From Right Field – As My Life Flashes Before My Eyes

Read Chris Romeo every Thursday... at StarCityGames.com!
This week, Chris makes good on his promise to build Standard decks around the much-maligned Shivan Wumpus. He brings us not one, not two, but three decks that pack the punishing 6/6. SO how did they fare in the maelstrom of Magic Online testing? Click here to find out!

{From Right Field is a column for Magic players on a budget or players who don’t want to play netdecks. The decks are designed to let the budget-conscious player be competitive in local, Saturday tournaments. They are not decks that will qualify a player for The Pro Tour. As such, the decks written about in this column are, almost by necessity, rogue decks. The author tries to limit the number of non-land rares as a way to limit the cost of the decks. When they do contain rares, those cards will either be cheap rares or staples of which new players should be trying to collect a set of four, such as Sulfurous Springs, Birds of Paradise, or Wrath of God. The decks are also tested by the author, who isn’t very good at playing Magic. He will never claim that a deck has an 85% winning percentage against the entire field. He will also let you know when the decks are just plain lousy. Readers should never consider these decks “set in stone” or “done.” If you think you can change some cards to make them better, well, you probably can, and the author encourages you to do so.}

“I’m sure I’ll be dead before that happens.”
Chris Romeo, October 2004, responding to a question about whether The Boston Red Sox, after winning their first World Series in eighty-six years, would repeat in 2005

I know that you read this column. I know because you’re reading it right now. Have you ever read My Li’l Bio, though? If you have, or if you’ve read this column fairly frequently, you’ll know that I am a Boston Red Sox fan. Huge fan, in fact. My wife, Luanne, and I got married in custom Red Sox jerseys (so she could wear her “wedding gown” more than once, and so that I could finally have a Red Sox jersey) and Red Sox caps. That was May of 2004. Five months later, The Red Sox won their first World Series in my lifetime, and in the lifetime of most folks. After going to and winning five of the first fifteen World Series, The Red Sox fell on what can graciously be called “some hard times.” They didn’t win another for eighty-six years.

Yes, we Red Sox fans know that, in that time, two other teams that hadn’t won World Series in longer periods also continued not winning. You weren’t going to make us feel better by pointing that out because, while The Cubs were busy cultivating a Lovable Losers mystique and The White Sox were making people ask “Do they still play baseball?” The Red Sox were typically quite a good team (except for an extended downturn in the 1950s). In fact, during that drought, The Red Sox actually played in four World Series, losing all four best-four-games-out-of-seven duels in typically excruciating Red Sox fashion. They lost all four in seven games. Moreover, they made sure to make the road to game seven as hard as possible. In each of those four World Series, The Red Sox played the National League team that would end up being the NL team that won the most games in a single season during that decade. 1946 Cardinals? Most wins of any NL team on the 1940s. The 1967 Cardinals? Yup. The 1975 Reds? Ditto for The Seventies. The 1986 Mets? Check. Just for good measure, the 2004 Cardinals team that The Red Sox beat to win that World Series is, so far, the winningest National League team of the, um, Zeros.

