My friend Jeff is a reverse canary in a coalmine. But only when it comes to movies.
For those of you who don’t understand the reference, canaries need a lot of air to keep their tiny bodies moving. A canary’s heart beats about twenty times as fast as a human’s heart does – a thousand beats per minute – and the amount of oxygen that pumps through that tiny body is astounding.
In order to ward off accidental suffocation, coal miners would bring a canary with them into the depths; at the slightest whiff of bad air or oxygen deprivation, the canary would drop dead. And everyone ran out of the mine screaming, safe to live another day.
Jeff is a”reverse” canary because he gets all excited, perking up at the chance to see movies that would cause any sane man to drop dead. If Jeff begins campaigning to go see a flick, it’s time to run out of the mine. Screaming.
Don’t believe me? In one evening, he rented Kung Pow!, A Knight’s Tale, and The Sweetest Thing for a film festival.
Think about it. Not only is Jeff actively paying hard-earned cash to rent Godawful movies that cause open sores to weep on Roger Ebert’s ass… But they transcend all boundaries. Most guys who like terrible films, they like one kind of terrible film.
But Jeff? Not only did he pick a bad slapstick comedy in the form of Kung Pow!, but he picked a bad action movie in A Knight’s Tale… And then he even rented a bad chick flick.
Three genres, all suck, no waiting.
Now let’s be fair; Jeff has good taste in movies after he’s seen them. He’s not hanging around parties, claiming,”Hey, Heath Ledger is the Robert De Niro of this generation!”
It’s just that for Jeff to see a good movie, someone else has to show it to him – left to his own devices, his rental choices are a sea of regret. If Jeff is enticed by the trailer, you can bet that they had to strap the people into the seats with chicken wire to get them to make it through the test screenings.
Me? I think I may be a canary for bad decks.
During OBC Season, I got stuck testing R/G Beats extensively – and discovered that it was the Little Deck That Couldn’t. Specifically, it couldn’t beat 6/6 flying Wurm tokens. I wrote a rather well-received article about it that told people, for God’s sake, don’t play this deck.
And I was right; R/G beats did terribly throughout the season. Of course, I’d wasted all of my time testing a sucktacular deck, but what the hell.
This season, I have now picked up another deck that sucks, bringing me two-for-two… And this time, I’m writing another article to tell you not to play this deck.
Once – just once – I’d like to stumble upon the killer deck of the format and then not write an article. ‘Cause ya know, if I had discovered Psychatog last year, I would have kept my mouth shut until States, then won the whole damn thing and written a smug report about it…
But no. Like a moth to a flame, I am drawn to terrible decks.
And this year, I discovered CounterMobilization.
Lemme tell you; if you wanna go out in a blaze of glory at States, feel free to bring this pile of sucktacularity.
So let’s go over why you shouldn’t play it at States:
Strike One: It Dies Horribly To Sligh.
Hmmm…. Let’s do the math.
1. Sligh is easy to play, and whenever it can be played, it will be… As witness the slews of Sligh decks that appeared at every Extended PTQ last year despite the fact that Sligh couldn’t beat the then-dominant Trix with half the deck tied behind its back. So chances are that someone will be playing it.
2. Sligh is cheap to build. The simplest versions can be built with no rares… But even the rare-heavy versions of Sligh only need Goblin Piledriver, Wooded Foothills, and Blistering Firecat. In other words, you can build a competitive Sligh deck for less than a hundred dollars, and much less if you can trade for the good cards. (I suggest you trade Mobilization for them, myself.) So people like to play it, and it’s the second-cheapest deck in the format – right behind blue-green.
3. Casual players love Goblins – and States is the day when casual players get to shine. States attract people who never show up to PTQs, people who don’t read StarCity, people who don’t know the net or the latest tech… They won’t know or care whether Sligh dies to U/G or not. They’re just happy to be there.
So why does CounterMobo die to Sligh? Simple: The threats are too cheap, and you don’t have enough hard counters.
Put another way: Sligh’s curve generally tops off at four, and most of it sits at one or two – Shock, Raging Goblin, Lava Dart, Firebolt, Chain of Plasma, Goblin Piledriver, Volcanic Hammer, Goblin Raider, Goblin Sledder, Sparksmith, Reckless Charge, and so on. And because they sport a low land count, their threat rate is higher than yours.
What this means is that for you to be effective against Sligh, you need that first-turn Force Spike, second-turn Counterspell. (You also need that for U/G as well… But we’ll deal with that in a second.)
And you don’t always get to go first. Or have those spells handy. Or have the land mix that supports it.
Or even have that be effective.
Because what I’ve seen happen all too often is that the Sligh player will say on the second turn,”Counter my Grim Lavamancer? Fine. I’ll Reckless Charge my other Goblin and smack down for four. Thanks.”
