From Right Field: Check’s In The Mail

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StarCityGames.com!Chris Romeo answers viewer mail? Well, it’s always fun to watch him toy with the readers. But Chris Romeo picking the Top Seven Must-Have Cards in each color? Oh, how can you stay away?

{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. They contain, at most, twelve non-land rares. 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 Dark Confidant, 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 get a lot of e-mail. Comes with the territory. People read the column. I touch a nerve. They see that I have my e-mail address listed at the bottom, and, for some reason, they think it’s an invitation to send me an e-mail. Go figure.

A couple of times a year, I save these up and respond to them in public. Usually, it’s because the e-mails bring up issues on which that more than a few folks have found a need to comment. Other times, it’s just to embarrass people. You gotta figure out which each is.

In most cases, I’m paraphrasing the e-mails. No reason to single out one person for glory when five people all essentially asked the same thing, right?

“When some wild-eyed, eight-foot-tall maniac grabs your neck, taps the back of your favorite head up against the barroom wall, looks you crooked in the eye, and asks you if ya paid your dues, you just stare that big sucker right back in the eye, and you remember what ol’ Jack Burton always says at a time like that. ‘Have ya paid your dues, Jack?’ ‘Yes, sir. The check is in the mail.'”
– Jack Burton (Kurt Russell), Big Trouble in Little China


I noticed that you haven’t mentioned anything much about the Time Spiral precon decks yet. Do you have a particular favorite? Is there any one of them that you recommend that I get to start my son or daughter off in the game?



A lot of folks have asked when I was going to get a move on as far as the Preconstructed Deconstruction articles go. To be honest, I haven’t really gotten into the precon decks yet. Heck, I was still digesting Coldsnap when they sprung Time Spiral on us, and Time Spiral has one hundred and twenty-one newly reprinted cards in it. What’s a guy to do?!?

However, I have looked over the cards lists. The two I’m most interested in are Sliver Evolution and Hope’s Crusaders. In both cases, the decks look like fun to play and tweak, and they contain reprint cards that you might really want to poach for other decks.

Take Sliver Evolution. I applaud whoever designed this. It’s a three-color (R/W/G) deck, and the designer got Wizards to let him or her slip in a Gemstone Mine to smooth the mana.

Gemstone Mine in a precon?!? Boo-ya!

Kinda reminds me of the B/W Apocalypse precon (Burial) that had Phyrexian Arena and Death Grasp as its rares, or the Betrayers of Kamigawa mono-Black precon (Rat’s Nest) with Umezawa’s Jitte. There’s also one random copy of Avoid Fate in Sliver Evolution. As I’ve suggested before, you could always use those cards in other decks, actual tourney-winning decks. In fact, I believe Solar X decks are now running Gemstone Mine. The precon deck itself, as with any deck that isn’t very focused, would need heavy tweaking to be tournament ready.

On the other hand, Hope’s Crusaders is close to ready for a Saturday tourney. No, I don’t mean you should expect to win with it, but it is definitely more focused. That’s one benefit of being mono-colored. It also has a lot of three-ofs (precons almost never get four-ofs unless a theme absolutely requires there to be four copies). A couple of those — Icatian Javelineers and Knight of the Holy Nimbus — are Pro-Tour-winning caliber cards. It doesn’t make a lot of financial sense to invest all of that money in the deck merely for the purpose of pillaging those six cards. They aren’t that expensive to order right from this site. However, they make this deck tight and nice to play right out of the box.

There you go, Kyle. Those are the two Time Spiral precons I’d look at most closely. Sliver Evolution is for you. It’s got a lot of decisions to make and Gemstone Mine. Hope’s Crusaders is for your child. It’s a mono-colored (no worries about mulliganing for color) weenie (mostly) beatdown deck. Have fun!


