CASUAL FRIDAYS #76: Punishment And Haiku

…And to make up for our brief glitch last Friday, here’s TWO Alongi columns for you! Wanna hear about the multiplayer invitational?

This week, I will be less pushy and will try to accomplish two fun things at once:

1) Report on the development and performance of my winning Multiplayer Invitational Type II deck;
2) Provide my thoughts on a chunk of Planeshift, in haiku format.

Entire spoiler lists with analyses are grotesque, even on the rare occasions when they are informative. Even in 5-7-5 format, an entire expansion at once would bore you all to tears. So this week, we’ll just deal with those cards that I feel might be viable in the Punisher deck (below). Within the next couple of weeks, I’ll feed out a bit more for other colors and situations.

And of course, in two or three weeks, I’ll close the haiku series (yes, I suppose it’s a series) with the next Break this Card nominee. (Speaking of Break this Card, results are coming next week. I just spent the weekend on a boat; give me a moment to find my legs again!)

For those of you who want to get a preview of what happened at the Multiplayer Invitational, you can go to the Sideboard and see my immediate report here at http://www.wizards.com/sideboard/article.asp?x=PTLA01818multiplayer. Or you can just let the dramatic tension build, ignoring the fact that I already told you above that I won.


The week after I issued my challenge to the Ferrett and it looked like we were actually going to put something on, I began plotting my strategy. Here is what I started with:

* I am playing against six people I have never played against before.
* All of them will, at some point during the game, realize I have run my mouth off about how to play multiplayer "correctly."
* Most people want to show that they can do at least as well as the "expert."
* That will make me a very attractive target, all things being equal.

So I needed things not to be equal. I needed to establish a deck that made me a less attractive target. While I wanted to continue to play with bombs that would force people’s hand, I also wanted to include enough diversionary tactics that would send people elsewhere during the early game.

In other words, I needed some blue. And when I need blue, I turn to Todd Petit, dubbed Theo in most of these articles.

Here’s an excerpt of my first email to Todd:


"Okay, you’ve probably read about my multiplayer challenge in LA by now…

"I think the time has come for me to seek another person’s help in building a multiplayer deck from scratch. It is the bad fortune of both of us that that person happens to be you. 🙂

"What do you say? Here’s a preview of what I have in mind: I want to surprise folks by playing a less aggressive, much more controlling style of deck. [In Type II] I want to make use of Misdirection and some Seals… Doom, Removal, and/or Fire. Nightscape Master and Crosis would probably be my gems/path to victory. I think I have the most focus on this already; it will look a lot like the newer blue/black/red I already use, but with more seals and less heavy-casting cost stuff. Eh, I might put in a Plague Wind.

"- AA"

See? My first email trying to get Todd to help me be subtle, and I’m already talking about Plague Wind.

Here’s his excerpted reply:


"Thanks for the invitation.

"I was actually going to corner you tonight [when we play] and ‘demand’ that you and I get together to build a MP deck which would not embarrass our group in your spotlight match. Glad to see you beat me to the punch.

"I’m not going to try to write too much here, since we can hopefully find ten to thirty minutes tonight to discuss strategy, but I will give a few thoughts.

"First thought – there’s not enough blue in your decks. Kidding!! (Sort of)…

"- Todd"

Over the next week, we threw together thoughts on all sorts of candidates. Where I started was Seals of Doom and Removal, Crosis, Spinal Embrace, Glacial Wall, and Ghitu Fire. Suggestions Todd made that we eventually didn’t feel would work included Two-Headed Dragon (not enough red) and Evil Eye of Orms-by-Gore (potential for Arrest). The suggestions he made that we thought would work were far more numerous: Dancing Scimitar (basic air defense), Tsabo’s Decree (we both feared rebels), and Urza’s Rage (despite the double-red at full strength, I readily agreed this was worth the risk). He also reminded me that I loved Crypt Angel and why the heck wasn’t THAT in there?

We spent a lot of time thinking about an early "porcupine" creature – that is, a creature that works like a Seal to say "Stay away!" I rejected my own early thoughts of the 4cc Nightscape Master, who’s a beast but would require constant maintenance of open mana right about the time when Crosis should be coming out. There was lots of room for less expensive three-drops, and so our options quickly narrowed:

* Notorious Assassin
* Stalking Assassin
* Phyrexian Infiltrator

Any one of these, we were certain, would have worked okay. We were equally certain that any one of these would have gotten roasted or shackled within five seconds of making a landing in front of my library. And they weren’t exactly subtle, which we needed in a three-drop. Todd suggested Avatar of Woe, a far more expensive card that I felt worked well as a single copy; but we still needed something inoffensive, effective, and early.

