Building God, Part 4: Playtesting, Tweaking, Conclusion

Glittering Lions and Cursed Totems, oh my! What did Mike learn from actually playtesting his”ideal on paper” deck?


I spoke of these results in a prior. I’ll recap them briefly, but only because I have mentioned them a few times leading up to this deck deconstruction.

The deck performed well. Fires rolled over to it; in fact, beatdown, period, rolled over to it. Against Blue Skies, I made a critical mistake of forgetting to attack with my Chimeric Idol because I feared a Withdraw – and for some reason, I played it too passive and opted for the draw instead of the win.

Withdraw needs two targets, Mike. Not one.

But the deck performed well, and consistently, and my opponents were taken aback by it. I emerged from the tournament content with my deck, and pleased at its performance and my opponents’ reaction. I saw its strengths, and I saw its weaknesses.

Oh, yes, did I see its weaknesses.

One of the weaknesses was that I violated some of my own deckbuilding rules.

1. "Do not use creatures that, if taken from you, are supremely better than the rest of your creatures."

My roll-over-and-beg loss was to a mono-blue control deck that only utilized Air Elementals for offense. Oh, and whatever I wanted to give it. I was beaten over the head with a Dominated Rith and managed to kill it after only taking six damage… But it was a sign that I should have listened to. The next game, Rith was Bribed out of my library and served repeated blows to my head, no matter how many times I screamed, "I am your God! Do not defy me!" at her picture.


Rith won me a game, but I violated:

2. "Do not put one of anything in a deck unless you have a way to find it whenever you want. Even then, really question why you have just one in there, because one means it’s easier to get rid of than three or four."

Will and I have gone back and forth good-naturedly about his propensity to throw in multiple Tutors and a few silver bullets. I’m not a fan of that; it doesn’t seem to have won any games against me that I can recall, and it certainly hasn’t won any FOR me. With a single Rith in the deck, what are the chances of my drawing her in the course of a match?

The answer: Very freakin’ low.

I have a lot of deckbuilding rules. While I do ignore them and am not so stringent that it limits my construction skills, there are many times I look at a deck and just have a feeling that something’s going to reach out and bite me.

I’m all about synergy.

3. "It is not a good idea to play cards that adversely affect other cards under your control."

As I said, there are exceptions -like Wrath of God. However, I found that Armageddon I found, did NOT work well with this deck. Because my deck is mid-range, it was not as quick to recover from a ‘geddon as I would have liked, or expected. Mind you, this is the same reason that people advocated Armageddon decks in C.E. Standard – because few decks are quick to recover. Thus, it often did not net anything for me; we would simply rebuild at the same pace, and I’d lose all of the small advantages I’d gained. I’d find myself lacking a land or two for an X spell and curse my decision to rid myself of land. And, remember what I said above about how you can never have too many Story Circles? I lied.

If I’m rebuilding at the same speed, and I have a Story Circle out, then I rarely leave mana back to actually use the Circle. If I have a Story Circle out and am under duress, Armageddon takes away the mana – the white mana – that I need to withstand the assault. If I fall behind in the rebuilding race, or if my opponent manages to get rid of my creatures, then Story Circle is almost useless to me. If I drop creatures, I can’t prevent damage. If I don’t, then he generates more threats and I’m not guaranteed of hitting mass destruction range when I just sent a load of land to the graveyard.

Oh, yes; Rith doesn’t like Armageddon, either. It seems weird, but it seems like she was permanently glued to the back of whatever card I would draw after Armageddoning.

Damn her.

4. "Limit your dead cards."

Tangle Wire is an excellent card on turn 3. On turn 20, it is not. In fact, on the average, I netted four or five completely dead draws each match during the midgame.

A control deck does not need, want, desire, or encourage in any way dead cards. They’re bad.

Despite the prevalence of X spells, unfortunately Hurricanes are also frequent dead cards. Earthquakes were strangely rarely useless; again, I reinforce that there are more ground threats than air threats. Plus, I lose an extra life with each Hurricane due to the painlands.

Add in the Hurricanes to the deckbuilding violations and dead draws, and the stall factor of the deck was fairly evident.

The painlands did more harm than good. While I dislike the taplands (Shivan Oasis, Elfhame Palace, etc.) in decks that require mana (like this one), they may have been more advantageous to prevent the "X+1" spell effect that I suffered from. Frequently. In addition, Rishadan Ports and Dust Bowls were able to disrupt my mana to a point where, while not overtly threatening, it was bothersome. If I needed a Hurricane or had Rith in hand and my painlands were being tapped by Rishadan Port or Dust Bowl’d away, I was not the predator, but the prey. Controlled.

