The year: 2002. It was a dark time in the Standard metagame, as the dreaded Psychatog was beginning its reign of terror (no, not that Reign of Terror). Many decks tried and failed to take down what was the dominance of the toothy one.
Just when it looked the bleakest, there came salvation in the form of…a frog.
Frog in a Blender
4 Basking Rootwalla
4 Grim Lavamancer
4 Raging Goblin
4 Wild Mongrel
4 Yavimaya Barbarian
4 Fiery Temper
4 Reckless Charge
4 Sonic Seizure
4 Violent Eruption
4 Barbarian Ring
4 Karplusan Forest
4 Elvish Lyrist
2 Engulfing Flames
3 Flametongue Kavu
2 Jade Leech
1 Keldon Necropolis
3 Mages’ Contest
Maybe I overstate the facts a bit. But for those who forget, back when Tog was killing everything in site-the Ravager Affinity of its day-along came this odd little R/G beatdown deck chock full of one- and two-drops that would hand ol’ Dr. Teeth his lunch.
Frog in a Blender (as in “what’s red and green and goes 60 miles an hour”) never quite made the breakthrough to top-of-the-heap status, but if you were a Tog player, this was the last thing you wanted to come up against. Chock full of goodies that the Tog decks of the day had trouble with-pro-Blue Yavimaya Barbarians (this was pre-Onslaught and pre-Smother), un-Terror-able Wild Mongrels, and lots of cheap burn-it could easily smoke out Dr. Teeth before he got to Upheaval mana. While primarily a speed deck, cards like Grim Lavamancer, Firebolt and Keldon Necropolis gave it a little late-game gas.
Speed ahead to the last days of 2004. Ravager and his band of cronies-Disciple of the Vault, Atog and Aether Vial-are dominating the scene, burninating the peasantry-perhaps once again a frog shall ride to the rescue?
Kappa In A Blender
4 Hana Kami
4 Akki Avalanchers
4 Hearth Kami
4 Sakura Tribe-Elder
2 Kodama of the South Tree
4 Lava Spike
4 Kodama’s Might
4 Glacial Ray
2 Wear Away
2 Viridian Shaman
4 Eternal Witness
2 City of Brass
4 Stone Rain
4 Zo-Zu the Punisher
3 Guerilla Tactics
A “kappa,” for those not in the know, is a Japanese frog spirit-a very appropriate choice for a Frog in a Blender ripoff based on a Japanese-themed set. I don’t know if there’s a Japanese blender spirit, however. I’ll keep researching that one.
The deck is built along the classic Frog/Sligh mana curve-if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. You have fourteen one-drops, fourteen two-drops, six three-drops and two four-drops. This enables us to run a mere twenty-two lands. That number could feasibly go down a little more if you’re feeling lucky.
This is the first deck I’ve seen to make a serious effort to abuse the splice mechanic in a Constructed environment. This is why we have…
Now I know what you’re thinking.
If you’ll give me a chance…
Shut up already! I freely admit that Lava Spike, in many ways, is a rather suboptimal card. But much as Wild Mongrel was in the original Frog as a madness enabler, Lava Spike is here as a splice enabler-it’s the cheapest thing available outside of Unnatural Speed, and that doesn’t deliver three to the dome.
This is the first deck I’ve seen that attempts to abuse the splice mechanic in a Constructed environment. Both Kodama’s Might and Glacial Ray have the advantage of not only being cheap to cast but also have very cheap splice costs. Hence, we need plenty of cheap Arcane spells, hence, Lava Spike.
The creature base is very Frog-esque. In the one-drop slot, we have Hana Kami – a watered-down Eternal Witness, and Akki Avalanchers – a potentially powerful finisher. In a deck built along the lines of a traditional Sligh deck, the ability to drop a decent creature on turn one is critical, and in combination with a splice spell, can take out just about anything in this format.
The two-drop brings Hearth Kami, a bear that Affinity has no love for and the mana-accelerating Sakura Tribe-Elder. Going outside of the spirit world, we have Eternal Witness and Viridian Shaman at the three spot, finishing up with Kodama of the South Tree at the top of the heap at a mere four mana. While it doesn’t have the same late game tools of Frog circa 2002, Hana Kami and Eternal Witness let you recurse a valuable burn spell late.