So I came up with something altogether different: The Metathran Transport.

Why the Metathran Transport? My friends, why NOT the Metathran Transport?

* It blocks every 4cc or lower rebel and lives. In fact, it blocks just about ANYTHING in a group game out by turn three and lives.
* It turns black creatures blue, so that Seal of Doom becomes better.
* It turns ANY creature blue, so that Coalition Victory fizzles.
* It’s blue itself, and thus retrievable by the Crypt Angel (and chuckable to Misdirection).
* It can attack and "ping" just about anyone, which is a really cool annoying ability to have.
* It reminds me of my Fylamrid – Scragnoth deck, which was a short but pleasant memory.

Todd warned me that the double blue that early might be a problem. I pooh-poohed that idea. What the hell does he know about blue, I asked myself. Besides, I have fifteen blue mana sources in the deck (twenty-seven total)! How on earth would I NOT have two blue by turn three, or at least turn four? Or in an absolutely disastrous, worst-case, lady-luck-turned-vindictive-shrew, Satan-giddily-making-snow-angels-in-Hell scenario, turn five or six?

Hold that thought.

We tested a deck that looks a lot like what you’ll see down below (I’m sparing you all the interim decklists and adjustments; this is not exactly Zvi’s Fires here) with the group. I asked Todd to bring a nasty rebels deck with Armageddon, Wrath of God, and Story Circle; Pete to bring his Djinn-ViselingProsperity deal to check that type of matchup, Dave to bring a green-white sick lifegain contraption with Atalya and Armadillo Cloaks, Bill to bring a Blinding Angel-based deck, Toim to bring Wurms, and Gary to bring red-green with Avatars and burn.

Over a few games over a few weeks played with various combinations of these decks (and others), I learned three important things:

1) This deck is really, really fun to play. It begs for four Spinal Embrace but it’s already really expensive (both mana and dollars).
2) This deck wins with frightful regularity when it hits six mana at more than ten life.
3) This deck dies to Predator Flagship. (Slap forehead: "Oh yeah, ARTIFACTS!")

So I made one change to the deck, which was taking out one Misdirection (from three to two) and adding in a single Void.

We never got a chance to test it against Todd’s rebel deck, due to one mishap after another. Turns out I never had to worry.

Here’s the final decklist. Now remember, I’m talking about Type II environment. Most groups (including ours) don’t often limit themselves that way. So be careful when you run this. Hey, there’s nothing stopping you from suggesting a "Type II month" with your group and letting them have it with something that looks like this.


2x Crosis, the Purger
2x Crypt Angel
1x Avatar of Woe
3x Ghitu Fire
1x Urza’s Rage

4x Glacial Wall
4x Dancing Scimitar
3x Metathran Transport

3x Seal of Doom
3x Seal of Removal

3x Misdirection
2x Spinal Embrace
1x Tsabo’s Decree
1x Void

That’s 33 cards: 16 creatures, 17 spells. Then, 27 mana sources for this very expensive deck:

2x Charcoal Diamond
2x Sky Diamond
1x Fire Diamond
4x Urborg Volcano
4x Salt Marsh
9x Island
3x Swamp
2x Mountain

So what do you do if you don’t have any rares, or different rares, or hate rares altogether? I don’t want you to feel out in the cold. You can still build the deck with several rares missing and stick within Type II:

Blaze or really any spell doing significant damage will do okay in place of Ghitu Fire or Urza’s Rage. (Even Soul Burn wouldn’t be awful, but you may want to de-emphasize some of the blue and get in more black/red.) Misdirection is very useful, but you could try either strict Counterspells, Power Sinks, or Repulse/Recoil. Tsabo’s Decree is great fun but often unnecessary. Pick another Seal of Doom, or the removal spell of your choice, instead. For Dancing Scimitars, look for Primal Clay (another rare) first. If not, just put in a fourth Metathran Transport and a few of another decent defensive flyer, Drake Hatchling.