Finally, while I was able to get my Totems out regularly, my deck manipulation was far less, well, manipulable than desired. With so much focus on getting out the Totems, I was frequently finding that my Story Circles – which were having problems getting going anyway – were, in essence, buried within the deck and served no purpose whatsoever.

Dead cards, mana problems, lack of synergy, oversights, and I found I was discontented with my deck. I lost a game to the mono-blue that I do not think I could have won, so that’s a guaranteed loss. My fear of an illegally cast Withdraw should have been a win. And I lost a game where I drew, in two games, a total of four lands. If you throw out the mana screw game (for it counts in the standings, but definitely not in testing analysis), I saw numerous problems in a deck that had, for all intents and purposes, gone 4-1-0.

Maybe I’m just a harsh critic.

With conclusions in hand, I set upon a long journey of testing. I can’t express how invaluable it is to have regular playtesting partners. Scott and Will have regularly faced this deck, and I know that they’re both getting tired of second-turn Cursed Totems. (Memo to Scott: It’s payback for Gnome Rage, dammit.) During testing, the focus to me isn’t on winning per se; it’s how the deck performs, its consistency, what cards I would have liked to see at certain points in the game, and how flexible its win condition is. As I stated in Part 2 of this series, developing your Methodology – how you plan to utilize the Resources in your deck – is a critical process of playtesting.


Now, we’ll discuss the components of the evolved God deck. This time, I’ll reverse the procedure and share the decklist first. Then, I’ll go through each card selection and give an overall commentary.

//NAME: God Deck 2000 — EVOLUTION
// Creatures
4x Glittering Lynx
4x Glittering Lion
4x Chimeric Idol
1x Cho-Manno, Revolutionary
3x Primal Clay
// God Effects
4x Parallax Wave
3x Wrath of God
1x Rout
4x Earthquake
2x Inferno
// Disruption/Manipulation
3x Enlightened Tutor
3x Cursed Totem
// Land
13x Plains
9x Mountain
2x Dust Bowl

4x Urza’s Rage
4x Citadel of Pain
1x Sheltering Prayers
1x Light of Day
1x Seal of Cleansing
3x Aura Fracture
1x Cursed Totem


(4) Glittering Lynx
(4) Glittering Lion
(4) Chimeric Idol

Obviously, the heart of the deck remains the same. These creatures served me well, and their synergy has been discussed enough above. (One word, Mike: Prolixity.)

(1) Cho-Manno, Revolutionary

I decided, after some consideration, to put Cho-Manno in the deck. His ability, first of all, cannot be turned off. He adds another element of redundancy to the theme of hard-to-kill creatures, and obviously when he sits on your side of the table against Fires, he makes Blastoderms look silly. Though there’s only one of him in the deck, he makes an appearance frequently enough that I don’t mind spending a slot on him.

But, Mike, you say, didn’t you comment on Mike’s Deckbuilding Rule Number Two? That’s the one that said, "Do not put one of anything in a deck unless you have a way to find it whenever you want. Even then, really question why you have just one in there, because one means easier to get rid of than two or three."

Indeed. However, remember the only rule to which there are no exceptions is "There’s an exception to every rule." In this case, Cho-Manno is an exception because his effect is consistent, complementary, and synergetic with the rest of my creatures. In essence, he’s a Lion for whom I’ve paid one more white mana in order to ensure he can’t be killed. I consider him not "one of a card", but rather "the fifth Lion." Thus, my creature numeration at this point is 4-5-4, not 4-4-4-1.

Replacing Rith with him is, on paper, a strange move. Another consideration was that if any of these creatures are Bribed or Dominated out, I won’t lose to them.

(3) Primal Clay

You can put this one in the "Wow, we’re really recycling old cards now, aren’t we?" bin.

Will Rieffer thought of this card for one of his decks, and I think it was a stroke of ge…brilliance. (Sort of a double pun there, if you look.) Primal Clay has multiple advantages – one of which is that it fits the theme of some disgruntled deity forming whatever he wants out of the mud and grime of the battlefield.

Primal Clay is an artifact which can, in case you don’t feel like digging through your seldom-used card box to check, for four mana choose upon entering play to take the form of a 3/3 creature, a 2/2 flying creature, or a 1/6 wall. That means it can block Blastoderms and Skizziks, it can block Airships and Hatchlings, or it can turn into a pseudo-Idol.

