Double or Nothing: Ban Tonsils!

Holed up with an inflamed throat, Jim recuperates by playing decks… A LOT of decks. And while he’s at it, he shares the deck massaging he’s done over the past two weeks.

Tonsils. Who the hell wants them? What are they for?

I know lots of people who’ve had them taken out – but for some reason I’ve still got mine, and every couple of years they take a real dislike to the way I live and slap me down for a week or two.

A week away from work?”How lucky!” I hear you cry. Not so. A week away from work when you can’t swallow and have headaches all the time is no holiday, finally getting better and getting back to work away from the dire viewing that is daytime TV has cheered me up no end – enough even to get on with writing.

So, two weeks off from writing. I guess I must have played some Magic, worked on some decks? Of course – even ill, I can’t leave those cute pieces of cardboard alone.

First things first; an update on the two decks I offered up for general consumption in my last Standard article. I had lots of comments about both decks, and have put a lot more testing into them both. Here are their current listings:

B/W Beats v2

Creatures (21):

4x Nantuko Shade

4x Foul Imp

4x Spectral Lynx

4x Phyrexian Rager

4x Ichorid

1x Laquatus’s Champion

Other Spells (16):

4x Duress

4x Chainer’s Edict

3x Vindicate

2x Death Grasp

3x Tainted Pact

Land (23):

4x Caves of Koilos

2x Plains

3x Tainted Field

2x Cabal Pit

12x Swamp

After spending a long time playing the previous deck, with three Duresses, four Addles and four Rats, I swapped the Rats for Mesmeric Fiend. The deck started to perform better, but still had real problems. I eventually dropped the Fiends altogether to make space for different creatures, and the Addles became Chainer’s Edict because I found I needed more removal against creature-heavy decks.

Ichorids came in over the Mindslicers because they’re better – simple, really – and I upped their number to four (taking some of the Fiends’ slots). The Desolation Angels went out, because by the time I could cast them I often didn’t want to, as my opponent would have me on the back foot if the game went on that long. I found that two big creatures was too many, but that I could often get my opponent quite low on life but not quite finish them – enter the Champion.

Having played controlling decks for some time, I really missed having library manipulation in the deck and so I found space for three Tainted Pacts. They can help out with mana, or dig past a bunch or cards you didn’t want.

Finally the mana needed a little work, and so I added a third Tainted Field. You only need to see one white mana really, but I often lost games because I didn’t see it quite early enough. One extra land that produces white seems to help a lot.

The last things I’d change are the Foul Imps. They look like they may get it in the neck for something less painful, but their evasion ability is still keeping them in the deck at the moment – any suggestions for a replacement?

Green/Red is still beating this more often than not; less so than it beats mono-Black, but it’s still winning 60%+ of the time. Slay is a help, but not enough. Edict is great, too – but again, not enough. Any ideas on how to win this matchup would be very welcome indeed, but I think you lose game one no matter what.

Slight Knight 2002 v2

Creatures (19):

4x Galina’s Knight

4x Spectral Lynx

4x Meddling Mage

4x Stormscape Apprentice

3x Mystic Crusader

Other Spells (18):

2x Altered Reality

3x Hobble

3x Syncopate

3x Counterspell

3x Repulse

1x Wrath of God

3x Compulsion

Land (23):

4x Coastal Tower

4x Adarkar Wastes

2x Caves of Koilos

1x Underground River

7x Plains

5x Island

I had a lot more emails about this deck; it seems that Sleight Knight is remembered fondly by a huge number of players One card I forgot altogether when I built it was Stormscape Familiar. William Kahl emailed me to point it out, as he played them in his States deck last year – thanks for that, William! After adding them, I came to the conclusion that they’re amazing.