Avatar of Woe is a famous bomb, but if the rare you’ve got is Stalking Assassin or Notorious Assassin, go right on ahead. Stalking is probably better since it’s blue and the Crypt Angel gets it back. In the absence of any of these rares, find a cool blue or splashable red creature that you enjoy playing/recurring. I might suggest Zanam Djinn, Spiketail Drake, or Halam Djinn.

That leaves three more rares which I see as less negotiable: Spinal Embrace, Crypt Angel, and Crosis the Purger. Void actually is suboptimal here, given what’s in Planeshift; more on that later.

Spinal Embrace is a great deal of fun. I would hate to see this kind of deck not running the card, but I can understand you needing to play something else. My suggestion would be the uncommon Wash Out, which was banned for the Multiplayer Invitational. Your group should ban it in Type II too; but if you don’t, there you go. Repulse/Recoil if not.

No Crypt Angel, you say? Whew, I don’t know what to say back. Every time a Crypt Angel resolves, this deck has won, except once. (This is in twelve or thirteen different games; the loss was to Dave’s deck with Predator Flagship.) The card just makes your opponents miserable in multiple ways. If it absolutely must be replaced, the most important effect is recursion (Haunted Crossroads, or maybe Phyrexian Delver), followed by protection from white (Marauding Knight, maybe Shivan Zombie), then flying (pick your poison).

If you have three Crypt Angels or two Avatars of Woe, you might be able to get away with only one Crosis. But I don’t think you should go absolutely Crosis-less. Come on, it’s a blue-black-red deck – go trade for one! Bear in mind Star City values most dragon legends at about $8 or less; don’t get bamboozled into thinking they’re $10 or more.


From my Sideboard report, and possibly other articles that The Ferrett and others might post by the time you read this, the basic story of victory is already outlined. I was ready to tear up this deck when I still only had one source of blue mana at round eight; I’ll run the probability statistics on that some day and have a good laugh.

Everyone had a blast, and congratulated me on the comeback gracefully. (Basic line of recovery was a timely intervention by Chad Ellis, followed by a Spinal Embrace on a Chameleon Spirit, one opponent’s Tsabo’s Decree in response to another’s Coaltion Victory, my acquisition of a Tsabo Tavoc, and the emergence of, in order: Crypt Angel, Crosis (second time), Ghitu Fire.) The quirky trajectory to victory begs a few lessons worth repeating; both The Ferrett and I have mentioned most of these before.

First, saving an opponent’s life is a valid, strategic course of action. When Chad Ellis scooped in to deny Randy Buehler fatal assault on me in round seven, he accomplished a few different things: he kept a player alive who might survive to help him win later on; he saved someone who might return the favor later; he got to see every deck at the table develop; he had a great deal more fun stealing a massive creature at a time when Randy was looking very sure of himself.

Chad did get a bit back from me later; I (mis)directed him to a Vine Trellis when he tried to steal one of my creatures, which gave him valuable green mana to regenerate his stolen River Boa and Rhox. See how nice I am? Seriously, that regeneration capacity was critical to his success in taking out The Ferrett and, a bit less, Randy. I tried hard to find a situation where I could save Chad’s life later in the game; but since I was the one beating him down upon my full recovery, that course of action seemed counterproductive. Hmmm…anyway, Chad seemed to understand.

Second, in many group games we hear the phrase, "If so and so hadn’t saved you, you would have died." Well, duh. That’s what "saved" MEANS. But let’s be clear: Chad’s intervention was a one-off event. Those happen all the time: Someone shuts down an effective combat, a dominating enchantment leaves the game, an artifact comes out and changes the game in your favor. All the games you win when that happened, you often would not have won without those players’ help. (Make sure you go back and thank all of them!) That unexpected opportunities are given in multiplayer games is a truism. What players do with those opportunities counts just as much.

I would not have won that game had Chad not stolen the Chameleon Spirit as it attacked me. I would not have won that game had Randy not PLAYED the Chameleon Spirit, since I used Spinal Embrace on it later and nothing else on the board had more than six toughness (hardly enough for an effective comeback!). I would not have won that game if Michelle’s Coalition Victory had resolved (and I had the power to fizzle it; but thankfully did not need to). I would probably not have won that game if Randy’s Thieves’ Auction had resolved, or if Chad had waited a turn before taking out The Ferrett, or if Sheldon had played Armageddon around mid-game.

