Choose Your Own Adventure: What Splash Should You Use?

Nick’s back with his series on the tiny decisions in Magic, and this one’s a doozy: You have a base-black deck. What should your splash be? A very in-depth analysis of how you should look at Limited decks, and how a bad choice can lead to cards that have no synergy with the base color’s plan of attack…

(Editor’s Note: Nick Eisel is currently suspended from playing in sanctioned tournaments. He has not been compensated for this article. The details of his writing arrangement can be found here.)

I must say, I’m quite pleased. The response to my last article (and to this article format as a whole) was overwhelming. My inbox overflowed with more than a hundred emails from people who enjoyed it and want more, as well as a good number of situations. This is exactly what I had hoped for, and I assure you I have plenty of fresh topics for articles in the coming weeks. You should definitely keep an eye out for my next article, as it’s something that’s been theorized about but never actually done before, and quite interesting to boot. (It takes some planning and time to set up, which is the reason why I’m putting it off until the next piece.)

I’d also like to again offer up the opportunity for you to email me with good situations that can be analyzed in future articles, as the survival of this series depends on the response I get from you the readers. Don’t feel like you’re bothering me or wasting your time; if you send over a good situation (or even multiple situations), they will see print in an article. As long as they’re worth talking about, I can never get enough of them. Remember to include all relevant information to the situation, such as both players’ board positions (including tapped and untapped land), cards in your hand, life totals, and any other relevant information about cards in your library. Send all of this to [email protected], as always.

Oh, and one thing I forgot to mention last time: If the relevant situation occurred on MODO, please please please provide a screenshot, as they are priceless in painting the picture of the situation in comparison to simple text.

With that covered, let’s dive into this week’s batch of predicaments.

Situation 1: What’s the Build?

Since I’d like this series to span almost every type of decision making that occurs in Magic, it’s only right that we do some deckbuilding. I’m still keeping my eye out for a deck that has twenty-two definite playables and six options for the last card. This is, of course, the optimal type of deck to debate and strategize about – and when it resurfaces in one of my drafts or is sent to me by a reader you can be assured it will promptly be delivered. For now, we’ll have to settle with a recent dispute on color splashes I had. This one isn’t as tough as picking that 23rd card in an array of options, but it’s still worth examining. My screenshot from MODO can be viewed here. MODO nicks have been blocked out to protect the innocent.

In case the picture doesn’t load for some reason, I feel obliged to list the relevant cards before jumping into discussion.




Lingering Death

2x Piety Charm

2x Rush of Knowledge

Disciple of Malice

Aven Farseer

Raven Guild Initiate

2x Shepherd of Rot

Daru Spiritualist

Mercurial Kite

Wretched Anurid

Gustcloak Harrier

Voidmage Apprentice

Dirge of Dread

Starlight Invoker


Zombie Cutthroat

Whipgrass Entangler



Dragon Scales


Embalmed Brawler

Wingbeat Warrior


Severed Legion

Aven Redeemer


Smokespew Invoker

Doubtless One


Vile Deacon



Infernal Caretaker



Fallen Cleric



Corpse Harvester



Clutch of Undeath



Twisted Abomination



2x Gempalm Polluter



Along with these, I also had a Silklash Spider and Titanic Bulvox that were somewhat relevant – but not better than the White or Blue splash in terms of maindeck. If I was paired against a deck with lots of fliers, such as White/Blue, it would likely be correct to board into the Spider and Bulvox at the cost of running some off-color morphs.

The decision we’re here to talk about though is whether to splash the White or the Blue in the main build of the deck. First, let me provide the build that I used (in case you haven’t already seen it in the picture file above).


Lingering Death

Disciple of Malice

2x Shepherd of Rot

Wretched Anurid

Dirge of Dread

Zombie Cutthroat


Embalmed Brawler

Severed Legion

Smokespew Invoker

Vile Deacon

Infernal Caretaker

Fallen Cleric

Corpse Harvester

Clutch of Undeath

Twisted Abomination

2x Gempalm Polluter


Doubtless One

Dragon Scales

Wingbeat Warrior

Aven Redeemer


13 Swamp

4 Plains

Let’s begin with the basics: We have nineteen playable black cards. Sure, Disciple of Malice, Vile Deacon, and Unburden are far from exciting, but they’re still fine. Two of them cycle and I have the pair of Shepherds, Fallen Cleric, Caretaker, and the Disciple to help out the Deacon. Though the curve is slightly top-heavy, a lot of the cards cycle, making it work out – and it’s easy enough to run seventeen land with the Abomb and the Polluters helping to smooth things over.