Which also renders all of your non-hard counterspells useless. “No, I won’t pay the extra mana for your Complicate; I’ll instead use those other two mana to summon a Piledriver, which is genetically-engineered to drive piles right up your….”
And even if you manage to survive to turn 4, Wrath of God is not a sure bet against Piledriver Sligh… Mainly because there’s a good chance they can, yet again, say,”Sparksmith, Sledder, go,” leaving you in desperate need of another Wrath of God.
Sure, lay Mobilization; you can’t activate it until the next turn, anyway.
By the time you get to turn six, you’re frequently down to seven life and facing double-trouble in the form of Lava Darts and Firebolts, both of which don’t really give a rat’s ass about paying extra mana because they have flashback and whatnot.
So you lose game one. Horribly.
What happens after sideboarding?
You bring in…. Stuff. Circle of Protection: Red doesn’t work, because not only does that tie all of your mana up, but they’re fools if they don’t pack Flaring Pain. Likewise, Sphere of Law might work, but you can’t cast it before turn 4, when you’ve already taken a beating that would make Tyler Durden proud… And they might have Flaring Pain for you, anyway.
Chastise is funny, but they can play around it if they have Goblin Sledder. Divert can be effective in this matchup, especially when you blitz one of their critters with their own Shock… But it’s so useless in so many other matchups that you don’t want to pack enough to make it worth your while.
Actually, now that I think about it, True Believer would be really funny. Or not.
In other words, you don’t really have an effective sideboard for Sligh – or if you actually create one, you weaken yourself versus everything else. Whoops.
So you die to one of the more common archetypes you’ll be seeing in the lower rounds. Strike one!
What? That’s not good enough? On to round two.
Strike Two: You Do Not Have Enough Mana To Defend And Create
Okay, let’s assume you survive until Turn #7. This is an ideal situation, of course, because Sligh will have killed you, and U/G will have hammered you… But say you do. Let’s say, unbelievably, that you’ve managed to get until Turn #7 with a clear board that does not threaten you, where you can begin to start churning out tokens for the win.
Or can you?
You need to keep the mana open to counter their spells. So let’s look at the counterspells available to us?
- Memory Lapse
- Force Spike
- Circular Logic
- Grip of Amnesia
Of all of these spells, only three say, without exception,”This spell is countered” – and two of them cost four mana and over. Grip of Amnesia and Liquefy are terrible, so we’ll leave them out… And Envelop, while so popular in OBC, is not going to save you from that topdecked Wild Mongrel.
Memory Lapse is terrible in this deck; this is not a tempo deck, and the threat will come back to haunt you. Anyone who thinks they should play with Memory Lapse in CounterMobo should die to a lobotomy. Not the card; the real thing, complete with an ice pick up the eye channel.
(Another science fact! The man who popularized the lobotomy, Egaz Moniz, was murdered by one of his own lobotomized patients.* If you don’t know what a lobotomy is, well… Have you ever tried to break into a car with a wire hanger? You uncurl the hanger and then jam it through the bottom of the window and sort of wriggle it around until you find the latch that pops the lock? Well, that’s what a lobotomy is – except they do this in your frontal lobes, where the”concentration” area rests, and wriggle it around until it’s a mush of gray brain tissue. Egaz’ death couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.)
We then have four basic counterspells, all of which depend on the opponent paying more mana: Force Spike, Syncopate, Complicate, and Circular Logic. The problem is that most of these spells require you to pay more mana than they will use to cast the spell.
Put another way: Force Spike doesn’t do jack in the late game. Syncopate requires you to tie up all of your mana to counter the spell… And the opponent doesn’t have to pay it, meaning they can bait and drop something worse. Complicate is three mana, and they can pay for the Wild Mongrel when they get to seven mana, requiring you to play yet another counterspell to drop it. And in this deck, since your only madness outlet is likely to be Compulsion, Circular Logic – if you play it – will cost three.
So. Assuming the board is clear – which is not a complete assumption, mind you – and assuming you don’t have a Counterspell in hand, you pay three mana at a minimum and have to use another spell to stop whatever threat hits the board.
And that is, of course, assuming that your opponent wasn’t going for the usual overload tactic of casting numerous spells in one turn, trying to blitz past your counters. Which is fairly easy to do, since you have only two serious spells that say”no” every time – Discombobulate and Counterspell – and one of them costs four mana.
What that means is that with seven (or even eight, or nine) land, countering will generally tie up enough of your mana that you can’t afford to make little mobo guys.
So that puts you in the situation of either countering or making little 1/1 tokens…. And you spend most of your time countering.
