This week, we have even more decks than I featured last week. The whole point of this exercise is to give readers a look inside the nature of decks our group has played over time, since these are the decks that influence Casual Fridays. It’s also a good chance to give readers what I’ve heard them wanting in emails over the past couple of months: More decks, more key plays, more wacky happenings.
So let’s meander right to it.
DECK NAME: SNEAKY OATH
LIFESPAN: Dave has been messing with Sneak Attack ever since the card came out. While there are no restrictions (other than Type I format) on what cards we use in decks, often a card will become”associated” with a member of our group. Other players won’t venture there, unless they have a totally fresh perspective on it. (This is why only one other player in our group has ever really tinkered with Grave Pact, and no one has touched Aluren.) The deck has been radically improved over time, especially with the Oath, and stands tall as one of the most frightening forces in our group today.
KEY CARDS: Sneak Attack, Oath of Druids, Devouring Strossus, Crater Hellion, other creatures that hurt a lot when they hit you, ouch, cut it out, and the lovable Orcish Lumberjacks and Tinder Walls to get to a rapid start (and keep the Strossus alive).
HOW THE DECK WORKS: Sneak Attack decks may be old hat in the group you play in – and we’ve certainly lived with this bugbear for some time ourselves – but if you haven’t seen a Sneak Attack deck work recently, build one and see why they still are really good. Oh, they’re also a bit better now that there’s such at thing as threshold; Dave is tinkering around with how to best use that. (My vote is Wayward Angel, though I’m not sure that’s better than Reya, Dawnbringer in his deck.)
Dave is also playing with Altar of Dementia in his deck, but I’m not convinced that it’s better than whatever other beating sticks he could stuff in there.
MEMORABLE MOMENT: I have a really fuzzy memory of a Thundermare and two Devouring Strossi; I don’t remember much after that. But I do have a couple of really nasty bumps on my head.
MORAL OF THE DECK: This deck improved tremendously once Oath of Druids was added, and once Dave built and played the deck both as an offensive and defensive tool, rather than a simple bludgeon. Our group has come to value combat surprises more and more as time goes on. It has also come to value enchantment removal, so the double threat of Sneak Attack and Oath is critical. It’s not exactly an alternate path to victory…But it is another threat that the board has to cope with.
DECK NAME: VOLTRON
LIFESPAN: Chimera-based”Transformer” decks were in vogue ever since Visions produced the beasts, and especially since Tempest gave us Corpse Dance. Theo’s version has been active for about a year and a half, and is still around, though not played too often.
KEY CARDS: All four Visions Chimeras, Bottle Gnomes, Corpse Dance, Balance, Magma Mine, artifact-friendly lands.
HOW THE DECK WORKS: Using the Chimera engine to keep at least one impressive creature on the board, and the”Dancing Gnomes” combination to maintain a healthy life total, the deck presents a rigorous offensive threat to any but the stiffest anti-artifact strategy. Magma Mine is definitely inferior to Masticore, but it still looks cute as a closer.
MEMORABLE MOMENT: Just this past week, Theo brought the deck out of quasi-retirement – so that I, who showed up that night without a single deck to play (I got confused on the format, thought we’d be drafting), would have something to use. The catch was, I was his lieutenant in an emperor game. This was doubly galling, of course. It was even worse when I found out he had forgotten to replace his Salt Flats with Caves of Koilos.
Nevertheless, it was cool to have a Magma Mine go off for fifteen into the opposing emperor’s face. When you draw all three Urza’s lands by the first turn, you get to do stuff like that.
MORAL OF THE DECK: Annoying decks that your friends use aren’t nearly as annoying when you play them yourself.
DECK NAME: SPORE FROG SOMETHING
LIFESPAN: Kelly put what is probably her favorite deck together about six months ago, while Spore Frog was still hot. (Yes, that’s a joke.) She and her boyfriend haven’t had much chance to interact with our group lately, since school studies and extra jobs have taken up most of their time. But the deck is probably still together, somewhere in some closet of hers, waiting to sacrifice itself for a Fog effect.
KEY CARDS: Spore Frog. Green-white stuff, I guess. Honestly, I can’t remember much but the Frog. You’ll see why in a moment.
HOW THE DECK WORKS: It didn’t work. But it did really make an impression, once.
MEMORABLE MOMENT: She’s in a 2×2 team battle. Jerry, an opponent, has 112 untargetable slivers – we’ve all been there, right? Life for each team is around ten. Kelly has perfectly good defenses for a normal game; but no one expects to be able to hold up against that many slivers for so long.
