Building Decks With Bad Rares

Abe has a deck with three hundred and fifty of the worst cards in Magic in it. He reaches in, pulls out a card… and no matter how bad the card is, he has to build a deck around it. What five dreadful cards does he draw this time, and what sorts of decks can he assemble when the core is a sucktacular card?

Bad Rare Decks

The last entry in my daily article series was a huge amount of fun for me. In fact, the entire series was a blast to write, but especially that last one. Having written about Peasant Magic, a rare-heavy deck, two decks I regularly play, a few light hearted decks, and a deck with absolutely no chance of winning. I was left with no ideas for another deck, so I decided to try an experiment.

I grabbed my bad rare box and headed over to the office. I sat down at my work computer, opened the box, and pulled out a random rare. The worse the rare, the better the deck, right? At least that’s my operating assumption. As regular readers of my columns are probably aware, the rare I pulled out was Caribou Range. Yes, the rares in this box are really that bad.

I really loved that way of building a deck, so I figured I’d give the idea another spin. Here are several Bad Rare decks.

The worst part of doing a Bad Rare Deck Challenge is that you might end up with the stinkiest rare ever made by man. I can’t reject the rare, so I have to end up with this awful rare and no hope of salvation. Every time I reach into the box, I cringe at the possible results.

I open the box. It’s a four-hundred count box, with about room for another fifty rares, so I’d guess that there are three hundred and fifty bad rares in the box. What will I pull out?

Bad Rare Challenge #1: Cephalid Constable
1/1 creatures for three mana can’t be that good. I have nicknamed this particular card because I always ended up with one in draft, and I felt the urge to get to know it better. This card is named Cephalid Steve.

The good thing about Cephalid Steve is that the recent advent of equipment makes him less stinky. I mean, nobody’s going out and writing about how broken it has become or anything, but its stinkiness has been reduced slightly to "odiferous." And with that in mind, here is my official Cephalid Steve deck:

4 Cephalid Constable (Steve)
4 Whispersilk Cloak
4 Bonesplitter
2 Unstable Mutation
4 Ophidian
2 Crafty Pathmage
2 Kukemssa Pirates
2 Raven Guild Master
2 Scalpelexis
1 Ninja of the Deep Hours
1 Mistblade Shinobi
4 Counterspell
4 Confound
24 Islands

The goal of this deck is simple: You want to swing with Cephalid Steve and bounce permanents, putting your opponent behind a clock. Ideally, you can pump Steve with various effects to get a soft lock. Alternatively, Steve keeps your opponent’s defenders away, and you hit with a bunch of other creatures that have various effects. Feel free to steal artifacts, Millstone cards, draw cards, and whatnot.

Note that you can use a Pathmage on a creature, then play Unstable Mutation or equip an Axe and swing unblockably. I tossed in a pair of ninja just to give the deck a bit of a modern feel to it. The Ninja both have abilities that can be cleverly used in this deck: Use it to return Cephalid Steve, for example, when he is about to die to Unstable Mutation counters. When Steve has a full complement of counters, and he’s unblockable due to Pathmage or equipment, ninjitsu out a creature and save Steve for another day.

Your deck has a backup winning condition with the Scalpelexis and Raven Guild Master. Feel encouraged to get these guys working for you with various methods of unblockability.

This deck has a smattering of countermagic with Counterspell and Confound. The Confounds are meant to protect your creatures from harm – the single most devastating thing an opponent can do is kill your creatures. The Cloak can also help to protect a valuable creature, like a Pathmage, Guild Master, Scalpelexis or Steve.

You might want to experiment with other creatures and abilities. Alternatively, you could add a color for different effects. Black, for example, adds ninjas, creatures that reanimate, kill and discard if they hit, and tricks like Howl from Beyond can really make Steve a tempo machine.

Wow! One deck down already? This might not be such a chore! I wonder what the next bad rare will be. I am going to reach down, pull out the card, write it down, then get up and think for a bit while I go to the bathroom. Here goes.

Bad Rare Challenge #2: Ogre Enforcer
Ogre Enforcer is a little blah for my tastes. It doesn’t immediately suggest a deck or a strategy, so I have to think. Then I remember my Rosetta Stone, the card that will make my deck work: Cinder Giant.

Cinder Giant is a 5/3 beater for just four mana that deals two damage during my upkeep to each other creature I control. Ogre Enforcer is immune to that damage, however. Subterranean Spirit is also immune to the damage, having protection from red and all. Ah, the workings of a deck are gelling in my head!