The point isn’t to reopen old wounds. The point is that I truly didn’t think that The Red Sox would win again in my lifetime. Think about it. Eighty-six years between championships means that a lot of people were born, became Red Sox fans, thought they’d see a Sox championship, and then died without it ever happening in their lifetimes. Cubs fans can’t understand that frustration because it’s rare that The Cubs were even considered contenders. Meanwhile, The Red Sox were perennially favored to at least do well – if not win it all – but were busy finding ways to just barely miss. Sometimes, it was their own fault. (See: those four World Series; 1978 and Bucky F***in’ Dent; 1990 and Clemens’ on-mound meltdown; et al.) Other times it wasn’t. For example, in 1972, The Red Sox finished one-half of a game behind The Detroit Tigers. I won’t go into the whole whatchamacallit behind the games-behind terminology. Suffice it to say that you can’t finish one-half of a game behind anyone unless one of you has played one less game than the other. In this case, The Red Sox had the one less game. The 1972 season started late because the owners had locked the players out of Spring Training over a labor issue. Or, for Craig, a labour issue. The Tigers finished the season at 86-70. The Red Sox were 85-70. The Red Sox should have gotten to play a make-up game (there had been a rain out earlier in the season) to get a chance to catch the Tigers at 86-70 or finish a complete game behind at 85-71. The Commissioner, in his infinite wisdom (See, also, steroid testing, longer seasons, fiscal irresponsibility), decided that, since that game could end the season in a tie (duh!) and would require maybe a one-game playoff (like The Padres and Rockies had this season), the teams would just end the season as they were so that the World Series wouldn’t have to be put on hold for, wow, an entire day. (Interestingly, Major League Baseball must be aware of the ridiculous logic behind that embarrassing decision. I went to the official MLB site today, you will see that “officially” The Tigers and The Red Sox finished with 85-70 records. Fortunately, there are these things called books that can’t be so easily edited once they’ve seen print, and they show the truth.)

So, there I sat, knowing that The Red Sox had already won in my lifetime, and watching as they first clobbered The Colorado Rockies and then won a one-run squeaker, two to one. Game 3 was another clobbering. By Sunday night, I started worrying that The Red Sox would win, and I’d be a goner.

Ya gotta love the fatalism of Red Sox fans, eh? Can’t enjoy a second World Series sweep in four years without thinking about death.

This isn’t to say that I didn’t work on that Shivan Wumpus deck like I promised. Au contraire, mon frer. I worked on it a lot. It’s the writing about the Shivan Wumpus deck that suffered. You see, I figured that, if I were dead, Craig wouldn’t be so upset about me missing a deadline. The thing is Jonathan Papelbon got the final out of the World Series at about 12:30am Sunday night/Monday morning, and I was still here.

My first thought was “Woo hoo! The Red Sox won another World Series in my lifetime! And they did it as American League East champions, too! No more ‘well, you were a Wild Card team in 2004.’ No sir!”

My second though was “Uh-oh, I’m still here. If I wake up tomorrow morning, I’m gonna need to write an article.”

As you can tell, I woke up, and you got this.

Shivan Wumpus is Just Another Word for Lonely

Shivan Wumpus came in tied for second in the most recent Choose Romeo’s Card vote. I already worked on some decks for the winner, No Rest for the Wicked. I had promised something for each of the two second-place cards since they lost by a single vote.

I tried not to go directly to land destruction for Shivan Wumpus. It’s extremely hard not to, though. The thing comes into play and can be Submerged if anyone wants to sacrifice a land. If you’re not making it difficult for them to say “Okay, I’ll lose a land,” you’re probably not getting your efficient 6/6 Trampler for four mana.

Land destruction was too obvious, though. I wanted something subtle. I decided to try a G/R deck with the ability to kick out a third-turn Wumpus, board sweepers in Pyroclasm and maybe Molten Disaster, and lotsa direct damage. The final version looked like this:

2 Desert
2 Mouth of Ronom
2 Urza’s Factory
3 Terramorphic Expanse
4 Karplusan Forest
2 Grove of the Burnwillows
4 Snow-Covered Forest
5 Snow-Covered Mountain

4 Birds of Paradise
4 Mogg Fanatic
4 Emberwilde Augur
4 Shivan Wumpus

4 Might of Old Krosa
4 Pyroclasm
4 Incinerate
4 Threaten
2 Sulfurous Blast
2 Molten Disaster

This deck was fun, if nothing else, and there really wasn’t anything else. If/when it kicked out a third-turn Shivan Wumpus, barring a Black spell that could just kill the Wumpus dead, that was usually game. Only once did an opponent lose the land in order to put the Wumpus back on top of my library. He conceded soon after when he couldn’t get another land to replace it. (By the way, the deck seems to work equally well/badly with Mind Stone instead of Birds of Paradise. You can still get a third-turn Wumpus, but it doesn’t die to Pyroclasm. It can also draw a card.)