On the other hand, I might have lost that game if my deck had worked like clockwork and given me an early second island, letting me cast Spinal Embrace on some lower creature when my life wasn’t threatened and before the Chameleon Spirit came out. Who knows?

Who cares? When all six decks had a chance to develop, we all had a great game, with plenty of productive turns and fun plays for all of us.

Last point, our (I mean here in Minnesota) group’s analysis of the metagame was completely and utterly wrong. Todd and I (and The Ferrett, and Sheldon) all thought that SOMEONE would play rebels. In fact we were pretty sure two or three people would. But in a wonderful turn of fate, no one did. Neither did anyone play any variant of Fires, which would have been perfectly valid in multiplayer. (Blastoderm and Saproling Bursts work just fine in multiplayer; they’re not spectacular but they sure will buy you time until the Two-Headed Dragon.)

I was right in suspecting that someone would play Coaltion Victory. And I was certainly not surprised to see Chimeric Idols and Charging Trolls from an experienced group player like Sheldon. But in everything else, I was way off.

In closing, I would like to thank all five of my opponents for such an incredibly fun game. Individual kudos for what each uniquely brought to the game:

* Sheldon Menery, for demonstrating some extremely solid principles of multiplayer deckbuilding and play. Had my burn been more elusive in my library, Sheldon could easily have won.
* The Ferrett, for demonstrating the Best Tsabo’s Decree Ever (the total possessions of Michelle’s he smashed in play and hand included, I believe, four dragon legends and Captain Sisay, not to mention her entire path to victory, both on the stack and for the remainder of the game); as well as for modeling a graceful first exit. You will hear no whining from this man! He has a tough, un-soft-furry-rodent-like hide.
* Michelle Bush, for bringing a Coalition Victory deck and playing it in a clever enough way that at least a few of us, who had certainly thought about it for the metagame and should have seen the obvious signals, were still surprised when she cast it. Also, she brought me penguin mints. ("THANKS FOR THE MINTS, MICHELLE. THEY WERE VERY TASTY, LIKE HUMAN FLESH.")
* Randy Buehler, who wanted to demonstrate a that a completely random and fun deck could be just as effective and fun as a focused one in multiplayer. Ley Line, Infernal Genesis, Clear the Land, Thieves’ Auction…This game benefited tremendously from Randy’s approach to this event (which, I learned, was suggested to him directly by Richard Garfield).
* And finally, Chad Ellis, my new and favorite big brother, who helped Michelle design her Coalition Victory deck (he was up front about this "collusion") and, way more importantly, stopped a really mean Randy Buehler from picking on me. (By the way, the fact that I have just agreed to establish a charity, dubbed the St. Chad School for Troubled Children, is a pure coincidence.) Also, Chad was competing in the Pro Tour the next day, yet stayed up late enough to see this game through. He made Day Two, so we couldn’t have corrupted him too badly.

So that’s the deck and the game, pre-Planeshift. Let’s take a look at what might happen to it next.


The following cards are some of the most promising prospects from Planeshift to make an impact on this deck. There are also a few sprinkled in that obviously wouldn’t work too well; but the haiku opportunity is just too good to pass up. I am trying very hard here not to write any other analysis other than what is within the poetic structure; so all you people thinking of writing to tell me about all the cool applications I missed, I won’t be terribly impressed…Unless you can put it in 5-7-5 format! Yes, I think that will be the rule: ANY criticism, constructive or otherwise, to the following analyses must come in strict haiku format. Why should I be rolling this rock uphill alone?

I figure diminishing returns really hits hard after twenty haiku, so that’s how many I will do. In increasing order of likelihood that they will be useful to The Punisher deck:

20. PHYREXIAN TYRANNY (RBU Enchantment, each card costs 2 or 2 life for drawer.)
All the right colors
Doesn’t mean the card helps you.
Synergy is poor.

19. TAHNGARTH, TALRUUM HERO (4/4 non-tapping combat specialist for 3RR, makes cheese sandwiches on demand.)
This thing wrecked me hard
In a booster draft last week;
But it’s too red, here.

18. DARK SUSPICIONS (2BB Enchantment that penalizes life for those opponents with more cards than you.)
Many enchantments
Work with the Ensnaring Bridge.
Save this for that deck.