4 Ogre Enforcer
4 Cinder Giant
4 Callous Giant
4 Subterranean Spirit
4 Keeper of Kookus
4 AEther Flash
4 Earthquake
2 Magmasaur
2 Kookus
4 Incinerate
4 Ghitu Encampment
20 Mountains

This deck fits in several synergetic cards to create an interesting feel. All of your creatures can survive a Cinder Giant hit, either because the damage is prevented (Callous Giant, Ogre Enforcer, Subterranean Spirit, Keeper of Kookus) or because it is really big (Kookus, Magmasaur, Cinder Giant). I realized that since all of the creatures could survive a two-point hit during the upkeep, they could also all survive a two-point hit when coming into play – ergo, the AEther Flash.

With the Earthquake and Magmasaur, you have the ability to sweep an awful lot of creatures from the board. The Subterranean Spirit and Keepers can always survive an Earthquake or Magmasaur hit, and the Enforcer and Callous Giant can shrug off any Earthquake that’s 3R or less in effect.

I tossed in the Keeper of Kookus/Kookus combo for several reasons. First of all, the rest of the deck was developing this MirVLight feel, and it fit right in. Second, the Keeper is a great early drop that survives the pain later. Kookus simply ignores the damage with his five defense. A trampling pumpable monster is a dangerous thing, and the Keeper can keep him away from you. It just felt right to play them.

I also added a quartet of Encampments. I wanted red mana sources for the Kookus, so no Blinkmoth Nexuses (Nexi? Nexes?) or Mishra’s Factories. These creatures are essentially immune to Earthquakes, Magmasaurs, Cinder Giants, and AEther Flashes.

The last addition was a quick bit of burn. I wanted a way to sweep regenerators as well as other creatures, so I went with Incinerate over Lightning Bolt or Firebolt.

One idea I had was to add Krazy Kow to the deck. It would kill a Cinder Giant if it went off, but the damage wouldn’t kill anything else. You might want to try and fit in a couple if you like the idea. If you went white, you could play Circle of Protection: Red and prevent the Earthquake damage to yourself, although I personally find that to be a little cheap. You could also play Powerstone Minefield, knowing that most of your own creatures are immune to the damage.

If you went with black, you could mop up the floor with various Pestilence effects. Dealing one damage at a time never felt so good. Toss in The Bad Potato (Plague Spitter) and a few other choice cards and you are ready to go.

This deck seems like a lot of fun. I can only hope that the next deck does as well.

So I am about to leave and go run the weekly staff meeting with my nineteen staff members. I decide that I have just enough time to pull out the next bad rare and I can think about what deck I am going to build for a bit. The last deck was really nice, so there’s a lot to live up to. Here goes.

Bad Rare Challenge #3: Glowrider
Glowrider is…ugh…I can’t even describe its putridness. And yet I have to build a Glowrider deck, and this is simply not going to be fun in the least. Let’s see what we can do with it.

It’s a cleric, so I could play with some cleric goodness. It only has one white in its mana cost, so it’s splashable. Okay, I think I have an idea. Let’s see if this works!

2 Sphere of Resistance
4 Glowrider
2 Waterfront Bouncer
4 Soul Barrier
4 Rhystic Study
2 AEther Storm
1 In the Eye of Chaos
2 Fade Away
4 Counterspell
4 Forbid
4 Dismantling Blow
3 Fact or Fiction
12 Islands
4 Plains
4 Faerie Conclave
4 Mishra’s Factory

Yes, that’s right; the deck just has two other creatures aside from the Glowriders themselves. (Although to be fair, the Factories can swing for damage as well.) The beauty of this deck lies in the synergistic way that the cards influence each other.

If your opponents wants to play, oh, say an artifact, he’ll have to pay one for each Glowrider, one for each Sphere of Resistance, and one for each Rhystic Study (if he doesn’t want you to draw a card, of course). In the Eye of Chaos works very well with preventing instant abuse from opponents. Soul Barrier can really hamper a creature-based strategy. Use AEther Storm cautiously to stop all creatures for a while, and Fade Away fits in nicely to destroy either mana or creatures.

I added in some countermagic and removal to help against major threats. Waterfront Bouncer can send back expensive threats, which can be especially useful if you’ve tossed down an AEther Storm.

There are several other directions that this deck can take. You could add Invoke Prejudice if you think that you can handle the amazing four-blue casting cost. Doubling your opponent’s cost for most creatures can be a great help to this deck.

Another idea would be to add the Rishadan Brigand/Rishadan Cutpurse/Rishadan Footpad to the deck. Not only will you get more winning conditions, but you can also destroy the occasional land or creature.

Enchant Creature spells like Slow Motion and Errant Minion might also help. This will help to lockdown mana during a player’s upkeep, and thereby slowing down their development. It also can help against creatures that were played too fast and came down before you could set up.

Another possibility might be to try Icy Manipulator and maybe Ring of Gix. You can tap down creatures until help arrives and also lock down mana during a player’s upkeep. This seems pretty useful — but in artifact form, it may be a bit fragile.

