A few weeks ago, Pete and Omeed asked me if I had any objection to StarCityCCG.com officially adopting the column title "Casual Fridays". I told them they’d have to check with Dockers, and if there were no legal entanglements from them, we ought to be all set. I also checked in with the good folks at the Dojo, and heard no objections from those quarters either. So this week marks the official return of Casual Fridays. I was somewhere in the 30’s when things unraveled, so we’ll restart the numbering at 40, a nice round number, and get the clock ticking again.
And what better way to get the clock ticking than to close the loop on the latest BREAK THIS CARD contest? My eternal gratitude to all those who entered and then waited patiently to hear which mediocre deck stood head and shoulders… mmm… among the rest. I know that the transition has been particularly weird for these people, and I hope they all have figured out where I am now. Hey, if any of you know the winner from IRC chats or the like, make sure he’s aware of what’s up.
So let’s get to it.
STRONGHOLD GAMBIT was this round’s card to break. The Gambit is a red Nemesis rare that makes all players reveal a card, with the lowest casting cost creature coming into play. Not a bad card, by any means; but I chose it anyway since I’ve felt Break this Card is more fun when the card really does have some possibilities.
The field of about seventy entries was pretty evenly divided between those who used the discard strategy to complement the Gambit, and those who did something else.
DISCARD STRATEGIES. From the first group, Dale Taylor had perhaps the most "classic" version, providing 12 different tough creatures (from Tidal Kraken to Archangel) and Ostracize and Rag Man as the key lever for advantage. Robert Driskill was the first to come up with use of Volrath, who works real well with the high-cc creatures that many people packed into their Gambit decks.
Mathieu Landry provided a non-Ostracizing version that still made heavy use of discard theme, making the most use out of Parallax Nexus and Hypnotic Specter. Fellow StarCityCCG.com columnist Sky Winslow Roy (can I let a StarCityCCG.com columnist win this contest, ever? I suppose not, now… conflict of interest… but we all know Sky has fun ideas, so I’d be silly not to include them…) used Mind Slash, and then a horde of Mercenaries and token-generators like Sengir Autocrat and Verdant Force to fuel Grave Pact as a control strategy. Some dude named David from Anchorage (see how silly I look when people don’t give me their full names?) made creative use of Jester’s Mask to shift an opponent’s hand to a favorable Gambit situation.
NON-DISCARD STRATEGIES. Most of these employed blue as either a third color (in addition to black…sometimes discard was still used), or as the second color to red. Nathan Long used Telepathy as a complement to the discard, and also used Abduction and Treachery as key cards to complement the Gambit strategy. Doug Young actually built a CREATURELESS Gambit deck that encouraged folks to bring out creatures under the oppression of a Tainted Aether…the hope is to mill them all! Nick Branstator splashed blue for Ray of Command and power cards like Time Walk. Stuart Meek made a great blue-black-red deck that also featured a Teeka’s Dragon, and Teeka’s Dragon holds a special place in my heart.
Every cycle, I have to find the words to express my awe at Matt Green and Team Spike UK. This time, with Phil Mattingly serving up the kill condition, they came up with a whopper. I don’t want to give you all a headache, but one line from Matt says it all:
"Well, we’ve seen it a million times before, it’s the old Tradewind Rider–Megrim–Turnabout–Foster–Gaea’s Blessing–Collective Unconscious loop."
And that doesn’t even take into account the Nebuchadnezzar they use, or the Stronghold Gambit itself. Trust me, it’s ugly and it’s best if we keep this buried.
Not all of the non-discard decks featured blue. Tommy Ashton was one of the few to think of Drop of Honey, which is a great weenie-suppressor. Mike O’Connor actually used the Gambit in reverse, intentionally ditching fat and then bringing it all back with Living Death. And Stephen Cutcliffe, for kicks and giggles, sent in a "pure luck" deck that included Scoria Wurm, Wild Wurm, Gamble, and all the other red cards that drive you nuts due to their overdependence on chance.
Steven Beres gives us the runner-up deck:
1 FATTIE OF YOUR CHOICE (e.g., Multani)
4 Highway Robber
2 Sanguine Guard
4 Battle Rampart
4 Planar Void
4 Mangara’s Tome
4 Ill-Gotten Gains
1 Time Spiral
1 Eye of Ramos
1 Heart of Ramos
1 Skull of Ramos
1 Mox Diamond
4 Dark Ritual
This deck depends on a rather delicate combination, but I like the thinking and it really does help break Stronghold Gambit. You use the Tome to set aside Multani and Gambits. Then, with a Planar Void out, cast Ill-Gotten Gains. That wipes out everyone else’s hand. Use Archivists to draw cards (and/or replace effect by paying mana to get those cards back out from under the Tome). Then cast your Gambit, and put out Multani (or whatever).
The drawback I saw in this deck was its choice of Multani, which doesn’t look as good after the Gains are cast. But minor tweaking would solve this problem.
The winner builds a fun red-black-blue deck. From Ben Kaymen:
4x Stronghold Gambit
4x Breathstealer’s Crypt
4x Tidal Kraken
4x Demonic Consultation
4x Hymn to Tourach
4x Hypnotic Specter
4x Force of Will
4x City of Brass
4x Gemstone Mine
4x Peat Bog
4x Saprazzan Skerry
4x Underground River
The basic premise: Necro accelerates the deck (but is not critical… see my version below). You pull the Crypt out as soon as possible, and discourage creature drawing. Gambit in a Kraken as soon as you’ve destroyed the hands of those who might still be holding competitors.
This deck is nicely focused, and uses undeniably good cards like Ophidian and Force of Will in support of its strategy.
I might build a deck very much like Ben’s, but my aversion to Necro and my belief that any creature you Gambit out is likely to be a target (and therefore should be easily recurring) leads me to something like this:
4x Stronghold Gambit
4x Breathstealer’s Crypt
4x Phyrexian Negator
BLACK SUPPORT (14)
3x Hypnotic Specter
BLUE SUPPORT (8)
4x Force of Will
RED SUPPORT (3)
3x Arc Mage
4x Volcanic Island
4x Peat Bog
The deck, like Ben’s, still runs a risk of losing life too quickly. To prevent red mages from Fireballing you out early, I put in Misdirections (which also work to protect the Negators and Spectres). Arc Mages provide the recurring creature suppression you will probably need after you start making a couple of players discard. With low-cc creatures, you can use the Crypt more efficiently, letting yourself ditch the creature and then Unearth it.
That’s my take on this mediocre card. I’ll never invest in four of them, but I can always dream…
Ben, please send your address to [email protected] and I’ll send you a signed copy of Gambit, to be cherished forever, or at least for a few minutes.
Whew! Doing this contest really clears the arteries. I’ll pick a new card in a couple of weeks. Suggestions are always welcome; I have a few thoughts socked away already but nothing I’m married to.
COMING SOON: The Hall… er, Hill of Fame, in downloadable color! And my group rediscovers the joys of drafting Antiquities.