Dear Mr. Romeo,

A couple of times now, you’ve done pieces on so-called staple rares. You list the rares that you think budget players just absolutely must have in their collections. While I like the concept, I have to call you out on an issue: too many staples. Staples are not four of each rare in a set: That’s just not budget. So, I’m asking, please, give us a list of five or six or seven cards at each color that new players must have.



Your complaint/concern is a common one. Yes, I am often over-inclusive, and not just in Magic. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. However, you’re right: it’s not very “budget.” I should be encouraging new players to get cards that I expect that they’ll use over and over and over.

Sometimes, though, I get scared because that list tends to be filled with expensive cards. As I’ve come to the realization that new players who plan on playing in tournaments must invest in dual lands, I guess I should feel the same way about the staples.

Now, before anyone gets all worried that I’m going to go off the deep end budget-wise, and say that “these spells don’t count toward a deck’s budget,” I’m not going to say that. Spells are different from lands. If you like Black and White as a color combination, Caves of Koilos and Godless Shrine will always be useful. However, you may never want to cast Wrath of God in any of your B/W decks. So, while I consider Wrath of God to be a White staple, and one of your favorite colors is White, it wouldn’t make any sense for you to get that card right away. Maybe you’ll do like I did with Birds of Paradise and buy one a year for four years until you get a full set.

So, for Roger & Co., here are my lists. I will be doing something that I haven’t done before regarding these. I am putting them in order that I feel you should try to get them. I will include Timeshifted cards only if (a) they were originally printed as rares or (b) they were printed so long ago that they’re actually harder to get ahold of than some recent rares, regardless of the price…

For example, Soltari Priest is Some Big Good, but it’s not on the list. It was an uncommon in Tempest, and it’s still pretty easy to come by in either form. On the flip side, a card like Avoid Fate, which is a third of the price and was originally a common, is much harder to come by. Unless, of course, you order it from this here site here! Argue amongst yourselves:

1) Wrath of God
2) Glorious Anthem
3) Paladin en-Vec
4) Serra Avenger
5) Adarkar Valkyrie
6) Akroma, Angel of Wrath
7) Ivory Mask

Before you say it, yes, I know that Savannah Lions is not on the list. It was duking it out for that seventh slot. Then, I realized that there Ivory Mask is much hard for opponents to get rid of and hoses more strategies than the Lions. Plus, I’ve had way too many Lions die to Saproling tokens and first-striking 1/1s to make me happy

1) Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
2) Psionic Blast
3) Evacuation
3) Temporal Adept
5) Tidespout Tyrant
6) Ancestral Vision
7) …………………

This was the hardest list for me to put together. Maybe that’s a testimony to how weak I am at playing Blue. It felt to me, though, more like Blue’s strength lies in uncommons such as Remand and Confiscate and commons like Repeal and Mana Leak.

Other than the first two on the list, everything else is simply a choice of effects. For example, Ancestral Vision is just a card drawing spell. Granted, it’s a really good one, but it just draws cards. I left seven intentionally blank because I see something like eight spells that could go into that slot. Draining Whelk is a new favorite of mine (two copies per deck). There’s just nothing like using six mana to get a 6/6 flier while also countering a five-mana spell.

Of course, Dream Leash is awesome, too. It costs one less mana than Confiscate — and while it can only take tapped permanents, often that’s what you’re taking with Confiscate anyway. I could go on and on like this (Clone, Lord of Atlantis, Trickbind), but I won’t. Suffice it to say, Teferi and Psionic Blast are heads and tails above the other Blue rares right now…. Depending, of course, on the strategy that you’re using in your Blue deck.

1) Phyrexian Arena
2) Dark Confidant
3) Persecute
4) Grave Pact
5) Hypnotic Specter
6) Skeletal Vampire
7) Bad Moon

Blue was the toughest to get up to seven cards, and Black was the toughest to get down to seven cards. Suffice it to say that the current pool of Black rares is so deep that Avatar of Woe was battling it out for number seven with Bad Moon. It came down to a roll of the die.