And, best of all, it’s tutorable. Ever need a certain TYPE of creature in a hurry? Quick, cast a Tutor and pull one out of thin air. On occasion, with the initial deck build the opponent was able to place me in a lock where my ground creatures were holding off a bunch of we’re-bigger-than-you-are ground creatures. Neither of us could attack – and prior to using Primal Clay, I had no creatures with true evasion.

The flexibility with Clay is highly underrated; I’ve used all three forms of it regularly. Two of those forms won’t die to Massacre most of the time. Huzzah!

It also performs very well with another new card in the deck, however, which I will get to now.


(4) Parallax Wave

The problem of having a Hurricane at the wrong time is easily solved – why not use a card that can duplicate a Wrath effect, and even fit in the same slot?

Wave is, of course, an extremely powerful card. Wave can win a game for you and let those hordes of Cats through the opponent’s defenses. It can stall long enough for you to seize the advantage. Frequently, it is used as a defense against removal or Wrath of God. Cast a Wave, and then proceed to Wave out your creatures and cast Wrath, and see how thrilled your opponent is.

Usually, it’s "not very."

Parallax Wave is, again, Tutorable. It also synergizes well with Primal Clay. "Man, I wish my 1/6 wall was a 2/2 flyer." Hey, no problem. You may have to wait another turn or two to convert it, but once Wave expires and the Clay comes back into play, you have to choose its form all over again.

(Wondertwins power, activate! Form of – a 2/2 flyer!)

You know, that gives me an idea.

Place two Twin tokens into play. Each token has "1: Until end of turn, Twin token is either a 5/1 Phoenix, a 3/5 Ape, or a 0/2 Bucket of Water. All creature forms retain this ability."

Man, I need help.

Where was I? Oh, yes: Parallax Wave’s redundancy with Wrath of God makes the creature elimination far more consistent than previously – and, in addition to the substitution of Cho-Manno for Rith, means that the deck is now able to safely operate on two colors of mana. And that’s two non-allied colors, please note. Invasion or no Invasion, we’ll take whatever side we damn well please.

(3) Wrath of God
(1) Rout

There I go breaking Rule #2 again. Every time I look at this, I wonder why I have Rout in there. Every time I draw it, however, I’m thrilled. Its ability to be cast as an instant is simply amazing – I mean it. Like Cho-Manno, despite there only being one, it’s hardly noticeable because it’s just a slightly more expensive Wrath. Most of the time, I’m perfectly satisfied with Wrath. Once a match, however, my Rout seems to come up, and catch my opponent completely off guard. To me, the POTENTIAL for a game-breaking surprise while NOT disrupting the consistency of the deck is the reason that having Rout in there is worthwhile.

If Rout were some sort of silver bullet, or even Rith, I’d be tampering with the synergy of the deck. Just as my 4-5-4 example above, this is really "four of one card, and occasionally I’ll be able to surprise someone with it."

(4) Earthquake
(2) Inferno

Earthquake has remained, for all of the reasons I discussed earlier. Inferno, however, is a new addition that is a tribute to The Original.

Inferno is expensive. 5RR. But it’s a finisher. It’s a finisher in more ways than one. I originally had three in the deck, but found that it tilted the mana curve towards the high end more than I wanted. Having two seems to be just as effective. Inferno is another "stunned look of disbelief" card. Send those high-toughness flyers packing. When an opponent’s at eleven life and you have a few Cats on the table facing off some big ol’ blockers, they don’t fear you. When you end-of-turn-Inferno and then swing for the rest of the damage, it turns a stall situation into a win in less time than it takes me to write a sentence.

And while I’m pretty damn wordy, I type quickly.


(3) Enlightened Tutor
(3) Cursed Totem

I added one more of each of these. It enabled me to get the Totems out with great regularity – after all, with six of them there’s over a 50% chance that I’ll get one of them in my opening draw, raising to around 65% by turn 2. That is critical to both set up the Cats and to create early disruption against decks such as Rebels and Fires. Being able to Tutor for Waves, Clays, Idols, or sideboard cards is, of course, very useful. ’nuff said.