I’ve also found space for Compulsion in the deck. I wasn’t sure whether I should use it or some other method of card drawing, or just more spells. I found that dropping it around turn 5 and starting to use it to improve draws from turn 6 onwards was very useful – whether there’s a better use for the mana every turn, I don’t know. I wouldn’t advise playing it early on if you have a creature to cast or you don’t have enough mana to counter a Wrath, Deed, or Mutilate, but it does seem very good.

Two weeks to Regionals. Regionals are different in the UK. From what I’ve heard only the top 8 make of each Regional qualify in the US. In the UK, the top 8 and one person for each other eight players at that Regional qualify, so with sixty-four players, fifteen people will qualify for the UKs. It means that we don’t have to play decks that have an all-or-nothing strategy as we can afford to take a loss or even two and still qualify with a 6-2 or 5-1-2 finish. Hell, 4-2-2 might even make it!

That means that lots of people tend to pick a deck that is consistent and play that, so here’s the deck I’ve been testing:

Jim’s R/G/b Beats

Creatures (19):

4x Birds of Paradise

2x Llanowar Elves

4x Wild Mongrel

3x Flametongue Kavu

3x Raging Kavu

3x Basking Rootwalla

Other Spells (19):

4x Call of the Herd

4x Beast Attack

4x Fire/Ice

4x Urza’s Rage

3x Terminate

Land (22):

3x Karplusan Forest

1x Sulfurous Springs

4x City of Brass

5x Mountain

9x Forest

Sideboard (15):

3x Spellbane Centaur

2x Obliterate

2x Destructive Flow

2x Hull Breach

3x Compost

2x Spiritmonger

1x Shivan Wurm

The deck has a reasonable mana curve, with nine 1cc drops, eleven 2cc, and eleven 3cc drops, topping out at five mana for the Beast Attacks. Once the deck gets to three mana, it really begins to kick in… But it really needs to be sitting pretty at four mana to start casting Flametongues and flashing the Calls back too. Also, with four Cities, four Birds, and one Sulfurous Springs, I see the one black mana I need quite often, and the ability to Terminate a creature seems to be very useful…

Or is it?

Terminating a Spiritmonger or a Psychatog is good. Hell, you can kill pretty much any creature for just two mana – but is it worth it? I’m sacrificing the deck’s overall consistency to play a card I might not be able to cast. The Cities and BOPs give me the ability to play pretty much any colour of sideboard cards too – but only if I want to play them in the mid- or late-game.

In a number of games over the last few weeks, I’ve watched my BOPs get killed and been stuck with a Terminate in hand, when pretty much any burn spell would have saved the day. It’s also been pointed out that although Togs and Mongers are being played, they’re not very common at the moment.

So, back to consistency. If I want to qualify for the Nationals, I need a consistent deck. Remember, I’m not trying to out-tech everyone and win the tourney; I don’t even need to make top 8. All I need to do is get five from eight wins – and a consistent deck will deliver that.

Dropping the Terminates and playing with the mana curve a little seems to be a much better way to qualify that playing main deck spells that deal with creatures I might see as I can afford a loss or two.

A close look at my deck above reveals that I may have a problem in the mirror match in the late game, as many of my creatures are quite fragile (3/1 Kavus, 1/1 Rootwalla). However, I can’t make all my creatures big, or I won’t be able to pressure control players. Kavu Titan solves this problem, giving me a 2/2 against the control players and a 5/5 in the mirror match. He is amazing against the new Sligh decks, too, and tramples over Vodalian Zombie and Spectral Lynx!

Needing less non red or green mana means I can drop a BOP for a third Elf, giving me another 1/1 guy that can attack. Only six mana accelerators makes getting the 2GGG for Beast Attack a little harder, so I’m going to drop one for the fourth Flametongue – we want to have more creature kill after dropping the Terminates anyway.