Okay, it wasn’t that random; I went with the one that pumps up all of the Black creatures. However, I wouldn’t feel bad at all if your list had the one that kills creatures (Avatar of Woe), the one that empties all hands (Mindslicer), the one that gets bigger with each creature that dies and regenerates (Mortivore), or the one that makes Knight reanimation possible (Haakon, Stromgald Scourge).

1) Blood Moon
2) Char
3) Bogardan Hellkite
4) Demonfire
5) Shard Phoenix
6) Jaya Ballard, Task Mage
7) Magus of the Scroll

Red was a close second to Black when it came to trying to cut it down to seven. I promised myself that I wouldn’t fudge anything, because that’s why my last couple of lists were so long. If I did, though, Wildfire and Magnivore would be next.

A lot of folks would argue for the inclusion of Wildfire/Magnivore, and it would be a good argument. There’s a Pro Tour-winning deck that uses both of those cards. The problem that I’ve always found is that those two cards tend to be best only when used together in that kind of deck. In other words, they aren’t very portable. Lord knows that I’ve tried to add Magnivore to beatdown decks (not enough Sorceries) and Wildfire to control decks (too mana hungry to use Wildfire effectively). It could also be that I’m not very good. (“Ya think?!?”) However, as I said, they were close, like tied for eighth and breathing down seven’s neck. If you see anything in my list that you don’t like at all, Wildfire and Magnivore should be next up.

1) Birds of Paradise
2) Ohran Viper
3) Call of the Herd
4) Chord of Calling
5) Life from the Loam
6) Squall Line
7) Stonewood Invocation

Green’s top three should be no-brainers. (I know what you’re gonna say, and Shaddup!) They are some of the best cards ever printed in the game, period. Regardless of the year or the format, those three cards are must-haves.

The rest are very, very good; they just take, um, a little more brains. I know that people are going to choke on Squall Line, but you need to play with it. People are winning through the air more and more, and this card stops that. In addition, it deals damage to your opponent (and you, I know). A Green Instant that can finish the game? Yup, get four.

Speaking of Green Instants that can finish the game, that’s why I have Stonewood Invocation at seven. For a while it was Seedborn Muse because of the tricks you can do with her. Other cards that sat there at one point or another were Vinelasher Kudzu, Avoid Fate, Greater Good, Thelonite Hermit, Spectral Force, and others. You won’t go wrong with any of those.

Since I don’t want this to be all about more staples, I’m going to end it right here. For my artifact and multi-color choices, make sure to check the forums.



I feel like I should be excited or worried about Claws of Gix being reprinted, but I’m just not. Wasn’t there a time when this card was the bee’s knees? Why am I not overwhelmed?



Claws of Gix was a big player back in Urza’s Block or at least when Urza’s Block rotated into Standard. As for how you should feel about it, I’m like you. I want this card to be really good; I’m just not sure if it will be.

You should always be excited and/or scared by spells that cost nothing. Right now, we have five zero-casting-cost artifact spells and a couple of so-called “free spells.” (I’m not counting the cycle of no-casting-cost Suspend spells because you have to invest mana in those in order to Suspend them. I am counting only spells that can be used with no mana involved at all.) That always presents potential for abuse. This is a Very bad Thing if you’re the one being abused and suh-weet if you’re the one who figures out how to do the abusing.

With certain Storm spells and Mishra, Artificer Prodigy, out there, I can see someone soon winning a game with lotsa zero-mana artifacts and… Something or other. I dunno. If I did, I’d be winning a Pro Tour right now, not typing this.

(Well, people were winning games with lotsa one-mana artifacts this weekend, but that’s not quite what you were talking about — The Ferrett)

Outside of the degenerate uses for the Claws, there’s just the fact that it can either keep your stuff from being stolen or gain you some life by sacrificing something that’s going to die anyway. You can also use it to fill up your graveyard for some sort of reanimation tricks with Living End or some such other silliness.

