Casual Fridays #51: Leveraging Your Full Collection For Maximum Utility And Efficiency In A Dot.Com Age

I read an item in Newsweek recently that quoted a guy running for town council in Southwest Ranches, Florida: "I would really appreciate if people didn’t vote for me." Why on earth would he say this? Well, it turns out he’s a fireman, and three years away from retirement (and, I assume, significant pension and…

I read an item in Newsweek recently that quoted a guy running for town council in Southwest Ranches, Florida: "I would really appreciate if people didn’t vote for me."

Why on earth would he say this? Well, it turns out he’s a fireman, and three years away from retirement (and, I assume, significant pension and other benefits). If he takes another job for the city, he has to give up one of them. And I guess he just found that out.

The point? Do your research. Figure out the possibilities. Think BEFORE you act.

I shall now abandon that philosophy to bring you the rest of this article.

I often hear from readers who are "throwing together this deck for tonight" or some such. While I can’t always help them as quickly as they’d like, I do notice that many people, like myself, often wait until the last moment to throw together a new deck for that week’s game. Maybe there’s a new format for the week they need to comply with, or maybe they’ve just gotten sick of their current pool of three or four decks and just desperately want to pull something together.

They flip through their collections, quick like a bunny, and inevitably fall upon that horrid rare that they happen to have four of. They pause, consider, gag in disgust, and keep going.

This is, naturally, a missed opportunity.

Bad cards have a place, and not just in the Break this Card contest. Building decks with bad cards increases your deck-building skill by forcing you to overcome an inherent disadvantage. It also gives you a warm feeling in your tummy on those rare occasions when you pull off the win. (The even warmer feeling you get in your tummy as you taunt the table, "I can’t believe I beat you people with that card!", is optional.)

For those people, I have put together the following framework for Creating a Bad Deck Out of a Worse Card. These guidelines, and the examples I use, assume general Type I restrictions, but that’s not a load-bearing wall in this house of cards.

Disclaimer: I have not built any of the three decks I create here. Am I afraid to test them, you ask? Oh, don’t be so paranoid. I am simply simulating the rushed process that is throwing together a bad deck at the last moment. Trust me, they’ll work beautifully, in any format, no matter what your metagame, against any number of opponents. ‘Kay? Good. Now go check ’em out, ace.

STEP ONE: Find The Bad Rare You Have Four Of.
Most of us have at least one: The freaking ridiculously bad rare that haunts you in every fresh pack you open of a given expansion. The Brushwaggs you keep encountering as you explore the Weatherlight expansion. The Flicker you keep ripping open every time you buy into the hype that Urza’s Destiny has so many great rares. (Yeah, yeah, save your breath: Flicker CAN be good. Remember that mantra the next time your buddy smacks you down with a Thorn Elemental he Treacheried from a third player, who blows the fourth player’s Masticore and his own Academy Rector with a loaded Powder Keg to go fetch an Opalescence.)

If you only have three or two copies of the card you think you want to use, that’s okay, too. But when your deck isn’t a machine of efficiency, don’t blame the bad card! Blame yourself for not having enough, my friend.

My choices, for this article:

* Greener Pastures, a 2G Enchantment from Saga. During each player’s upkeep, if that player controls more land than any other, he or she may put a 1/1 green Saproling token into play.
* Oppression, a 1BB Enchantment from Saga. Whenever a player successfully casts a spell, that player chooses and discards a card.
* Duplicity, a 3UU Enchantment from Tempest. When Duplicity comes into play, put the top five cards of your library face down on Duplicity. During your upkeep, you may exchange all of the cards in your hand for the cards on Duplicity. At the end of your turn, choose and discard a card. If you lose control of Duplicity, put all cards on it into the graveyard. (If you didn’t understand all of that, don’t worry. I’ve read the card at least once a month for the past three years and I still can’t quite figure it out.)

Yes, all enchantments. I find nothing as useless as a permanent that can’t attack, block, or activate an ability – yet still poses absolutely no threat to black or red. I picked these three for two reasons. First, each does still have a tiny bit of redeeming value that I felt I could exploit. Second, they are from Saga and Tempest, the two most recent large expansions before Masques. Newer players who are just beginning to extend themselves back to these blocks may find it helpful to get a warning or two about what they might uncover. Not everything was peaches and Sarcomancy, back in the good ol’ days.