When I didn’t get a turn 3 Wumpus, though, the going was usually tougher. Late-game Wumpi aren’t terribly scary. When an opponent has seven lands and only needs four, he just won’t be too hurt by getting rid of one to keep the Wumpus on top of your library. Fortunately, the deck can win simply by going to weenie-burn route. Pyroclasm, Blast, and Disaster can keep the board clear. Anything that can survive that is usually a Threaten target. You can also keep a handle on your (few) guys with Might of Old Krosa. Save a BoP. Clear the board. Attack with a BoP. Not a bad day’s work.

Yes, I’m Still Here

The Red Sox are still 2007 World Series Champions, and I’m still not dead. I should probably be trying to log into the MTGO store to buy Lorwyn packs, but I’m pretty sure they’ll be there tomorrow. In the meantime, I have to tell you about the other crisis that held this thing up. As you’re probably aware, a lot of the U.S. is going through a drought. The Southeast has been especially hard hit. It’s not that we’re necessarily getting less rain than anyone else. It’s that we’re used to getting so much more. So, while East Tennessee might be getting the same amount of rain as another part of the country, we’re experiencing a greater drop in amount received. A lot of the utilities around here have started getting the cities and counties to enact water restrictions. They’ve also been raising rates.

About ten days ago, we got our water bill. It was a hundred dollars. I know that won’t seem like much too many of you (thank you, TVA!), but we normally pay about forty. I was going to just pass it off as “Oh, well, they raised the rates,” when my mind for trivia kicked in. I remembered hearing about a lot of utility companies raising their water rates in an effort to keep usage down, but I didn’t remember hearing that ours was one of them. So, I checked the actual water usage on the bill and compared it to the previous month’s. We had gone from three thousand gallons a month to twenty-three thousand. Uh-oh. That’s gotta spell broken pipe. We got an amateur plumber out here, and he assured us that it wasn’t in the walls of our house. *whew* Makes sense. If you’re losing over 650 gallons of water a day – over twenty-seven an hour – you’d see it in your walls very quickly. That was kinda good news. On the one hand, it meant that we didn’t have to worry about walls collapsing or calling in plumbers and then contractors to turn our house upside down and inside out rebuilding anything. On the other hand, inside the house probably would have been covered by insurance. If it was outside in the ground, it wouldn’t be.

We also didn’t find any water under the house. Another fine non-discovery.

The thing was there wasn’t any water in our courtyard or our driveway, either.

Mmmmm-kay then. Finding the leak and plugging it was going to cost as much (or more) as just having the plumbing company reroute or shunt the water directly under the house. So, we had them reroute it.

Just to make matters worse, our water company takes three or four weeks to get us a bill after a meter reading. This twenty-thousand-gallon-per-month loss was on the bill we got on October 19th. The period it covered was from August 20th to September 20th. That meant that we had another month of leaky pipe that we hadn’t even been charged for. (And, yes, they are going to charge us for the water. The water leak is on our side of the meter, and they don’t care if we “used” it or not; it ran through the meter. I can’t argue with that. It’s gone, and no one else can use it.) Ironically, this happened as we were getting really serious about saving water. We’d been turning off the faucet when we brushed our teeth. We’d been trying to flush only when we, um, “went to the library.” We’d been doing laundry and dishes half as often. Heck, I’d even taken to having a bucket in the shower to catch the unused water so that we could use it for rinsing dishes or whatever. All of that while some phantom leak was sucking out seven times what we normally used.

To top it all off, I’m still not working. Disability insurance is only sixty per cent of my usual pay. It’s better than nothing, but it sure won’t help me pay $2300 to have the water problem fixed. Oh, well. Here’s my credit card, Mr. Plumber. Don’t spend it all in one place.