Jerry, smelling blood, taps out all creatures for the win. But he forgets that Kelly has one amazing weapon on her side: The Spore Frog, baby!
She sacks it, and the attack is useless. Jerry can’t generate enough slivers to stop her own forces from crashing over the following turn for the win.
You can still make Jerry flinch by sneaking up behind him and shouting,”SPORE FROG WINS! SPORE FROG WINS!”
MORAL OF THE DECK: It’s possible that the Spore Frog is slightly better in multiplayer now, since green has more reasons with Odyssey to play sackable”seals of Fog.” But I think it’s more likely that this is a good time for one of those”don’t try this at home” morals, rather than the more reckless”see?…anything is good in multiplayer!” kind of moral.
DECK NAME: CHAD’S UNGRATEFUL HOUND
LIFESPAN: This is the deck I built for the Multiplayer Invitational in Los Angeles last year. Technically, it’s still together; but I rarely play it any more.
KEY CARDS: Seals of Doom and Removal, Glacial Wall, Crosis, Ghitu Fire, Spinal Embrace, Misdirection, and believe it or not…Metathran Transport.
HOW THE DECK WORKS: This was my first deck collaboration with Theo; I felt I would need a touch of early”keep your head down” flavor to help me win. Most of the early game finesse touches were his; most of the late game hammers are mine. The idea was to show early relative weakness, so that players would take a little pity on me (as the”host,” I could hardly hope that they just plain wouldn’t notice me), and then lay down punishing card after punishing card. Turns out it worked okay, though I wasn’t exactly keen on the amount of weakness it showed at the actual dance.
MEMORABLE MOMENT: It has been well documented, by people far more bitter than I, how Chad Ellis saved me from Randy Buehler lethal Chameleon Spirit, which gave me the critical turn I needed to get Spinal Embrace mana, which put me back on track to victory.
MORAL OF THE DECK: My consultation with Theo led to a somewhat informal but regular practice of the two of us helping adjust each other’s key decks. You’ll see more examples of this below.
DECK NAME: PROSPEROUS VISELING
LIFESPAN: Came up as Nemesis released Viseling, and lasted until about three months ago. Really rolled after Masques gave us Indentured Djinn.
KEY CARDS: Viseling, Iron Maiden, Prosperity, Indentured Djinn, Evacuation, Phyrexian Walker, Ornithopter.
HOW THE DECK WORKS: Evacuation is the real key to the deck; it makes the well-known Viseling/Prosperity engine work a lot better. There is no countermagic in the deck; the whole thing is geared toward supporting the combo with enough redundancy that a few Disenchants won’t make much difference.
MEMORABLE MOMENT: Pete always liked to gloat about the Indentured Djinn when it came out:”Anyone wanna draw three cards?” Of course, the gloating sounded more practical when there was an actual Viseling or Maiden out. Whether strategically correct or not, I almost never passed up the chance at three free cards.
One game, I was feeling particularly spiteful. (I was probably in a bad mood from losing most of that night.) Pete’s got two Iron Maidens and a Viseling out, there are about four others of us, all at ten life or less, we’ve all got seven cards already, and he plays the Djinn.
Dave passes on the cards, so does Gary, and Theo. Without saying a word, I just slam my hand down on my library and pull three cards off the top. I know full well not a single one of them will help me.
“You’re drawing?” said Theo with wide eyes. “Why?”
I gritted my teeth, intent on my suicidal course.”It’s f***ing card advantage, and I’m taking it.”
MORAL OF THE DECK: Well, there’s that bit right there about card advantage. But I could give you more than that, I suppose. This deck, whether the version I’ve listed here or the one you came up with yourself, wherever you are, put”squeeze play” decks on the map in casual play. It flexed our mental muscles so that we were all ready for the Dark Suspicions/Grafted Skullcap combo, when it showed.
DECK NAME: EQUILIBRIUM AT ZERO
LIFESPAN: Built around mid-2000, this deck is still hanging around, I’m fairly sure. It has had only a few, very notable, splashes.
KEY CARDS: Land Equilibrium, Energy Vortex, Armageddon, Barbed Wire, Academy Rector, artifact mana.
HOW THE DECK WORKS:”I wanted to play a Limited Resources deck,” explained Theo,”but without Limited Resources.” This is what we get as a result.
MEMORABLE MOMENT: If you ask Theo this question, he will tell you the most memorable moment was when a single Armageddon forced an eight-player concession. Who am I to spoil such a perfect memory for him?