Essentially, after the black, we need to splash three to four cards. If the cards are top-heavy, then we want eighteen land and we can go with seventeen if they’re middle of the line.

The potential splashes in my mind are as follows:

White: Doubtless One, Dragon Scales, Wingbeat Warrior, Aven Redeemer, 17 land


Blue: 2x Rush of Knowledge, Raven Guild Initiate, 18 land

There are, of course, alternatives – such as running a heavier compliment of White for Whipgrass Entangler and Starlight Invoker, or running a different third blue card over the Raven. These are both wrong for a number of reasons.

Adding the two extra white cards does a world of hurt to the overall strategy of the deck, as well as crippling the mana base in the process. I’ll get to the basic strategy behind the deck in a minute, but for now just realize that adding Entangler and Invoker is terrible because they cause many more problems than they look like they’re capable of. Make no mistake: The tribe is Zombies, not Clerics.

The reasoning for the Guild Initiate as the third card is as follows: Raven Guild Initiate can come out face-up to help out your Shepherds by setting up a line of defense while they go to work with the knowledge that you’ll always win the Shepherd race with double-Polluter backup. While both morphs will usually be played face-down and simply trade, the chance of Voidmage morphing up at any time earlier than turn 20 is highly unlikely – and in those rare situations, you can easily board him in (when the opponent has late-game bombs like Akroma, Angel of Wrath, Insurrection, or the like). Mercurial Kite is also not good for the maindeck because he can’t be morphed or cycled, and really isn’t a good card in general. The only real defense for the Kite is the lack of fliers in the deck, which isn’t strong enough to warrant his inclusion.

Now that we’ve cleared up the ifs, ands, and buts, we can move back to the two splashes I outlined above in an attempt to determine which is correct. Since both colors offer completely different things, I think we can use that root evidence to make a determination in this case. In order to do so, we must define what the main part (Black) of the deck is attempting to do before we can come to a conclusion as to what would be the best supplement to that plan of attack.

The Black cards have two main functions: The most significant theme that they provide is certainly the life loss effects from Shepherd of Rot and Gempalm Polluter. These effects alone can win the game as long as you have the time and defense for them to work. The other function is being able to defend and control the game while the drain effects can occur enough times to win the game. There isn’t really an aspect of aggression in the deck, besides the lone Wretched Anurid – who is sometimes more painful than helpful in this type of build. The Cutthroat is going to be on D in this deck much more often than he will be the aggressor. The late-game is solid, with three excellent six-drops (should you be in a position to cast the Polluters), Corpse Harvester, Smokespew Invoker, and there is also a Dirge of Dread to punch through. A final note is a noteworthy lack of removal, with the only instances being Lingering Death and Clutch of Undeath.

Now that we know what the core of the deck is trying to do, which color would serve to supplement its main functions best?

Let’s start with what I used: The White.

White offers four solid cards that I believe have more overall synergy with the core of the deck. Aven Redeemer and Doubtless One are both bombs in the deck, upping the Cleric count to eight, helping out Vile Deacon, and in the Redeemer’s case, offering an answer to air attacks. The most important part of these two cards, however, is that they both serve to keep your life total much higher than your opponent’s. I think it’s fairly obvious that this will aid Shepherd of Rot in his duties.

The other half of the splash is also nothing to sneeze at in terms of power and flexibility; while Wingbeat Warrior and Dragon Scales don’t gain life or prevent damage, they still help out the core of the deck. Wingbeat provides another flier to keep the skies clear, as well as being a morph and having a decent trigger ability. Dragon Scales is simply insane, and there are more than a few good targets in the deck already. Scales on a Redeemer or Deacon is nuts – and when you throw in the fact that the deck has three solid six-drops to bring the Scales back and a Harvester to search for them, I think you’ll understand why I went with the White.

But was I right? I’m still really unsure – and that’s up to you to decide.