So, should you be excited or scared by The Return of the Claws? Probably one or the other. I’m just not sure when exactly you should start screaming like a scared/excited sorority girl is all.


Dear Mr. Romeo,

You seem to be really high on Stuffy Doll. You realize that it dies to Last Gasp, don’t you?


Dear Slow-Mo,

Yes, I know that. Thanks for making sure, though. It’s nice that people watch out for me.


P.S. Wait a second! I think I get what you’re saying. You’re trying to say “Why would you use Stuffy Doll? It’s not completely immune to removal; it’s just indestructible.” The problem with that philosophy, Mo, is that it sets you up for a nasty fall. You can’t not play creatures just because a certain spell kills them. Every creature can be dealt with. Even Norin the Wary dies to Rod of Ruin!

Here, let me list just a small fraction of the other creatures that die to Last Gasp: Birds of Paradise; Dark Confidant; Jaya Ballard, Task Mage; Kird Ape; Watchwolf; Scab-Clan Mauler; Call of the Herd tokens; Serra Avenger; Looter il-Kor; Thelonite Hermit; Court Hussar; Stromgald Crusader; Lyzolda, the Blood Witch; Dauthi Slayer; Elvish Champion; all of the Guildmages; and Hypnotic Specter.

Would you decide against playing any of these just because Last Gasp kills them? Of course not. Then why poo-poo Stuffy Doll because of it? Or to put it another way, the creatures in that list all die to Last Gasp as well as Volcanic Hammer. Stuffy Doll only dies to Last Gasp. Why, then, would you consider not playing it (if the deck we’re talking about can use it well) based only on the fact that, yes, it can die? This discussion segues nicely into my next letter.

Dear Chris,

Furnace of Rath makes this deck [the Stuffy Doll I wrote about – Chris] sing. I picked up a couple in trade earlier and the week and promptly rode the deck to a 3-0-1 at FNM last night. (ID in the 4th round to ensure 1st/2nd; I was tiebreakered down to second, but that’s fine.) Luckily, I didn’t see a lot of swamps on the other side of the tables.

Round one saw Furnaced Skreds connect to my B/W opponent’s face for twenty-four and twenty-eight damage. He boarded in Return to Dust, but couldn’t find it in time. [To shorten things, Chris won round two against a Zoo deck tromping it in game one and winning game two by casting two Kindle the Carnage with lotsa cards in hand and two Stuffy Dolls on board. Round three was a tough win against U/W Control, but Wrath of God does nothing against Stuffy Doll while Defense Grid really hurts U/W Control.]

Final decklist for your amusement:

I just added the Plax as a Drift-fetchable way to keep Black decks from -X’ing [e.g. Last Gasp – Romeo] a Doll into oblivion. Also, the Flectomancer should be Willbender.

Amusingly, out of twelve decks, at least four or five were running Stuffy Dolls last night. One guy was going the B/R route, using Tendrils of Corruption as his primary enabler. He also had Kaervek, who I learned last night deals his damage to target creature or player, not “that spell’s controller,” as I had originally thought. I also noticed Dread Returns in his deck, so he even had insurance vs. counters and –X/-X.

I predict a lot more Return to Dusts floating around our store next week. 😉



Looks like Stuffy Doll has done quite well for you. I hope to see a lot of other young men playing with Dolls soon.


You know what I mean.


[author name= Chris,

I was on StarCityGames.com one day, and I came across this:

Lemme ask you this: Kai’s PTP card is number 1? WTF?!?

Not John Rizzo

Dear Not,

I used to be in the baseball card business. I got in just as it was all taking off in 1979 and got my first actual card store job in 1982, just weeks before I turned sixteen. I made a lot of money on investing in cards. Those first few years of investor speculation in baseball cards, investors hit on the idea of a player’s rookie card, i.e. the first card printed of that player. If it’s first, it’s must be the best. If it’s the best, it must be the most expensive. Whether you agree with this philosophy or not, it is accepted within the sports card industry.