MORAL OF THE DECK: This is the classic combo deck that gets smashed the moment people recognize it. With very little to back up its threats (4x Wrath of God, 1x Balance), and only one real path to victory (1x Barbed Wire), it is not a deck for the faint of heart.
DECK NAME: ELVISH CONSPIRACY
LIFESPAN: Born from the Masques card Conspiracy, developed under the Invasion dragon legends, and still alive today.
KEY CARDS: Conspiracy, Eladamri Lord of Leaves, Sylvan Messenger, big dragons.
HOW THE DECK WORKS: It takes a lot of pieces coming down at the right order, but it is a fairly humorous lock once in place. Conspiracy turns every creature card in your deck, no matter where it is, into an elf. Eladamri turns them all (including himself, since he’s now an elf) untargetable. Sylvan Messenger finds them, of course. And the big dragons are, well, huge, untargetable, searchable, flying elves. Hey, whatever works.
MEMORABLE MOMENT: Rith, doing a lot of awakening. Huge, untargetable, searchable, flying elves that make Saprolings are even less pretty than those that don’t.
MORAL OF THE DECK: As I said, I’m not crazy about decks that depend on at least two permanents sticking around the board to win; global clearers are too prominent in casual play. But sometimes, even in experienced groups like ours, no one is playing with the Wrath, or Deed, or the Wildfire – and that’s when decks like these look absolutely stellar.
DECK NAME: RECURRING LIFE
LIFESPAN: This deck could have been built a year ago, but Carl didn’t focus attention on it until about six months ago. It’s still a primary deck of his.
KEY CARDS: Death or Glory, Radiant’s Dragoons, Angel of Mercy, Highway Robber, Bone Shredder, Phyrexian Reclamation.
HOW THE DECK WORKS: A long time ago, I had a black/white deck that used white life gain in perverse fashion, to fuel dark black schemes (e.g., Hatred). Carl’s deck is a little like that, but with more emphasis on the life gain, and less on the dark schemes. It’s also more reliable than my version was, and gives just about any kind of deck fits, since it doesn’t depend too much on permanents sticking around.
MEMORABLE MOMENT: Death or Glory is a really interesting divvy card. Most people are used to Fact or Fiction splits by now – but if you want a real challenge, try to split up a graveyard that has two Radiant’s Dragoons, one Angel of Mercy, three Highway Robbers, and two Bone Shredders.
Carl asked me to do the split; in the haze of midnight, I forgot what I did exactly. You’ll have to cut me some slack; we were the last two players in a seven-way chaos that my Pernicious Deed and his life gain had tortured into a three-hour ordeal. I’m fairly certain he took the pile with more Highway Robbers, in any case.
MORAL OF THE DECK: One notable thing about this deck is how effectively it uses graveyard recursion, without any cards from Weatherlight or Odyssey (which are the largely held”leader” expansions for that strategy). It’s easy to follow the herd; but perhaps more rewarding to find those cards, like Death or Glory, that do a better job of what you really want to do.
DECK NAME: INSTANT WURM SOUP
LIFESPAN: Like most of the decks I’ve mentioned this week, Toim’s Wurm deck came up a bit less than a year ago, and is still around today.
KEY CARDS: Nesting Wurm, Belbe’s Portal, Storm Cauldron
HOW THE DECK WORKS: The”amazing” Belbe’s Portal is not critical to the deck, but does look quite nice with a Thran Dynamo. There are other Wurms in the deck; but the Nesting Wurm is most impressive, since it comes out at instant speed through a Portal, and then goes to find its cousins. Once you know those are available, the game just feels a bit different.
The Storm Cauldron was an inspired touch; for many multiplayer decks that would otherwise dominate a game, it is a must-counter… And most such decks don’t have counterspells.
MEMORABLE MOMENT: The first time Toim played this deck, he had a great draw – a few lands, the Dynamo, the Portal… And then not a single Wurm showed up, for fifteen turns. He kept trying to tell it us it really was a Wurm deck (he had, after all, put himself out on a thin limb by announcing”Wurm” on the Portal), but we didn’t believe him.
MORAL OF THE DECK: Toim’s a quiet character who, before this deck, tended to prefer flexible armies of small creatures (like Spire Owl, or more impressively, Soltari Visionary). I think this gave him a taste for fat, because ever since, he’s gone for decks with Lava Zombie, Desolation Angel, and the like.
DECK NAME: STUPID DRACO TRICKS
LIFESPAN: Born in my first Scrye article a few months ago, as Planeshift came out, this deck started off as a ridiculous joke. I put it together with low expectations, but the deck surprised me with some very flashy moves. So I’ve held onto it, though I’m ready to pull it apart now.