(13) Plains
(9) Mountain
(2) Dust Bowl

The land mix, which is now without dual lands of any sort, is very stable. The deck runs on plains, of course, which means that Flashfires is often very detrimental. Indeed, that is your worst enemy against any deck packing red. Flashfires, because of the way it frequently devastates Rebels, is a very common sideboard card nowadays. Deal with it. Thirteen plains should be enough to get you going; the land base, still at twenty-four, should provide you enough replacement land. If you’re facing a deck with red, my recommendation is to play two plains and then sit there and lay no more. Mountains and Bowls should appear to fill in the mana holes. Once you get two plains in hand, you can lay more, but be careful. I’ve seen a number of people play a lot of them willy-nilly as if they can simply outrace Flashfires (or even Armageddon.) Don’t.

I experimented with Rath’s Edge in the Dust Bowl slots for awhile, but found that it was not nearly as nice as I thought it would be for spot removal of mana creatures and finishing points of damage. Dust Bowl is much more effective, and frequently you can spare the lands.

The number in parentheses is the curve that existed in the primary build.

1: 7 (6)
2: 3 (2)
3: 8 (14)
4: 11(6)
5: 1 (0)
6: 0 (1)
X: 4 (7)
7: 2 (0)

As you can see, the mana curve is virtually identical. That’s good – I was pleased with it before, and am pleased with it now. It’s clearly on par with the majority of the decks in the field, and with a better mix of lands and the dropping of the need for green mana, rarely runs into any sort of coloration problems.


This time, I want to go into the sideboard in a little more detail, because of the playtesting I have done.

(4) Citadel of Pain
(4) Urza’s Rage

This deck is obviously a control deck. Unfortunately, control decks that don’t pack blue often have trouble with control decks that DO. Blue Skies is a dangerous matchup – and I remember well my loss to the mono-blue/control/"Rith, You Betraying Jezebel" deck.

Thus, my sideboard against blue is often to bring in these eight cards. You shouldn’t have to fear ground creatures, so you can easily remove Earthquakes for Citadel of Pain. Unless, of course, they manage to get a Troublesome Spirit on the board (why has no one thought of a deck with Troublesome Spirit, Citadel of Pain, Chimeric Idol, Rhystic Lightning, and free counterspells? Huh? The Skies Are Falling or something.)

Generally, however, Citadel, if it hits, will hit them hard for a couple of turns, and I have won games with it.

You should be casting stuff each turn; that’ll tap your mana. If you get an Idol down, Citadel, of course, then becomes "Citadel of Sweetness." Don’t be afraid of taking damage – you should be generating enough of a threat as it is.

Urza’s Rage is more frequently used against very fast decks that you can’t shut off (Ankh-Tide, for instance), or against decks with many flyers. Again, Earthquake is usually the first to go, but as with any sideboard, mix and match as you see fit. Though I haven’t faced many low creature decks, Rage is likely more efficient if you have no need for mass removal. It’s also useful against very SLOW decks, but despite the slowness of C.E. Standard, I think that reaching 10RR mana means that something is very very wrong.

(1) Sheltering Prayers

I have this feeling that somewhere, sometime, I’m going to face a rogue LD deck. Perhaps it’s because I’ve faced it too many times (many times courtesy of Scott), but if they’re going to surprise me, I want to surprise them back. One of these in the sideboard isn’t going to hurt "just in case." Against LD, your Tutors will be used to get this on the table ASAP.

(1) Light of Day
(1) Cursed Totem

Light of Day is there, just like before, and for the same reasons. Likewise the additional Cursed Totem, which is often handy but not critical. Sometimes I sideboard it in; sometimes I don’t. It depends on my feeling about the matchup, their chances for removal, and the chances of not having one hurting me.

(1) Seal of Cleansing
(3) Aura Fracture

I spoke earlier about how artifact removal is scarce. The same occurs in my sideboard. However, I make up for it in spades. Aura Fracture is denounced by many, but its potential is too great to ignore. Being able to destroy multiple enchantments in a Fires deck, or to drop a Fracture and take out every enchantment in a white control deck (Hmm…target your two Circles and Wave) is often worth the land loss. Aura Fracture’s not a one-shot; indeed, it even protects itself from Aura Mutation, which is gaining popularity for good reason. Against Ankh-Tide, you can destroy a land in response to their targeting it with Tide – if you’re desperate, removing your lands can save you a LOT of pain.

I threw a Seal in there to throw them opponents off balance. Some people will assume that if they see a Seal, they’ll see more, and having them thinking you have more than four enchantment and artifact removal spells could help. Again, all of these are tutorable removal spells. Many times, you’re throwing out enough in the way of artifacts and enchantments that you can take advantage of the overload effect and make things very rough. What should they get rid of: The 3/3 Idol, the 3/3 Clay, the Parallax Wave, the Aura Fracture, or the Totem? Most of the time, it’s not going to matter. Crunch. We’ll make more.


