fundamental change of thinking at the core of the game. It’s not difficult to spread out some good card drawing in the other colors and keep in theme. Until that happens, I expect that top tables at most all competitive tournaments are going to be filled with blue spells – and that’s a shame. While Wizards can slap themselves on the back congratulating themselves on healthy environments where there’s a wide variety of decks doing well, I think if you pull back a step and look at the decks in terms of what color is still head and shoulders above the rest, there’s still a long way to go for balance and health.

Okay; enough with the rant and the hope that it will have at least a little ripple of effect at Wizards. Thanks for bearing with me.

Moving on to the You Create The Card program on MagicTheGathering.com…

As of this writing, creatures and enchantments had been beating out instants by a more than 4-1 margin. The voting is closed, so, unless by some miracle things have changed, we’ve got a green creature to design. What a waste, people! The one glimmer of hope I have is that Mark Rosewater indicated that they might continue with this program. While I made this point before, I think it’s worthwhile to make it again – R&D will always give us good green creatures, so why squander our opportunity for creating a new card on something R&D will make anyway? I’ve heard a few arguments for voting for green creatures, and the most popular one is this – they want to make a card that we can”beat down” with like the Invitational winners. This sounds good in theory, but comparing Create a Card to winning the Invitational is comparing apples and oranges, people! We are not creating the card from scratch like the Invitational winners, we are not getting artwork that looks like one of us… We are simply voting on a series of choices that R&D is going to give us. The best we can do is to vote for an undercosted powerful green creature created from the choices presented. So again, I stress: Why vote on something we’re going to get anyway?

The other argument I’ve heard people make is their concern that since green never gets any good instants, why vote for instants and have to choose between bad and worse? While I doubted that Mark Rosewater would go that route with this program, I decided to drop him a letter to verify. Here’s what he said:


Please be aware that we will take steps to make sure that there are innovative choices at each step of the way. Our goal with the”You Make the Card” is to make something unique and memorable not rehash something everyone’s seen a dozen times before.

In short, have no fear. We share the same goal.


Mark Rosewater

This means no Fog or Giant Growth rehashes. This means a powerful, unique green instant if we are resolute enough to go this route next time.

One final point I’d like to make for you to keep in mind for next time: There are many phases in the game of Magic. Green’s power generally lies in creatures and enchantments, which can be played in the main phase only, and that puts it at a distinct disadvantage to the colors that can participate in the other phases of the game. A few rare instant-speed creatures break that mold, but we need more variety of instant speed green. For next time, let’s break out of the main phase, folks.

Okay, I promised last time to have some strategic content in this week’s article, so… I present some casual strategy and tournament strategy to make up for my slacking off last week.

We’ve resurrected Group Game Magic at our game shop, which is great since that’s where my Magic roots lie. The tradition at our shop is to play with 200-card decks, which seems to fly in the face of most other casual players. I mean, when I look at Alongi’s trim little sixty-card decks presented as a group game deck, I just have to chuckle. Sixty-card decks would get devoured by our group games unless they were packing at least four Feldon’s Canes. At the end of our matches, the winner’s graveyard is usually a hundred or more cards deep. Anyway, my current group game deck has been doing very well. It’s G/b/r and is chock full of good stuff. Torment has added some great cards for group game play, here’s a few for those who are interested:

Krosan Restorer – Threshold is ridiculously easy to achieve and maintain in group games, so this guy is almost always going to let you untap three lands. My favorite use is to untap a Gaea’s Cradle, a Forgotten Temple, and a Thawing Glaciers. Yes, that’s a lot of mana.

Radiate is indeed the bomb-diggity. I have yet to have one resolve, but if I can slip it past a counterspell, things could get ugly. My last attempt was Radiating a Hint of Insanity, but a Quash stopped my dreams of stealing everyone’s creatures and attacking with them.

Chainer gets more and more amazing the more graveyards he has to pilfer through.

Zombie Trailblazer is a nice way to neutralize a Maze of Ith or Kor Haven, and is particularly good at getting a Gaea’s Cradle out of the way to drop your own – at the end of turn, when their”swamp” turns back into a Cradle, it will see yours and immediately go to the graveyard. Fun times.

Overmaster – What an amazing group game card. Cast it and you’re throwing down a heckuva gauntlet. Who steps up and wastes a precious counterspell on it? If they don’t counter it, you’re free to do as you please with your next spell. If they do counter it, well… You know who to cast that Fireball at now, don’t you? They better hope they have another counterspell.

Nantuko Cultivator is particularly fun with Groundskeeper and Stampeding Wildebeests.

Ahh, group game fun…

Moving on to Regionals, folks. It’s closer than you think. April 13th leaves you about seven weeks time to prepare. So why are you wasting time and energy talking about Odyssey block? If you’re not a pro, OBC isn’t relevant until it washes up on the PTQ circuit sometime in late summer, and by then Judgement will have hit the scene. And if you’re not a pro, it’s doubtful the pro’s who do care about Ody-Tor constructed are going to be looking for non-pro advice. So come on back here with the rest of us amateurs and get working on post-Torment Type 2.