The second potential splash is Blue for two Rushes of Knowledge and a Raven Guild Initiate. These cards work with the core of the deck in a different way than the White ones do, while still proving to be synergistic. The Guild Initiate’s purpose was explained above – so all we need to determine is if the two Rushes are that much more powerful than the white cards. There are a number of factors to take into account here before embarking on a decision – the same factors I agonized over before I built the deck.

The primary purpose of Rush in this deck isn’t really to draw extra cards, instead providing a combo-deck type feel when searching for those Polluters or Dirge of Dread to finish the deal. Obviously, it does more than that, but picturing the scenario in my mind it seems like Rush would be used to”go off” more often than it would actually just draw a few extra cards. An important consideration here is the five-drop slot, as it’s already got some plays and we don’t want to overflow it. Both Cutthroat and Fallen Cleric morph, so really there’d only be two five-drops. Playing the Blue also leaves you with a complete lack of fliers and not much removal to deal with them, so you’ve gotta ask yourself if that’s all right with you.

At the time, I felt that the White version of the deck was much more fluid than the Blue and it seemed risky building only for power instead of synergy and consistency. What I mean is, your draws have to be smooth in order for Rush to be effective and you really need to draw that Cutthroat to power them up. You can only miss a couple beats in terms of dropping a creature in the first five turns of the game, or else you’re too far behind to come back with a Rush. The deck only has two four-drops to make Rush really worthwhile on turn 5, while you can cast something like Corpse Harvester or Fallen Cleric or even a six-drop if the game stalls out long enough. If you’re good at drawing that Cutthroat, it may just pan out for you.

The build seems highly debatable – and while I’d prefer to splash two Rushes nine times out of ten, this time it felt like it was wrong.

What would you do?

Situation 2: Ambush or No?

Now that we’ve finished deck construction, we can jump into a situation that occurred during the first round of the draft. This should be helpful, as you have the entire decklist in front of you if you just scroll up, as well as plenty of discussion on the concept behind the deck’s main path to victory.

My first-round opponent is prince of colonel and we split the first two games, with me getting extremely flooded in the second. I keep a questionable hand in game three with two spells and five land, as he’s aggro Green/White and I don’t want to risk mulliganning down to five if I can help it. I draw Dirge on the first turn and cycle it away, looking for more action. That action never comes though and the situation arises on my turn 5.

Here’s a screenshot to help you visualize the board position better.

His Board: Two Plains, Two Forests, Krosan Vorine, 20 life (tapped out)

My Board: Two Plains, Three Swamps, Aven Redeemer, 20 life

My Hand: Three Swamps, Zombie Cutthroat, Lingering Death

As you can see, I’m horribly flooded once again. This time, though, I have options – and as long as his hand isn’t ridiculous, I should be fine as long as I play correctly. Looking back, I wish I would’ve spent more time thinking about the situation instead of just playing on autopilot.

There are a number of options here, and we’ll start off with the path that I chose before explaining why it was the wrong move. I wanted to ambush him with the Cutthroat on his Vorine; since I was so flooded, I figured I needed to gain cards somehow in order to stay in the game. I wasted little time attacking with the Redeemer and morphing down the Cutthroat. My original logic was that he won’t ever attack if I keep the Redeemer back, and I need to ambush him to win this game.

What I really needed to happen was for the game to stall out long enough for me to draw my more powerful cards (like Corpse Harvester and Smokespew Invoker). In retrospect, this play is absolutely horrible. The only way this course of action will ever work is if he doesn’t have a trick and he walks his Vorine right into my Cutthroat. Not to mention that since I had two lands up, this is unlikely to happen if he doesn’t have a trick, as my morph could easily be Daru Sanctifier or any number of other morphs where he simply gets wrecked by attacking.

It’s worth noting that the only”trick” I saw in the first two games was a Snarling Undorak, which would be a turn too slow to even trade with my Cutthroat in this case. However, his colors have a number of tricks that wreck me here, and I played as if I didn’t even know those tricks existed. My play never actually works out because he won’t attack into my morph unless he has a trick, therefore never getting ambushed by the Cutthroat. This fact is made even worse by the realization that even if I trade Cutthroat for Vorine here, it’s bad for me because I’m so low on actual cards. If a trade happens, it brings the top of my library into the situation – which is something that I’m not comfortable with, given how much land my deck was offering up in both games two and three. If his Vorine survives (and there are many tricks that could let it survive, ranging from Vitality Charm to Astral Steel), my only chance to win the game is to draw about ten spells in a row.