KEY CARDS: Draco, Soldevi Adnate, Ghitu Fire, Masticore, Corpse Dance, Artifact Mutation.
HOW THE DECK WORKS: Get a Draco out, and a Soldevi Adnate (I have two Yawgmoth’s Priests in there, too, just in case). Once the Adnate is active, you can use it to sack Draco to either pull off a massive Ghitu Fire, throw bullets through a Masticore, start an (unintentional, I swear) Corpse Dance loop, or do a bunch of other things (pump a Dragon Engine, fire off a Stroke of Genius, etc.). Perhaps more impressive is blowing up your own Draco in response to a lethal threat, showering sixteen Saproling tokens onto the board and making quite a mess.
MEMORABLE MOMENT: What a giddy feeling to put down sixteen Saproling tokens, all at once, for the first time! It’s just enough to be an impossible number to deal with, but not so many that you won’t take the time to find sixteen counters and throw those suckers out there. I make little formations of them (four in each formation; and each formation has a squadron leader who I privately pretend has special leadership powers, so I never let those die first… No, it’s not the one in front; that’s your point-Saproling, who scouts out territory and signals critical intelligence information to the squadron’s communications officer, who relays the signal to the leader. The fourth squadron member is the specialist; that’s the guy who gets pumped if there’s a relevant effect on the board, or who deals the final, lethal point of damage…). There’s sound effects, and movie reel sequences, and all sorts of stuff. I’ve probably said too much.
MORAL OF THE DECK: I think the key to the deck’s success is that I’m using Italian Mirage lands in it. I highly recommend the use of old, foreign lands in any deck that you think needs serious help. International coalitions are the only way out of sticky situations, I guess.
DECK NAME: ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE
LIFESPAN: Built around the same time as the Draco deck, in response to it and all of the other artifact- and enchantment-heavy decks in our group.
KEY CARDS: Forge[/author]“]Thran [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author], Viashino Heretic, Soul Sculptor, Orim’s Thunder, etc.
HOW THE DECK WORKS: Gary started this as a metagame call against all of the artifact decks our group; and added enchantment removal like Orim’s Thunder to deal with the enchantments. That only left creatures, so Forge[/author]“]Thran [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] and Soul Sculptor became necessary. This trick, which like Bill’s Elvish Conspiracy deck requires two or more key permanents to stay in play, works a bit better in part because it’s tuned to the metagame, and in part because its cards are cheaper and easier to cast.
MEMORABLE MOMENT: I once had the sad misfortune of choosing my Draco deck to go up against this thing. Once I found out what Gary was playing, you can be reasonably certain that Draco stayed off the board. (Gary made sure that my Adnates never stuck around long enough to go active. It’s amazing how critical these Alliance commons are. Anyway, we’re talking about Gary here, and he figured out how to clip the legs out of most decks like Stupid Draco Tricks pretty quickly.)
MORAL OF THE DECK: I know”metagame” is a dirty word outside of tournament circles, but all the term means is being smart about what the people around you are playing. You can still build wild and crazy decks to beat the challenge; just pay attention.
DECK NAME: KAVU CONVERGENCE
LIFESPAN: It’s been around for a few months, ever since Apocalypse bred Kavu Howler. Jerry’s in the midst of tweaking it a bit away from blue.
KEY CARDS: Kavu Howler, Flametongue Kavu, Penumbra Kavu, Kavu Monarch, Coastal Drake, Coat of Arms, Levitation.
HOW THE DECK WORKS: It wasn’t enough for Jerry to have six 10/10 trampling Kavu. No, he wanted them all to fly, too.
MEMORABLE MOMENT: The jury is still out on these envoy cards, isn’t it? Once, Jerry flipped two Coats of Arms and a couple of sorely needed lands. Another time, he flipped four kavu. What does this mean? I don’t know; probably the same thing a coin flip means.
MORAL OF THE DECK: We’ll all miss kavu, won’t we? So efficient, so leathery.
DECK NAME: PSYCHIC BATTLEGROUND
LIFESPAN: I’ve documented this deck just recently – check the archives from just a few weeks back.
KEY CARDS: If you recall that article, Theo did indeed change it from black/blue to green/blue. So Psychic Battle, Scroll Rack, Sylvan Library, Worldly Tutor, Verdant Force, Cockatrice, and – my favorite touches when Theo sought my advice – Rhox and Penumbra Wurm.