The good news is that I was able to borrow the tool that allowed me to turn off the main water flow. The bad news is that you never really know when you need water. You can plan laundry. You can’t plan “Honey, I’m gonna need to flush this one!”

At about the same time, I figured that I should go ahead and make a Shivan Wumpus deck with land destruction. The plumbers would be digging up our courtyard; I’d be digging up manabases. This was the “final” version of the Shivan Wumpus LD deck:

Yes, it maxes out the twelve non-land rares limit that I arbitrarily set for myself, but that’s only true if you consider Avalanche Riders to be a “rare” just because it was reprinted as a Timeshifted card. For old guys like me, ones who still have the Riders as the original uncommons, it’s most definitely not a rare. Either way, those rares – the eight or the twelve – are pretty cheap.

I’d like to tell you how good this deck is, but I can’t. It’s not that it’s bad. I can’t tell you that, either. You see, I couldn’t find enough people who wanted to test this deck against me. I hate taking land destruction decks into the Casual Decks room on MTGO. I don’t consider land destruction to be casual. However, I needed to start somewhere. Casual Room it was then. Besides, if the deck was bad, my opponents would get a thrill about bragging in the chat window “I just beat a LD deck!!!!1111!11lll!!ll1l!” It didn’t turn out the way that I hoped, at least as far as getting testing in. My first game, I got a third-turn Avalanche Riders. He didn’t drop a land on his next turn, and I followed with a Wumpus, after declining to pay the upkeep on my Riders. He conceded.

Game 2 was better in that I got, believe it or not, no land destruction spells before turn 6. When I finally did, even though he probably should have beat me, he conceded. “That doesn’t belong in this room.” I know. I felt bad about it. To assuage my guilt, I started advertising “STD – Testing a new deck with land destruction in it.” I relearned a lesson about MTGO. Never advertise exactly what you’re playing; it tends to draw out only decks designed to beat your strategy. I waited quite a while for a game once I posted that. Once I got it, my opponent was packed to the gills with countermagic. Sure. Okay. Fine. I have to get past that kind of deck, too. It’s not the only thing I’d face in a tourney, though. In this room with that game advert, it was. I played only two more games in the next hour and a half, waiting almost ten minutes for each one to start, and both were against Mono-Blue Counterspell decks.

Okay. Fine. Whatever. Off to the Tournament Practice room it was then. Guess what? I hardly got to play any matches in that room, either. My first match was fine, probably because I saw almost no LD. My opponent conceded after game 1, most likely because he didn’t want to face “the n00b playing LD.” My second match also drew a concession, this time in response to my turn 3 Rain of tears because “no one plays LD in tournaments.” I guess he needed “a real test.” So, I decided to advertise what I was playing, same as before. This time, the results were the same – only counterspell decks sat down across from me – but it took even longer to find a match. Testing this deck was going nowhere.

Conjecture, Speculation, and Thought Experiments

Without any decent hard data, here’s what I think would have happened with the land destruction version of the Shivan Wumpus deck. The land destruction would usually get going on turn 3, whether it was a “natural” turn 3 spell like Rain of Tears or a Mind Stone-accelerated spell like Avalanche Riders or Demolish. Before that, however, the deck would almost certainly need Pyroclasm or, in a real pinch, Molten Disaster to keep in the game. Fortunately, those two spells total eight in the deck. The mid- and late-game plays would still be effective, too. Shivan Wumpus on turn 7 or 8 is still fine when an opponent has no creatures in play and only three lands. Should the opponent be able to get enough mana to cast something that slips through the board sweepers, though, Threaten can make the game end quickly. Finally, in a really long game, your Urza’s Factories will make you superior.

I think this is all true, anyway.

At this point, you might be asking yourself, “Why use Demolish? Why not use Faultgrinder instead? Who’s using artifacts that you want to kill?” Actually, not a lot of people are playing artifacts, but they’re still out there. I like the fact that Demolish is a fourth- (or third-) turn land destruction spell. If it can hit an artifact that I need dead, great. However, I will definitely be looking at Faultgrinder… when I can get someone to play against me.