Hopefully, all of this will convince you that Aven Redeemer really needs to stay back in this set of circumstances.

Now, the only things left clouding our vision are whether to cast Cutthroat face up or down, or possibly cast Lingering Death on his Vorine.

Casting Lingering Death is just terrible in every way, especially with the logic I’m using about him having a combat trick (which, as I’ve said, is very likely if he attacks into the morph) so let’s get that out of the way right now.

So the only thing that we still have to decide is how to play the Cutthroat. Face-down comes with the option of potentially wrecking him later on, depending on what he has, and face-up is just more economic in terms of a damage race. Since I have Redeemer here, I think it’s certainly correct to just run him face-down in hopes of gaining a card for the invested five life.

What actually happened was that he had Berserk Murlodont on the next turn, and I drew more lands off the top while he drew spells. While the game took quite a while to actually conclude, I’m pretty sure that this play was pivotal in determining the winner.

Most people would merely chalk this game and match up to mana flood without even taking a moment to reflect on how their choices might have changed the outcome. Even in mana flood, there are a world of options.

Situation 3: When Normal Logic isn’t Appropriate

There are a number of cards that change the fundamental rules of the game of Magic. In situations involving one or more of these cards, following normal game logic usually isn’t the correct path of progression. One of these cards is Worship.

When Worship is in your hand, you play a game much differently knowing that you can’t lose through traditional damage means as long as it remains on the table. One such situation was sent to me via email by Reuben K. Fries.

Reuben was involved in an 8th Edition booster draft match on MODO and was piloting a deck based in Blue and White with a splash for Blaze, Volcanic Hammer, Lightning Blast, and Shock Troops. His deck was also packed with powerful fliers like Fleeting Image, Fighting Drake, Coastal Hornclaw, Air Elemental, Aven Cloudchaser, Aven Flock, Razorfoot Griffin, Angel of Mercy, and Wind Drake. His deck also included the Worship mentioned above.

Reuben says in his notes on the game:

I keep a hand of Island, Plains, Mountain, Angel of Mercy, Worship, Wind Drake, and Aven Fisher.

On turn 4, the board is:

Him: Mountain, Mountain, Island, Swamp, Wind Drake, Goblin Chariot, twenty life, four cards in hand.

Me: Island, Plains, Plains, sixteen life life

Seven cards in hand: Angel of Mercy, Mountain, Worship, Wind Drake, Volcanic Hammer, Plains, Shock Troops

On this turn, I am certain I make a mistake by playing a plains and Aven Fisher.   My plan is to win in the air, but the Shock Troops buys me time to set up the air force and clears the path later.

This is not the mistake I am writing you about, however.  I accepted this mistake, and from there I am unsure about my play on his next turn.  I attacked with my Wind Drake of course, as I am not going to trade it in combat for his flier, and on the next turn he of course attacks with his Wind Drake and Goblin Chariot (which I am sure is a mistake on HIS part).  I block his Wind Drake with my Aven Fisher, freeing up my burn spells and clearing the way for my larger fliers. 

My argument against this play is that I am still at a healthy life total, and may be able to stabilize once Shock Troops is out.  I already have the mana to keep playing spells each turn, so the extra card is not likely to be incredibly helpful very soon. To top it all off, I have Worship as a backup plan if my life total gets too close to zero, in which case, the more fliers I have the better.  I must note, however, that I want to do everything in my power to win this game without Worship: I got a great hand that I should be able to win with, so there is no need to let him switch colors during sideboarding into something with enchantment removal.

To again help make the picture clearer, here are two screenshots, the first of Reuben’s turn and the second of his opponent’s turn.

As you can see, his opponent is Blue/Red with a splash of Black and his only possible answer to Worship would be to counter it or return it with Boomerang with lethal damage on the stack. In the pictured game, it is almost certain that Reuben can win the game without relying on Worship and is absolutely correct in stating that he shouldn’t reveal it; otherwise, his opponent could sideboard in a different color to deal with it. The more tricks he keeps in the bag, the better off he is to win the match, as his opponent will definitely be unprepared.

