To start this week, a quick conclusion to the casual duel started a few weeks ago between my Birds and Bees deck and Theo’s Land Equilibrium. Here’s the summary of game three: I won. (Expanded version: Turn two Tranquil Grove is bad, bad news for a Rector/enchantment based deck. Also, Birds of Paradise are swell, and I’m really psyched to see the apparent 7th edition artwork catch up with the beauty of the card itself. More on 7th edition and artwork issues below.)
No need to go into game details, of course. I don’t bring up this match to elaborate on its details (which after all, has little bearing on your life) as I do to highlight a fun dynamic in groups. Every once in a while, it’s nice to take a couple of "signature" decks in your multiplayer group and just set them off against each other in a duel.
What I’ve gained most from this sequence, and many before just like it, is a slightly better appreciation for Constructed duel tournaments. I tend to keep my DCI-sanctioned activity to Limited tournaments, since I find the up-front investment less damaging to my wallet. But there is something to this Constructed duel, I readily admit.
As decks get to know each other in an isolation booth (that is, away from the chaos of five other decks saying their piece), it becomes easier to think of the match-up, what cards you absolutely need THIS game, and what you most have to worry about from your opponent. After you do that a few times in duels, it in turn becomes easier to apply these concerns to when you’re up against two or three well-known opponents with familiar decks: what are the key cards in this matchup? What is dead in my hand? What will I put in my deck now that I’ve experienced this particular matchup array? (See? I like duels because they help me play better in multiplayer. I still have my priorities straight.)
Don’t fear duels. Play your group deck against the store’s resident Pro when he’s got nothing but a Fires. If he smashes you, fine. (Bear in mind he might not; Type II decks have limited card pools and are targeted toward specific metagames.) But pay attention to what wins it for him, or you. Take something away from the matchup of decks, cards, and skills. There is no such thing as a wasted game.
Unless, of course, you have a red-black Draft deck at your local shop with eight two-drops that should crucify white and you don’t draw ANY of them in TWO FULL games against the same dork you beat one week ago with a Birds of Paradise and a Seal of Strength, even though he’s playing a blisteringly slow blue-white deck, thus extending your streak of DCI-sanctioned futility against the man. That, I can say, hypothetically of course, would constitute a wasted game or two…*spit*…and then the third (irrelevant) game, when three of these pro-white two-drops show up and you roll him in six turns…That’s probably a wasted game, too.
I’m sorry, was all of that out loud? I apparently have acquired a recent sore spot. Let’s move on, quickly, before I start dwelling morosely. Morosely dwelling is, they say, unadvisable. Of course, "they" have probably never had their deck laugh at them. Funny deck. Funny, freaking deck.
SUPER-HIPPO TAKES FLIGHT
A few weeks ago, I outlined a G-W-u deck featuring the Questing Phelddagrif that I named "Super-Hippo." I promised some follow-up on it, and so here goes.
First, before I even played the thing, I made two large changes. First, I took out the Icatian Javelineers, because the more I thought about it, the more I figured they were just TOO silly. Instead, I put in Noble Panthers and some additional Quirion Elves, because I have two Panthers and I figured it would be nice to have extra kitty cats (see: Fleetfoot Panther).
Second, I took the two Nemata, Grove Guardians out, and instead put in two Sabertooth Nishobas. This was in part to migrate the Nematas to another deck under construction, and in part to embrace what Bennie Smith said in a column not too long ago: Sabertooth Nishobas are absolutely nuts against players who think Terminate will kill everything now.
Terminates are all over our group – and, I presume, every other group. Nishobas are a fabulous way to teach black mages to stick to their knitting, and stay mono.
Anyhow, here’s the new decklist:
2x Questing Phelddagrif
1x Treva the Renewer
2x Sabertooth Nishoba
3x Ancient Spider
3x Sunscape Battlemage
2x Noble Panther
4x Fleetfoot Panther
4x Llanowar Knight
4x Wall of Blossoms
4x Quirion Elves
2x Aura Shards
2x Dueling Grounds
2x Miraculous Recovery
That’s 29 creatures (wow!), six other spells, and then the other 25 slots are a mix of lands.
In two weeks, this deck has seen three games – a couple of casual duels, where I piloted it to make sure there were no glaring weaknesses (see?…using duels again), a single three-player, and as a general in an emperor game. 4-0 so far. Here is what I have learned:
1) THIS WRECKS BLACK. By the time the black mage sees a creature it can deal with, you’ve smacked them for ten with Llanowar Knights, destroyed two Hypnotic Specters with Sunscape Battlemages, stopped any hope of attacking with your Dueling Grounds, and have at least two Fleetfoot Panthers in your hand to save your Treva or Nishoba. Oh, and you’ve just laid down your built-in-pro-black Hippo.