17. MIRE KAVU (4/3 creature for 3R if you control a swamp.)
Cold mathematics*:
A 4/3 for four equals
A good Punisher.

* Yes, you need to pronounce all four syllables of this word.

16. CAVERN HARPY (2/1 flying gater for BU, returnable to hand.)
Gating fails in group.
Opponents’ temptations rise.
Bounce prison! – you scream.

15. MARSH CROCODILE (4/4 gater for 2UB, forces universal discard upon entry.)
Here, gating enjoys
Potential reuse abuse,
But your hand needs cards.

Devastating blows,
But this would have to replace
Other red damage.

13: PHYREXIAN SCUTA (3/3 zombie for 3B, or 5/5 if you kick in 3 life.)
Highly sought after,
Highly risky in this deck.
"Scooter" plagues you all.

12. FLAMETONGUE KAVU (4/2 kavu for 3R, smacks a creature for 4 upon entry.)
Its flashy entrance
Will cause pandemonium.
Hey, there’s an idea…

A great surprise card,
But this deck already deals
With black creatures well.

10. RUSHING RIVER (2U Instant to bounce one non-land permanent, or kick away one of your lands to bounce two.)
Better than the Burst,
This cousin still hurts your lands,
And you need plenty.

9. MALICIOUS ADVICE (XUB Instant, pay X life and tap X permanents.)
"Psssst! Hey you! Yeah, you!
I think you should tap your stuff.
Yeah, all of it. Now."

8. WATERSPOUT ELEMENTAL (3/4 flyer for 3UU, or kick to Evacuate everything else and lose a turn.)
With three Seals to sack
Summon the more powerful.
You’ll enjoy, and live.

7. SLINGSHOT GOBLIN (2/2 goblin for 2R, pay R and tap to deal 2 damage to a blue creature)
These goblins may use
The transports of Metathran
To smack anything.

6: NIGHTSCAPE FAMILIAR (1/1 regenerator for 1B, eases your red and blue spells)
A Charcoal Diamond
And this fellow on its heels:
Hey, turn four Crosis!

5. MORGUE TOAD (2/2 for 2B, sackable for UR.)
It fixes mana,
But I like it mainly ’cause
It has a cool name.

4. NIGHTSCAPE BATTLEMAGE (2/2 with kickers to bounce up to two non-black creatures or wax a land.)
The havens tremble.
Its frighened enemies flee.
The black horse is here.

3. CROSIS’S CATACOMBS (Lair that manufactures R, B, or U after you bounce one of your non-Lair lands.)
Lairs are spooky.
You slow down when you walk by.
Use them sparingly.

2. DOOMSDAY SPECTER (2/3 flying gater with Coercion for every combat hit.)
"Do you hear that sound?
That is the sound of

** Okay, I know, I know, this quote from The Matrix skips Mr. Anderson’s name and forces a highly illegal 5-5-7 haiku, or as I prefer to call it, a "hakui." But for my money, it was worth it. The seventeen syllables, like peas and peanut butter, all end up in the same place eventually, anyway, don’t they?

1. CROSIS’S CHARM (RBU Instant to Dark Banishing, Boomerang, or Shatter)
A gardener’s choice:
To cut down, uproot, or mulch?
Depends on the weed.

I’ll say another few words on the last two: These are very, very likely to go into the deck. I will probably pull the Void and one Dancing Scimitar for two Crosis’s Charms, and I would pull the other three Scimitars for three Doomsday Specters. (You lose one defensive creature in there, but you gain terrific flexibility and better offense.) The gating dynamic on the Specters is still difficult to manage in group games where there are interfering bounce spells, but these are just plain worth it. Also note that they are yet another retrievable creature for the Crypt Angel. If they choke my hand, I’ll replace one or two with Nightscape Battlemages.

The Crosis’s Catacombs, at #3, is also a good prospect; I expect two will replace one Urborg Volcano and one Salt Marsh. They won’t replace basic lands; this deck likes basic lands just fine.

Remember, these rankings were based on this single deck only. Most would, of course, do just fine in many other decks. And there are many blue, black, and/or red Planeshift cards that I haven’t explored here. That’s okay; I’m not running out of Casual Fridays, anytime soon.

COMING SOON: Next week is Coalition Victory week – in L.A., I finally acquired enough of these darn cards to use as prizes! Also, more haiku are coming as we explore the possibilities for one or two of my other, greener and whiter, decks.

Anthony Alongi