HOW THE DECK WORKS: The blue/green version just came out, and appears to work more fluidly than the blue/black. Psychic Battle hampers the targeting of anything – and with creatures like Cockatrice and Verdant Force, that turns into a problem quickly. If opponents attempt a global killer, Rhox and Penumbra Wurm are among the first to recuperate. (Yes, I intentionally suggested cards to Theo that will screw my own Schism deck below. That’s part of elevating your game: Throwing obstacles out there for you to dance around.) Fog Banks and Walls of Roots provide early defense.
MEMORABLE MOMENT: It’s only been in two games – once, piloted by me (the same night I forgot my decks and borrowed the Chimera deal), and once by Theo. Without getting any deck manipulators, I came in second out of four; Theo got the manipulators and swept a table of five later in the evening. The most fun thing to watch was the Scroll Rack working, which he would activate, of course, in response to any targeted effect. Didn’t miss an opportunity to redirect a single spell or ability.
MORAL OF THE DECK: It is really freaky to say that”Psychic Battle works”… But it really does. While green/blue is probably optimal, here’s probably no reason why it wouldn’t work in other color combinations: blue/red with Wildfire is interesting to contemplate, as is blue/white with Wrath.
DECK NAME: G POX
LIFESPAN: He just built it a few weeks ago, after seeing several Apocalypse cards play out.
KEY CARDS: Plague Spitter, Subversion, Death Grasp, Captain’s Maneuver, Backlash, Agonizing Demise
HOW THE DECK WORKS: Carl uses the three cross-color bears in these colors (Shivan Zombie, Goblin Legionnaire, Putrid Warrior) to start his early game, and then uses the other cards above to push a rapid end to the mid- and late-game. Backlash is often overlooked by casual players; bear in mind that there’s almost always a 6/6 or better creature to target on a given multiplayer board. (Delirium is an older, slightly less flexible version of this card, if you want eight copies of the effect.)
MEMORABLE MOMENT: Carl was killed by his own Plague Spitter just a couple of weeks ago. He’ll probably remember that for a while. Of course, that will just convince him the deck needs white life gain, which Carl can’t pass up an opportunity to pursue.
MORAL OF THE DECK: I have no idea why it’s called G Pox… But you don’t have to know everything about a deck to fear it. This is yet another elegant metagame call, meant to punish those players still relying on oversized dragons and other heavies to pull out the victory. White (which would provide protection from black/red) is in short supply for our group, so this deck is very well situated for the near future.
DECK NAME: SCHISM
LIFESPAN: I built this just a few months ago, as Apocalypse provided several cards that were simply irresistible. Its winning record is so satisfying, under such tremendous circumstances, that I am tempted to retire it before it can truly fade. But I’ll more likely keep it around until it gets pounded by the metagame; I owe the group that sense of closure we enjoy so much.
KEY CARDS: Mystic Snake, Pernicious Deed, Doomsday Specter, Raven Familiar, Anavolver, and the impractical (but very Deed-friendly) Fungal Shambler. I should put Spiritmongers in there instead, perhaps. Once again, the Theo/Anthony collaboration paid off when he suggested Bone Harvest to replace Urborg Uprising. If the Uprising was a back-breaker, the Harvest is a spine-pulverizer.
HOW THE DECK WORKS: This deck is the deck that truly fits my personality best: provide ample threats (from Gaea’s Skyfolk to double-kicked Anavolver), and back them up in as many ways as possible (from the simple Man o’ War to the brutal Pernicious Deed).
Lately, the great amount of attention this deck gets (our group has learned to blow each Deed as early as possible, to limit the amount of time where I have power over the board) has forced a greater and greater reliance on Bone Harvest, which brings back those creatures early Deeds blew and prevents me from decking myself.
MEMORABLE MOMENT: I’ve been bragging a bit, here, so let me level off with a great counter-play Theo pulled off, and promises to use again: Interdict, in response to the activation of the Deed. There is nothing so chilling as suddenly realizing that your awesome board control weapon has just blown a fuse, thank you very much… And all because of a card that’s supposed to be bad.
MORAL OF THE DECK: This deck is a great one to close with, because it shows how complex the metagaming has become in our group. Players are choosing conventionally”suboptimal” cards (like Interdict) to combat specific decks, and tying them into larger schemes so that they work more reliably against the wider field.
I couldn’t have imagined a better path for our group to take, and this is a great time to thank them for their creativity, their terrific plays, and the sense of fun they bring to the table every week.
Except for that Spore Frog thing. That was just wrong.