I feel kind of stinky about this, because black is my favorite color and I can feel my opponent’s pain when perhaps the most inept tri-color combo known to mankind just overruns it. I mean, really, green-white-blue? Why don’t we just rename it "pretty pink-yellow-lavender"? Is there a card in the entire deck that offers unconditional creature removal? No. Is there a single card in the entire deck that can handle an artifact or enchantment alone? No. Is there a card in the deck that says, "Ooooh, you have too many creatures, I just want you to pick one and come over with it because I’m too scared?" Yes.
But when I think of these things, and then feel stinky about them, then I just make sure I look at the board position and life totals, and then I don’t feel so bad. Besides, I’m still mad at that red-black draft deck that slipped out of my subconscious at the beginning of this week’s article.
2) RED’S ALSO IN TROUBLE. Red, like black, can pick off small game like the elves (and, unlike black, the Llanowar Knight); but in the late game it just gets too ugly for a red mage to keep up. As a general in a recent emperor game, this deck sliced pretty easily through an opposing mono-red that Dave had set up (though in Dave’s defense, his better cards were playing hide-and-seek…my Fleetfoot Panther/Wall of Blossoms engine really emphasized the card and threat disadvantage he was already feeling). There are very few answers a mono-red has for the mass of creatures, and late-game threats.
In a different game, this time a duel with Pete, he took me on with a new lifegain/burn deck that also featured four Goblin Games. (Cheesy, but it has potential. And as I’ve said before, Goblin Game is indeed fun…I’m still waiting to do it with more than two players, though.) The guy had slashed me down to nine life, was up at 70 himself…
…and then a Sabertooth Nishoba came out…
…and then Treva…
…and then a hungry hungry hippo…
And three turns later it was 20 to 60, then a turn or two later it was 35 to 35, and then Pete conceded because he had used all four Congregates and knew where he was headed.
By taking down a deck that played out all four Congregates, Treva suddenly became my new best chum. The enemy of my enemy, I suppose, is my friend. So what if she’s a modest life-gainer herself? She still smacks for six, just like my bud Crosis.
Anyway, the point. Any deck based in black and red has more to worry about in this deck than the Phelddagrif’s white ability. I suspect the reason this deck has performed well in early games (as has a similar version Gary has created) is because so much of our group has bought into the power cards in Invasion block, most of which are red-black-blue.
So bottom line, take a look around your group and see if you can metagame similarly.
3) I MISS UNCONDITIONAL REMOVAL. The lament of a guy who prefers red and black, I suppose. I intentionally left out staples like Swords to Plowshares and Hurricane when I started this deck; but I may have to give in and replace a couple of creatures with Swords, or Humble, or something. No way games stay easy for this deck.
Facing Carl (mono-black) and Theo (rebels) in a three-player, I found I had little trouble with black – see above – but tremendous trouble with creatures like Lin Sivvi. I expect the same would be true of other amazing-ability creatures, such as Mageta, Alexi, and anything that recurs out of a black-green deck.
4) How did I forget VOICE OF ALL? Boy, she would be good in there. I might take out one Spider and one Battlemage, and put two copies of her in.
And while we’re on the topic of Angels, I would like to pre-emptively respond to all of the people who are going criticize, obliquely or directly, the new artwork in 7th Edition.
I can hear these people now:
"In my new Type II deck, I’m running four Serra Angels. That’s the original-artwork Serra Angel. I’m old school, man. Check me out. None of that NEW *snort* ‘Serra’ Angel. IF that’s her real name. New art is never good. New anything sucks. New players (and by new players, I mean anyone who came into Magic after Beta) just don’t get that the old school way is the Only Way. I remember when I started playing Magic in 1432 B.C., man; and all of the Serra Angels – in fact, all of the cards – were thick slabs of quartz with charcoal scrawlings on them. Sure, the cards were freaking hard to shuffle, and even tap, but that’s why we liked the old school Serra Angel: you didn’t have to try to push a rock around on the table. You could just leave it there, and your opponent would take four damage. ‘Grunt, grunt, grunt, grunt,’ we’d say, scratching our armpits, and that meant four damage was on the stack. The only thing I liked more than Serra Angels were all the REAL dinosaurs I used as tokens. Then Wizards screwed everything up by killing off the dinosaurs. So anyway, I have four of the old Serra Angel."
Here is my reply:
"Does this old Serra Angel go just as fast to the graveyard as the new one when I Terminate her, or does she walk a bit more slowly since she’s always looking up with her eyes closed and her cleavage is in the way?"