Whew! That’s a really awkward deck. Maybe playing it a bit would should where to smooth out the wrinkles. Well, it’s time for the next bad rare deck. I’m putting away my Glowrider and reaching into the box. Out comes…

Bad Rare Challenge #4: Pirate Ship
Now, lesser writers would immediately use Pirate Ship in some Prodigal Sorcerer-like deck. They’d toss in a couple of Tim effects and say, “There’s your deck.” Me? I won’t be that easy. How about this deck, instead?

1 Captain Sisay
1 Hanna, Ship’s Navigator
1 Ramirez DePietro
1 Skeleton Ship
4 Kukemssa Pirates
4 Pirate Ship
4 Reef Pirates
4 Ghost Ship
4 Merchant Ship
4 Saprazzan Outrigger
2 Steam Frigate
1 Armored Galleon
1 War Barge
1 Astrolabe
1 Mystic Compass
1 Barbed Sextant
1 Treasure Trove
1 Coral Atoll
1 Coastal Tower
1 Bad River
1 River Delta
1 Teferi’s Isle
1 Rainbow Vale
1 Yavimaya Coast
1 Shivan Reef
1 Reflecting Pool
1 Seafloor Debris
1 Sand Silos
1 Darkwater Catacombs
1 Lonely Sandbar
1 Polluted Delta
1 Seat of the Synod
1 Remote Isle
1 Rishadan Port
1 Saprazzan Skerry
1 Faerie Conclave
5 Island

(This may be the only article ever to use Kukemssa Pirates in two separate decks – The Ferrett)

One quick comment: never, ever, ever mix your fleet with airships. No Predator, Flagship, or Metathran Aerostats — this is the fleet, not the air force.

Send your fleet to various locations. We’re traveling to the mystic Reflecting Pool, or the legendary Rainbow Vale, or sailing along the Yavimaya Coast. In fact, I think this deck is so uber-flavorful that I am instituting a house rule when you play it:

“The Fleet” House Rule: If any opponent has out a location that you have out (say, you both have Shivan Reef), you can sail to the location that turn and plunder that player. You cannot use any land if it is inconceivable that a fleet could get there (for example, a Lake of the Dead could be attached to a larger body of water, but there’s no way your fleet is sailing to a Desert). The land you choose also has to be fairly specific – not a basic land like Island or a simple land name like Tundra. Roll 1d6 and consult the chart below. You can only plunder once during your turn.

On a 1, you get a randomly-chosen creature with power no greater than 3.

On a 2, you get a counter moved from one of their permanents to one of yours.

On a 3, you get a randomly selected card from that opponents hand removed from the game and playable by you once, then it goes to the graveyard naturally.

On a 4, you get 1d6 life from that player.

On a 5, you get a piece of booty — the really pretty artifact. The players select based on what is the most attractive, not the most powerful. For example, you may want a Jayemdae Tome, but your crew will take a pretty Moss Diamond over a moldy old tome any day.
On a 6, you get nothing. Your men come up empty-handed.

I’m at four bad rare decks and counting. Let’s play this game one last time. I pull the box close to me, reach in, and grab…

Bad Rare Challenge #5: Heat Stroke
Trying an enchantment will be a bit different. I’ve had four creatures in a row, so now it’s time for something a little different.

4 Heat Stroke
2 Grand Melee
4 Will-o’-the-Wisp
4 Drudge Skeleton
4 Sedge Troll
4 Wall of Bone
4 Dingus Staff
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Terminate
4 Void
11 Swamp
11 Mountain

This deck is pretty simple. While Heat Stroke kills a lot of creatures, yours should stay alive with regeneration. Toss down a Grand Melee to force opponents to block with all of their untapped creatures, killing them all by Heat Stroke, while you regenerate yours. The Wall of Bone can stay at home to block when Grand Melee calls.

Every time someone loses a creature, Dingus Staff will hit them for two damage. This can add up quickly. In addition to the Staff, you also can Lightning Bolt a person if you need to. Feel free to substitute an Incinerate or somesuch if you are missing a full complement of Bolts.

Terminates and Voids can give you extra options. Each can give you time to set up or clear a path for beaters like the Sedge Troll. Feel free to use other effects in place of Void, like Powder Keg. You don’t want to use Nevinyrral’s Disk because you want to keep your enchantments untouched, though Oblivion Stone might work if you throw in some more lands. Remember that you can regenerate from these various destroy effects.

Wow, that last deck was actually a pretty quick build. I think that I hit upon the idea and typed the decklist in less than ten minutes. Sometimes a deck just hits you.

I hope that you have enjoyed this foray into bad rare deck design. Feel free to take up the challenge yourself, and build a bad rare deck or three or thirty.

Until later,
Abe Sargent