I really wanted to fit Soilshaper in the deck, but, alas, while it does turn your land into nasty 3/3 beaters, more often than not you’re following the classic Sligh mana curve, which means you’re tapping out every turn, ergo, a tapped 3/3 isn’t doing you much good.
Before I detail my testing results, I have one caveat: as I’ve mentioned previously, I currently live in the Magic equivalent of the Gobi Desert. So I haven’t had access to my normally stalwart crew of testing partners, the illustrious High Plains Drifters. And, money’s been pretty tight lately, so Magic Online has been kind of out as an option as well. So, my testing with this deck has pretty much just been me playing solitaire with my versions of what I consider the top decks available: Ravager Affinity, mono-Green Tooth and Nail and The Rock-B/G Cloud for those who prefer to call it otherwise, built along the lines of Shlomi Mir’s “Pet Rock,” piloted by Josh Claytor at Kentucky States. Your opinion of the top decks may differ (mono-Blue, U/G, etc.), but this is what I went up against.
As I’ve said before, any deck that says it owns Affinity is generally lying. Affinity can pull out wins from the most untenable situation more so than just about any other deck I know. A timely Atog or Disciple of the Vault and-oops, did I just win again?
That being said, the combination of speedy beaters, built-in artifact removal in the form of Hearth Kami, Viridian Shaman and Wear Away and the ability to recycle key spells via Hana Kami and Eternal Witness, you have a considerable edge. Affinity has trouble fighting a deck that can apply early pressure and attack its artifact base. And once Oxidize comes in from the sideboard, the edge tilts even more towards the amphibian.
Vs. Tooth and Nail
I thought this would be a very, very good matchup for Frog Nouveau, but I was wrong. Very wrong. This is a very tough matchup. You have no answer to an entwined Tooth for, say, Leonin Abunas and Platinum Angel. Mephidross Vampire and Triskelion is no picnic, either. Tooth and Nail-my mono-Green version, anyway-runs both Sakura Tribe-Elder and Solemn Simulacrum which both chump-block very well and accelerate the deck to the magic nine mana. And if Tooth and Nail happens to be running Red for Pyroclasm… oy vey, that’s not good. Just pack up and go home at that point.
The best defense I’ve found for Tooth and Nail is a transformational sideboard, bringing in Zo-Zu the Punisher and Stone Rain. In theory, Stone Rain slows down the mana, Zo-Zu, ahem, punishes them for playing all those lands. That’s the theory, but you can only play one Zo-Zu, as opposed to multiple Ankh of Mishra, and four land destruction spells just aren’t enough.
The sideboard helps, but it’s still an uphill battle. Tooth is just an all around crummy matchup.
Vs. B/G Cloud/Pet Rock/The Rock/Whatever You Want to Call It
Speed decks are not what you want to face with “Pet Rock.” Its small creature base is ineffectual against the speedy beaters of Kappa. But while Tooth and Nail is close to auto-loss territory, Pet Rock is much more beatable. Both decks have similar goals; get as much mana into play as fast as possible in order to play your win condition, but while Tooth can drop an auto-win, Rock can “only” drop Kokusho, the Evening Star. The big bad Black dragon is bad, but he’s not necessarily game over.
Death Cloud tends to be frequently be a dead card since Kappa will be winning the life race by the time Cloud can be cast for any sort of advantage; and if the Rock player is playing a Cloud out of desperation, that usually means good things. The Guerilla Tactics in the sideboard turned out to be completely unnecessary. Perhaps Molten Rain instead?
More creature-heavy versions of The Rock, especially versions packing Horobi, Death’s Wail and Phyrexian Plaguelord, might pose a greater threat to Kappa than Pet Rock.
So when all is said and done, you have a pretty good rogue deck (in my estimation), although I suspect the true power of this build may be as a Block Constructed deck, or perhaps Betrayers of Kamigawa will bring more gifts-something along the lines of an Arcane Spark Spray, for instance, would be a most welcome addition. And an Arcane land destruction spell would also not be sneezed at.
Playing a deck like this has its advantages, especially online. For one, it’s pretty darn cheap. You have, like, six rares, and the Eternal Witnesses have a higher monetary value than those. Secondly, there’s the rogue factor; much like the Spanish Inquisition, no one would expect this.
And, of course, how much grousing do you think you’d hear from your opponent if they lost to Lava Spike?