Just a Song Before I Go / A Lesson to be Learned

Is this all there is? Of course not. This column may be for players who are cheap, but it’s not about being a cheap playa. I figured I’d try one more deck with Shivan Wumpus in it, something a bit more fun.

By the way, do you remember Shunt? Did you remember that it was in Tenth Edition? I didn’t until I started looking at a new Shivan Wumpus deck. I think Shunt’s a spell to be looked at again. I glossed over it when I was looking at Staple Rares from Xth. I should expand and expound on why Shunt is such a great card.

It can change the target of a spell.


Okay. Actually. It looks like that’s the only reason to love it. Since that’s what the card does.

“Time to Cowboy Up, Romeo. Why, exactly, is changing targets A Good Thing ™?”

Ah, that’s more like it. It’s A Good Thing ™ because, um, you sometimes want to change a spell’s target? And when you can’t, it’s bad?

“Take a nap, and come back.”

Good idea.

Ahhhh, that was refreshing. Look, we all know why changing targets is good. Opponents’ spells that target (typically) hurt your position (e.g. by killing a creature) or help theirs (e.g. drawing cards). If you could change either of those, why wouldn’t you?

Some people would say that you wouldn’t want to play Shunt because Shunt takes up space in your deck, space that could be used for something like a creature that’s tough to deal with or a spell that could end the game. I understand that felling. I also understand what I call A Big Swing Spell, a spell that can turn the game around.

Take a spell like Threaten. Sticking with Red, let’s say that both you and your opponent are at ten life and you both have a Shivan Dragon on board. Neither of you has any cards in hand. You draw Blaze, and you can cast it for five. You kill the other Shivan Dragon, swing for five, and hope to end the game the next turn. If that card were Threaten, the game is over. You take the opposing Shivan Dragon, and swing for ten. Threaten can actually be a swing of, in this example, ten points (the five needed to kill the Dragon plus the five that didn’t get dealt to the opponent).

Shunt is the same kind of card. Let me give you an example from an actual game that I played with the deck that will follow. I was playing against a U/R deck. My opponent had at least two Ancestral Visions. I know this because I Shunted both of them. Yes, Ancestral Vision actually targets. It says “Target player draws three cards.” So, my opponent gave me the card advantage. He conceded after the second AV was Shunted. In a game a few minutes later, I Shunted a Verdant Embrace that had been targeting the other guy’s Birds of Paradise onto my Emberwilde Augur.

I really like Shunt. Here’s the deck:

I know that it’s a lot like the first deck, sans Green. Like the saying goes, if it works, don’t break it.

This deck was the most fun of the three to play. It was more fun than the first because it won more. It was more fun than the second because people stayed around to play against it.

If I had it to do over again – and, normally I would, but who knows now that The Red Sox have won a second World Series in my lifetime – I’d switch out the Shivan Meteors for *yawn* Threaten. Or Word of Seizing, if you have the money and the mana. Shivan Meteor is a kick in the teeth of pretty much any creature not named Akroma, Angel of Wrath, Paladin en-Vec, or Stuffy Doll. I’d still rather take their guy and use it against them.

Since this is getting to be quite long, I’ll limit my advice on playing this deck to one thing: save your Shunts. Much as you probably shouldn’t kill the very first creature you see (unless it’s a mana bug), you probably shouldn’t Shunt the] first spell you come across. Something better is probably coming later. Save it for Deflection-ing a Careful Consideration or a Tendrils of Corruption or something, not a Shock aimed at your Emberwilde Augur.

As usual, you’ve been a great audience. Next week, I might have something to write about other than Lord of the Pit, the card that tied with Shivan Wumpus. Who knows? We’ll see. Until then, here are your 2007 World Series Champions, The Boston Red Sox!

Chris Romeo