So the new deck looks like this:

Creatures (22):

3x Birds of Paradise

3x Llanowar Elves

2x Grim Lavamancer

4x Wild Mongrel

4x Kavu Titan

2x Spellbane Centaur

4x Flametongue Kavu

Other Spells (16):

4x Call of the Herd

3x Beast Attack

4x Fire/Ice

4x Urza’s Rage

1x Ghitu Fire

Land (22):

4x Karplusan Forest

4x City of Brass

5x Mountain

9x Forest

There are now more 2cc creatures I can play, but later on they can become more of a threat. I’ve added the two Spellbanes to help smooth out the mana curve, giving me six 3cc creatures I can cast, and the fourth Flametongue should help kill things that get in the way.

The two Grim Lavamancers make the deck because they will compliment the burn. Although we’re playing seven Flashback cards, the Lavamancers should help us against mono-black decks and any other decks we find playing lots of little creatures. Against control, they might be able to finish a game, as they can be snuck out after a must-counter spell, or early on before your opponent can counter them. Every two spells that get countered are another two damage!

I’ve also added one Ghitu Fire. I felt that removing three Terminates and adding just one replacement removal spell (the Flametongue) would be a mistake, and so the Fire comes in. In many ways it will act as a Terminate – killing big creatures that a simple Rage can’t – but it can kill early annoying creatures, and act as a finisher too. One of these should be a great help.

Adding two Spellbanes to the main deck will give us a little more space in the sideboard (probably one more slot, as going up to four Spellbanes after sideboarding sounds very useful) we should also really drop the Destructive Flows and Spiritmongers for cards with just red and green in – what they’ll be remains to be seen.

At the end of the day, it’s just another R/G deck. If you look at enough of the decks from the Regionals that have happened so far, there are decks that have every aspect of this deck in them. I’m not claiming it’s original – but I hope you can see the reasoning behind the card choices.

Three decks so far, and one more to finish up with.

As many of you may be aware I’m a little obsessed with Opposition. I’ve worked on my Traffic Jam deck as much as I’m going to now and I’m convinced that it’s never going to be Tier One – it’s very draw dependant and I needed the cards for another deck! Even though Opposition and Static Orb seem to be unfashionable at the moment, there’s always the chance you’ll run across someone playing them, and so to help us all test against such decks I’ve thrown this together:

Slow Death

Spells (36):

4x Chatter of the Squirrel

3x Acorn Harvest

3x Squirrel Nest

4x Counterspell

3x Mystic Snake

2x Syncopate

4x Opposition

3x Repulse

4x Fact or Fiction

4x Compulsion

2x Overrun

Land (24):

4x Yavimaya Coast

2x City of Brass

8x Forest

10x Island

The deck is designed purely to see how well you can cope with Opposition decks. It’s not sophisticated and will certainly lose to many decks… But it can survive longer that you’d think against many decks just by chump blocking and countering key spells. Against control decks, it relies on a few early 1/1 creatures to apply some pressure whilst forcing them to counter mid- and late-game threats like Opposition, Compulsion, (very good against control decks) and Overrun.

More than anything, playing against this deck teaches the key things you’ll need to look out for when playing against similar decks. Are they casting lots of 1/1s and taking damage? Maybe they have Opposition in hand. Are they countering lots of your spells? Maybe they can’t put out and tokens yet? Are they letting more damage through than you thought they would? Just maybe they’re about to Overrun you and they don’t care about their life.

On a final note, my long time flatmate Tarik Browne has moved away from the UK back to Barbados. Taz is a founding member of Team PhatBeats and gave me all his cards a little while ago! We built up a Wildfire deck for him to take with him, and I’m going to send him a good Extended Stompy deck when I get the time. In order to keep the active number of players in the team up to good levels we invited Chris Hardy (no, not the one Rizzo played) and Antione Hupin, our playtest partners, to join the Team; they’ve both accepted. Both of them have a history of doing well at Bath. Hopefully their addition to the team will provide us with enough players to keep us going.

Hopefully, I won’t catch some illness this week and I’ll catch up with you all next week.

Cheers, Jim.

Team PhatBeats.

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