Enough about Serra Angel. I am predictably more excited about what looks to me like the new Shivan Dragon artwork. (Head and shoulders of a mean-looking mother, rotating on her side midair in the middle of a meteor storm.) Where several new reprints feature definitively better artwork (see: Birds of Paradise), the new Shivan just picks up the old one, shakes it, and says, "WHY ARE YOU SO FAT?" (The movie reference is Bobcat Goldthwait, pretty much talking about himself, in "One Crazy Summer." Ah, the memories of working old, run-down Cinema 28 in West Yarmouth, now an awkward-looking sporting goods store. Change is good.)
Out with the old, in with the new. Who needs tradition? Who needs old school? Who needs established icons? (Of course, I will gladly discard this philosophy when The Ferrett finds the Next Multiplayer Writer Out There.) (Lord knows I keep trying – The Ferrett, who was the next multiplayer writer at one point but got steamrolled by a red/black draft deck)
Let’s see: hippos, angels, dragons, check. On to the next topic.
THE MIRROR-MAN DILEMMA
At the same time I started Super-Hippo, I also began Mirror-Man. (The title is reference to Mirrorwood Treefolk, and its companion instant Reflect Damage.) Mirror-Man has barely been tested, and in fact is in a state of flux. I keep thinking Pandemonium MUST go in there, with all that Flametongue Kavu and gating creature action going on; but the fact is, Gary was quickly the first in our group to pick up on it, so I don’t want to be repetitive. (Pandemonium is, apparently, the only good card Gary has.) I’m also trying to squeeze in Verdeloth, Nemata, AND Rith so that I can get some good late-game saproling goodness going on; but of course, that just makes the mana curve ridiculous. Perhaps Defense of the Heart would help…? Well, we’ll see.
The issue I’m facing with deck, and several others, is that we all want to try lots of new cards, all at once. At the same time, there are lots of older cards, sitting in older decks, that we don’t use any more. And these cards are perfectly good! We used to be so excited about them.
I wonder how many multiplayer groups have unconsciously stopped playing the following rares, many of which were considered chase rares in their time:
* Spirit of the Night
* Hammer of Bogardan
* Verdant Force
* Alexi, Zephyr Mage (or any Spellshaper Legend, with the possible exception of Mageta)
* Phyrexian Colossus
* Royal Assassin
* Plague Wind (or any of the winds)
* Serra Angel (at least until next week or so)
Look at me: one moment I’m slamming old-school players, and the next moment I’m sobbing about the lack of Thundermare. I guess my point in THIS half of the article is, if you have a couple of boxes of cards, don’t be afraid to go back and look through your collection and find new interactions.
Fleetfoot Panther and Wall of Blossoms may be a bit too obvious to miss; but I haven’t heard anyone, in all of the casual articles or emails to me, bring up Doomsday Specter and Man o’ War… Or Devouring Strossus and Corpse Dance…Or Rebels and Serra’s Blessing…Or Stern Proctor and a "spent" Skyship Weatherlight…Or Bone Dancers (yes, they are Zombies) in a Lord of the Undead deck. These are just the more obvious ones; I usually get wind of all kinds of interactions that I would barely dare dream of.
But the emails to me nowadays are largely focused on the last two blocks. Perhaps Invasion and Masques blocks have been TOO good to those of us who play casually. It’s too easy to stick around in the card sets that have just come out, and build de facto Type II or even Invasion Block decks. That’s fine if it’s intentional (I take some pride in the one intentionally Type II group deck I have); and when I write Casual Fridays, I’m often trying to stay as current as possible and showcase as many new cards as I can. It’s fun to think about new sets and cards and interactions. But if we’re just thinking about new cards together with other new cards out of inertia, then it’s time to shake things up.
Here’s your assignment for the week: go through your box and find one of the following rares (ranging from good to bad in tournaments, but always viable in group) that you used to be so excited about:
* Frenetic Efreet
* Hivis of the Scale (think about it)
* Xanthic Statue
* Fault Line
* Dregs of Sorrow
* Sol’Kanar the Swamp King
* Helm of Obedience
Or one of the uncommons or commons:
* Aura of Silence
* Knight of Mists (last I checked, Llanowar Knight, Galina’s Knight, Crusading/Marauding Knight, Benalish Lancer, and Steel-Leaf Paladin were all eligible for this clever "blue Terminate" trick)
* Dauthi Slayer (remember shadow?)
* Spirit en-Kor
* Acidic Soil
* Soltari Visionary
* Tempest Drake
Some or all of these cards, I have no doubt, wreaked havoc in groups all over. Once upon a time. In the midst of the multiplayer bounty we’re experiencing in these last two blocks, let’s not forget the good group cards that have been gathering dust lately.
COMING SOON: Magicpalooza, which will include our group’s first real exploration of 5-Color Magic. Plus, a new recruit to the game. And, if Anthony put his collection on eBay, would you want to buy it? (Please, no bids! It’s an intellectual and organizational exercise.) Finally, I’ll soon relay any feedback I receive on the Hall of Fame proposal from last week.