As far as the play he makes by blocking with the Fisher, I must say that it is certainly incorrect. Casting the Fisher on his turn 4 seems fine to me, because he can immediately begin racing in the air that way. Blocking, however, seems wrong for more reasons than one. Firstly, he has Worship should he ever need it (which he won’t) and Angel of Mercy, which will gain life. Second, he can cast either the Angel or Shock Troops on the following turn, depending on what his opponent plays after the attack – and either will put a halt to the Wind Drake. By not blocking, he speeds up the clock on his opponent by having two fliers instead of one – and even if he has to just cast Shock Troops and use it to kill Wind Drake without also trading for Goblin Chariot, it is still profitable. By not blocking, he essentially turns Shock Troops into another flier and more because his opponent is on a quicker clock. As he said, the card is irrelevant in comparison to having another flier on the board.

Hopefully, you can see how this logic is different from normal, as you are almost always willing to trade Aven Fisher for another flier as you get a card in return and speed the rest of your development by digging farther into your library.

After that, he should easily put his opponent away with just the cards he has in hand on the given turn and should he draw Worship in game two or three, he will subsequently win the match.

Situation 4: Piecing Together the Puzzle

I’ve always said that making the correct plays is like piecing together a puzzle which will only be completed when you win the game. This is especially true for the sub-category of casting your removal correctly.

In Limited, removal is a scarce commodity. This is why it’s absolutely vital to use it sparingly and correctly. Sometimes you’ll wanna cast that Dark Banishing on his Grizzly Bears just to keep your curve smooth, but just remember that most of the time it’s going to be incorrect. Another side of this issue is when you have a handful of different types of removal spells, you have to make sure you cast the correct one at the correct time on the correct creature. This is a lot easier than it sounds – but when you have Sever Soul, Dark Banishing, Volcanic Hammer, and Pacifism in hand, you may begin to understand what I’m talking about.

That’s another situation, though, and we won’t dive into that yet today.

Today, we’re just going to break the ice with an example of how casting removal prematurely can lose you the game.

This one is courtesy of Dusty Bettendorf and also involves 8th Edition Limited. Dusty’s deck is Green/White, splashing black for Ambition’s Cost and maybe another card that he didn’t list. The situation occurs on his turn 3:

Opponent’s Board: Swamp, Forest, Forest, Bog Imp, Canopy Spider, twenty life, four cards in hand

Dusty’s Board: Forest, Plains, Plains, nineteen life

Dusty’s Hand: Forest, Nantuko Disciple, Rhox, Ambition’s Cost, Elite Archers, Pacifism

Here Dusty casts Pacifism on the Spider – which is an excellent example of casting removal just to keep up with your curve, even though it is incorrect. By casting the Pacifism here, all he does is save himself one point of damage while negating a creature that wasn’t going to be of any consequence to begin with. If you’re going to cast it here, you certainly cast it on the Bog Imp that is going to annoy you for a few more turns before you can get Elite Archer online.

Here, you surely save the Pacifism, as it will be of better consequence later.

Another question arose for him on the very next turn as his opponent cast Looming Shade and Dusty followed up with the Disciple. Here, Dusty blocked with the Disciple, figuring he wouldn’t have time or mana later to do so. This is bad because the Disciple is going to be far better than Looming Shade later, and he has Rhox. (Plus, he should have had Pacifism to handle the Shade, but we’ve already discussed that mistake.)

That’s not important, though. What really lost him the game was that his opponent went on to put Unholy Strength on his Bog Imp and he had no answer for it, failing to draw the sixth land to cast the Archer until the turn he died.

I know this last one was somewhat short, but this is getting really long already and I felt the need to condense it. The basic point I’m trying to get across (and will illustrate more vividly in future examples) is that you’ve gotta be stingy with your removal. This factor alone loses more games than most other misplays – and in my honest opinion, we could all use a little work on it as we tend to play on autopilot more often than not. Sometimes we need a wakeup call.

Anyway, that’s it for this week and remember that you should definitely tune in for the next article as it’ll be something new and different.

Nick Eisel

[email protected]

Soooooo & ThatsGameBoys on MODO