STEP TWO: Do the Synergy Thing, Decent Rares First.
What good is a bad card if you don’t find other cards that threaten to work with it? Have at least five slots in your deck for rare cards that you only have one or two of. (Normally, I don’t count up my rares and ration them; but this restriction will simulate the environment of creating this deck for a specific format.)

Let’s start with Greener Pastures. More land means more Saprolings, right? We can work with that. Exploration is an easy choice to get out more land; I only have two. Once we have all those tokens, it might be nice to draw cards, so throw in my two Collective Unconsciouses. And if you’ve bought Battle Royale, you have at least one Dirtcowl Wurm. Pull it out of your Armageddon deck – Argothian Wurm is better in that one, anyway – and put it here. Presto! Your five complementary rares. And we haven’t even had to leave color, yet.

For Oppression, it might be nice if you weren’t casting creature spells, but rather putting them into play outright. The most obvious choice, Oath of Druids, will help others, so let’s not use that. But green is probably a good complementary color. Quicksilver Amulet (artifact) and Elvish Piper (green) can split four slots at two apiece. The last goes to Tranquil Grove, a reusable enchantment hoser.

Hmmmm…Duplicity. You know, I think your best bet with a Duplicity deck is the rules fog approach. Match up Duplicity with five other little-seen cards to make people continually go, "Heh? What? Lemme see that card?" This will get two things done: first, it will prolong your life, since all the card-passing and reading will slow down people from beating on you. Second, if they don’t find "damage to target player" or "destroy target creature" in the text, some players may let it go and leave you alone for a while.

So let’s see: How about Helm of Possession, Raging River, Melee, Dream Halls, and Morphling? That oughta keep ’em busy. Sure, Morphling will attract attention; but it has too much text to ignore. You can’t blithely dump a card that fits your theme, just because it’s good.

STEP THREE: How About A Path to Victory?
I hear decks that win actually have some method of doing so. We’d better get on that.

Unlike the Break this Card decks that I solicit and feature, the path these decks forge from loser card to winning game is a rather indirect and winding one. No matter: It will take your dim opponents that many more games to discern the ultimate engine behind your stellar game.

For the Greener Pastures deck, I would go red, and give the Saprolings a job with Reckless Abandon, Mob Justice, or even Hearth Charm (make one unblockable!…give them all +1 on the attack!… oh, your enemies will rule the day they laughed at your terrifically green pastures…). I’d also have a Rolling Thunder or Fireball handy, for when this absolutely weak path to victory runs out of gas.

To turn Oppression into a killing machine, add Simian Grunts (which you can play at instant speed whether or not your other cards are in play…and, although it’s unlikely to come up, it might be nice to have some control over the timing of the Oppression discard). The other creatures you put in can be predictable heavies; since I’m restricting my rares I’ll go with Yavimaya Wurm, Bone Shredder, Hidden Horror, and Albino Troll. NOTE: Multani, Maro-Sorcerer is bad here.

Duplicity begs for some cheesy combo. How about Acidic Soil and Gush? Throw in Thwart and Firestorm (sorry, another rare, just replace the nearly unattainable Raging River if you’re a purist for the random formats I self-impose) and how could you possibly lose?

STEP FOUR: Add Your Finishing Touches.
Throughout your Magic career, so-called "Pro" players will try to feed you hogwash about overly complex notions like "mana curve", "playtesting", and "having enough land to cast your spells". Hey, it’s 4:55pm, the game starts at 5pm half an hour away, you don’t have time for that crap. Slap in stuff like the following:

For Greener Pastures deck: Avalanche Riders and Orcish Settlers to assure a saproling every turn, Spidersilk Armor to Tremor-proof your precious little sap-beasties, and some obvious targeted pumping like Giant Growth or Invigorate in case one ever gets through on the attack.

For Oppression deck: Wall of Blossoms to refill your hand, Chilling Apparition to squeeze other players without annoying them overmuch, and Unearth to trade a card in your hand for a creature in your graveyard. Exhume will work the first time, as you can pitch a large creature to Oppression early and then bring it out; but then everyone will be on to you.

For Duplicity deck: You will eventually annoy people with this deck. Better have Fog Banks, Walls of Razors, that sort of thing. Some additional counterspelling or burn might not hurt, either.

STEP #5: Repeat This Process Until You Have Emptied Your Collection of All Useless Rares.
Now they’re in living, breathing decks, ready to take on the world! Go get ’em, tiger.

Anthony Alongi
[email protected]