I think one of the reasons I was drawn to this deck is that I cut my tourney teeth on CounterRebels, a deck that I loved and played well. But you had eight hard counters at a minimum – plus Power Sink, which could act as a hard counter for anyone who wasn’t playing instants – and you could ramp up to solid threats fairly cheaply, with Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero, Defiant Falcon, Thermal Glider, and Defiant Vanguard. With six mana open, you could search out a 2/1 flier and counter with Absorb.
The problem here is that your”loose” counters become less effective in the late game, when you want to dominate…. But you need them to survive the early game. Combine that with the fact that your kill method is too slow and too mana-intensive, and it all adds up to that you can’t keep the board clear, and counter, and begin to mount an offense until turn 12 or so…
And then we run into Strike Three. Keep reading.
You can nibble them to death with ducks, but maintaining control for that long is tricky, my son – tricky. Especially when a cycled Slice And Dice or an Engineered Plague that slips through could set you back another seven turns, giving your opponent time to really get through. Especially when, unbolstered, your tokens have no form of evasion whatsoever.
Whoops. Strike Two!
Strike Three: There Is No Way To Refill Your Hand
Okay; there are ways to draw cards, but all of them are awful in this deck.
You can go with Deep Analysis – but again, you clog your deck up at the four-mana mark… And that three life is far too expensive against most decks. The much-touted Read the Runes only works as a”win more” card in this deck, mainly because you really want to draw cards when you have no creatures; in other words, you desperately need cards when you haven’t managed to make a million soldier tokens yet, and that means that you’re saccing land. And wow, this deck wants more land than Dan Bock.
Compulsion works as a deck filter, getting you to the answers you want… But it doesn’t draw you any extra cards, and you wind up fighting for mana with Mobilization and any counters you’d like to have handy in case someone draws, say, Naturalize.
So what happens is that you burn up a lot of your hand staying alive the early game… And unlike control decks of yore, you then have no way to refill it safely. You have to tap out on your turn, and there are too many things that actually can hurt you in a turn.
And once again, we have the problem: When you get to the late game, you have to split your attention (and your mana) between controlling the board, getting more cards to maintain control, and establishing your plink-plink of a win condition.
The words”lack of synergy” don’t even begin to cover it. Strike Three!
And because this isn’t baseball, we can even move onwards to…
Strike Four: Can’t You Fix It?
Jeremy Muir wondered – and rightfully – whether you couldn’t put Opposition into the deck. It seems like a dream, dunnit? Your guys don’t tap to attack, and you can walk right by the enemy after an end-of-turn”tap everything ya got.”
I tried it. And what happens is this:
Or you can go for the later-game….
Which all begs the immediate question:
Let’s go to the videotape, Alex.
Or you can have Squirrel Nest, which is a one-time mana investment, allowing you full reign to counter as you see fit. Oh, and you get Wild Mongrel, Ravenous Baloth, and Basking Rootwalla , both of which combat Sligh more effectively and give you more critters to use Opposition with. And you get Roar of the Wurm, if you want it. And Wonder – which you had before, of course, but now you have a mana-free way to discard it.
And mana acceleration. Hey! You get Elves and/or Birds!
You lose a lot of the counters, of course, and a fair amount of your mana consistency… But suddenly your threat count is through the roof, your mana curve begins to look manageable, your speed gets that nitro boost, and Opposition now has so many targets that it begins drooling.
So why not go Green, if you’re going to use Opposition?
There’s not a really good answer.
You could also make a case for throwing in a bunch of other threats – Commander Eesha is always fun, and there are a lot of soldiers. (Quicksilver Dragon doesn’t work out as well as you might think, mainly because it can’t protect itself without a Soldier on board.) But now, as Jeremy Muir wisely mentioned, you’re making a soldier deck, not a CounterMobilization deck. Which is probably a better idea, because you need more than one route to victory.
White/Blue has been good in the past, but it can’t work the way it used to. The traditional U/W Control is to take the hit in the early game, then establish complete control in the late game and win with a single threat; that was then, this is now. In today’s environment, the counters are too watered-down and the card drawing isn’t there, meaning you burn up a lot of half-assed counterspells and can’t get them back. Furthermore, the single threat that we’re depending on takes too much investment and is too slow.
In short, CounterMobilization is another example of what we see at the beginning of every season: The cards come out, and everyone says,”Wizards is building our decks for us! This deck is premade!” Then everyone starts throwing around decklists, and it turns out that lo! Wizards did build our decks for us.
But some of those decks suck. Let it go, sweetheart.
Now if someone has a deck that does work, please tell me. I’m supposed to be a ferret, dammit, not a canary.
* – Some reports have it that he was beaten to death by his own patient; as far as I know, this is an urban legend. He was shot and died from the shot, which isn’t quite as literary.