All the initial analysis seems to point to U/B getting tons of goodies from Torment. Now, whether that means sticking with Psychatog or going back to Upheaval/Infestation I’m not sure yet. The reason is Chainer’s Edict, which is extremely good against creature-light decks like Psychatog. I won’t waste any time going over U/B here, though, since it’s both an obviously strong decktype and will likely see tons of published analysis.

I’m much more interested in trying to beat that deck.

I have a couple of ideas.

First, I’m thinking that the best way to attack control decks is through early hand disruption. I’m thinking a core of 4x Duress, 4x Addle, and 4x Mesmeric Fiend would be good, allowing twelve cheap peeks at your opponent’s hand and selective disruption. Add to that four Chainer’s Edict as a great removal spell. I also really like Shambling Swarm, since it’s amazingly powerful against creature decks, and against creature-light decks it’s a 3/3 beatdown critter.

Now, playing the Swarm obviously dictates playing a heavy black deck. The question is whether to play mono-black or not. While it’s obvious that R&D is trying to feed us plenty of goodies for a mono-black deck in Torment, I don’t think any of those cards are so stellar as to dissuade me from the awesome black gold spells still available to us in Type 2. Torment’s swamp-duals make splashing enemy colors a very strong possibility, so that’s where I’ll start…

With green. You knew that, right?

Here’s the first blush of a B/g deck:

4x Duress

4x Addle

4x Chainer’s Edict

4x Mesmeric Fiend

4x Pernicious Deed

4x Phyrexian Rager

4x Shambling Swarm

4x Spiritmonger

1x Nostalgic Dreams

3x Skeletal Scrying

4x Llanowar Wastes

4x Tainted Wood

17x Swamp

Pretty obvious what we’re trying for here: Early disruption, kill off critters with Edicts, Swarms and Deeds, finish with Spiritmonger. Mix in a little card drawing and we have some good possibilities here.

Hmm; thinking about Skeletal Scrying and Nostalgic Dreams made me wonder how Nantuko Cultivator would work with them? Mmmm, sounds like something to think about.

Let’s take our core and add white to it instead:

4x Duress

4x Addle

4x Chainer’s Edict

4x Mesmeric Fiend

4x Vindicate

4x Phyrexian Rager

4x Shambling Swarm

2x Desolation Angel

4x Death Grasp

2x Skeletal Scrying

4x Caves of Koilos

4x Tainted Field

17x Swamp

I chose not to include Gerrard’s Verdict because of the heavy-black required for Swarm, though the case could be made for swapping Wrath of God for Swarm and adding more white mana producers to enable the coveted turn 2 Verdict.

I also have a very experimental B/W deck I’m noodling around with… One of the Shrines! I know the conventional wisdom is that the Odyssey Shrines all universally suck, but there’s one shrine in particular that’s been on my radar of possibilities: Cabal Shrine. Since you probably haven’t looked at it in a while, here it is for review:

Cabal Shrine



Whenever a player plays a spell, that player discards X cards from his or her hand, where X is the number of cards in all graveyards with the same name as that spell.

It really takes advantage of people using the 4x deckbuilding convention. But especially in an environment where Fact or Fiction is the most played spell, and everyone is trying to desperately fill up their graveyard, this could be brutal over the long haul, stripping a player into topdeck mode whenever he casts a spell.

That’s all well and fine, but its symmetry makes it less than appealing.

And then it hit me – Skeletal Scrying.

Scrying empties your graveyard, clearing the slate for your spells to come sailing out unmolested while your opponent gets further and further in the hole. Does your opponent Counterspell your Death Grasp when he’s got two Counters already in the graveyard?

Here’s a sample deck using this idea:

Skeletal Shrine

4x Duress

4x Gerrard’s Verdict

4x Addle

4x Cabal Shrine

4x Skeletal Scrying

4x Chainer’s Edict

4x Vindicate

3x Wrath of God

4x Death Grasp

4x Caves of Koilos

4x Tainted Field

7x Plains

10x Swamp

The big question is, how does Cabal Shrine and Gerrard’s Verdict hold up in a post-madness world? I suspect that madness will have some impact in T2… But madness spells are still being cast, so that if there’s one in the graveyard it’s still going to trigger the Shrine.

Now, I know ‘Tog decks can simply drop a ‘Tog and clear out their graveyard to get around the Shrine, but… It’s still got to be disruptive to their plans since they’re not going to want to eat up their graveyard except for its big winning attack.

Does a Shrine deck have a chance in hell at being Tier 1? Probably not, but I’m going to enjoy testing it out. Maybe Cabal Shrine will be”tech” for Regionals. We’ll see. Anyone who’s tried something similar, please contact me and let me know how it went.

All right, folks. That’s it for this week. Have some fun!