It’s illustrated by now, by myself and others, that the degree of duplicable effects is critical in deck design. It’s the narrowing of focus and maximization of resources. Because of the change in components, not only have I multiplied my resources in many ways, but I’ve created a much more flexible methodology.

In the initial build, the deck would often end up in a defensive posture after the 6th turn or so. Evolved, its threat base is higher, and its removal consistency is higher. Hurricanes and Tangle Wires don’t sit in my hand in mid-game. Instead, I’m Waving out creatures, dropping a Clay, or Infernoing to clear the board of everything but the Cats.

Are the cards I removed good cards? Yes. Are the cards I have in the deck now more in line with the aggro-control nature I desired? Yes.

Wave, Earthquake, Wrath/Rout, and Inferno, are must-counter spells for blue. You’re only going to be casting them if it’s a danger to them – and this is redundancy of threat at its best.

Nearly every card is a threat in some way. There are sixteen creatures that are difficult to kill or punch through. There are fourteen spells that act as mass removal – and if you want to count Earthquake as being more limited, and lower the number to ten, I’ll take those odds. Enlightened Tutor – no one ever stops a Tutor, after all – can access fourteen of your threat cards. And Cursed Totem is a threat to the majority of the decks out there AND perfectly synergetic with your own win condition.


That’s great, Mike, but how do you play it? This is a control deck; as such, it is not simple to play. It’s certainly not as complex as, say, Full English Breakfast – laws, no! However, it involves a lot of decisions to be made in order to maximize its board control. Because of the somewhat transformational ability of the sideboard, it can turn it into a much more aggressive deck. Thus, sideboarding decisions are often tough – but it also enables you to change win conditions on the fly.

The deck takes practice, just like any deck, and isn’t something that you can merely pick up and run with. The disruption strategies, however, are very simple. Against Fires and Rebels, the key is to drop a Totem early and watch for their tendency to overcommit. Against Skies, the key is to aggressively plug away against their counterbase. Bouncing their islands limits their resources and is key to clearing the board of threats on a regular basis. Against fast burn decks, bring in your sideboard and race them. Against blue/white control, watch for your windows and pounce; they usually don’t run alternate counters, and you WILL punch through your threats if you are patient.

That’s it. Sounds easy, right? Understand the card choices? Know how to maximize them?


So, one last question to be answered: Why did I write this article?

Not an invalid question, I think. I wrote this article because I wanted to give credence to all of my grand statements of strategy – writing about it and putting it into practice are different. In a way, it’s my way of validating my articles, in essence putting my money where my mouth is.

When I wrote about Chicago, I said there was a response deck to the field, and believed that there was a clearly-defined metagame despite having a number of viable decks. People have discussed how we’ve been forced into playing allied colors because the card synergies are so strong, and I’ve even read people disgruntled at "Wizards building our decks for us."

Red/white doesn’t fit into any sort of box; it’s not something that others have discussed, and moreso, I wanted to share something of my creation with readers. If you can understand the metagame deck construction philosophies I have used, the observations I’ve made about the top decks, the way in which I interpret strategy, AND the reasons that I have chosen each card, then I’ve done what I set out to do – to make a deck my own and hopefully enlighten you along the way.

I’d enjoy it if people gave it a whirl. Feedback or discussion about the deck is welcome, for I’m sure there’s plenty of room for improvement that I haven’t considered. In just a few weeks, the deck may change because of Planeshift’s introduction into the environment. If there’s a card that fits into God Deck, great. If there isn’t, then I am comfortable with the build. But, it’s important to realize, it is an ONGOING process. This is not the finished product; in my opinion, there rarely is such a thing. Fires looks to gain a powerful card in Shivan Wurm, for example. A 7/7 trampler that lets you recycle Blastoderms IS dangerous, and potentially more dangerous (in addition to being cheaper) than Two-Headed Dragon. We don’t know just how viable it is yet – but when Planeshift comes out, I’ll be scouring the waiver wire and watching not only for cards that help me, but for ones that help the decks I wish to beat. It’s a constant process, evolution. Now, do it. Evolve.

You say that you can’t beat the top decks, or metagame effectively? That there’s no answer to Fires, Skies, U/W Control, or Rebels?

Well, allow me to retort.

-m / 010101