From what you saw, obviously, Kai and his Mom are investing in his rookie cards. Should you also be investing in these? I couldn’t tell you. Or rather, I could, but I shouldn’t. Other Pro Tour Rookie cards you may want to look into picking up are Frank Karsten, Tsuyoshi Fujita, and anyone else who is still racking up points. The longer they play, the more home runs they hit, the more their cards are worth.

Or, you know, not.



I thought you were the White Weenie King. Why haven’t you done anything with White Weenie? You seem really obsessed with Black.



Thanks for keeping up! I guess this doesn’t count. The truth is that I am now obsessed with Black for two reasons. First, I am now one of Stan’s Goth Kids. I am a complete nonconformist and prove it by listening to the same music as and dressing exactly like all of the other nonconformist Goth kids.

Second, White Weenie’s been good for a while now. The shifting of the color pie has meant some strong WW decks. Look at the Kamigawa Block decks from two Summers ago. Thos spilled over into the Standard world even after Ravnica rotated in. Most post-Ravnica White decks featured Red or Green. Can’t fault them for that. Lightning Helix, Watchwolf, and Loxodon Hierarch are delicious. Even so, there were WW decks winning some tournaments. Turns out Paladin en-Vec loved Umezawa’s Jitte, as did pretty much any flier.

Even without access to the Jitte, though, WW decks continue to flourish. For instance, Greg Napier finished second at West Virginia States this year with a deck that was pure White. None of this White with a splash of Red or Blue or Black. No, Greg’s deck was *giggle* snow White. Meanwhile, Kazuo Yamanaka was coming in 6th in Kagawa, Japan with this.

My biggest mistake in looking for a WW build was dismissing the turn 1 play. Savannah Lions is typical, but Icatian Javelineers is da bomb.

Why have I given up on White Weenie? I haven’t really given up on it. I just don’t have anything to add anymore because it seems that Greg Napier and Kazuo Yamanaka have found the answers. I will be moving on, all the while smiling that White Weenie is back and has been for a couple of years.


Mr. Romeo,

Why don’t you care about winning? It seems that you’ve been playing this game quite a while. You have to have learned some good strategy and play techniques. But you keep playing bad decks. Why?


Dear Joe,

Let me put one misconception to rest. Casual players, budget players, rogue players, all players want to win. I have never — not once — met a Magic player who says “I like to lose.” They might say things like “I don’t care if I win every tournament” or “I just want to have fun”… But no one wants to lose. Everyone wants to win.

People like me, though, don’t want to win at all costs.

Let me be a bit egotistical and say this: I’m fairly certain that, if I practiced for dozens of hours a week and used so-called “net decks,” I could, at some point, qualify for the Pro Tour. I know people who have done it. I feel that I’m at least as smart as they are, although, part of my practice would have to include eliminating stupid play mistakes. Still, with hard work and perseverance (read: attending every PTQ within driving distance), I think I could do it.

I don’t want to win that way, though. Why? I don’t know. That’s really a question for a therapist. What I can tell you is that when I win with a “net deck,” I have a hollow feeling, I really do.

For example, a couple of months ago, I played a local tourney with a Solar Flare deck. It seemed like my kind of deck. It leaned heavily on White. It had a lot of one-ofs, two-ofs, and three-of rares, the kind of thing that someone like me could actually build (with a little help from friends on the lands) because I could take an Angel or two here, a Persecute or three there, and, presto, a real good deck.

Yet, when I won, I actually felt bad about it. I apologized a couple of times, and I really don’t know why. A couple of the people I beat were playing “net decks,” too, and I’m sure that they didn’t feel bad winning that way. I did, though, and I always do.

Never misconstrue, though, the desire to win on one’s own terms and the lack of interest in winning. I want to win. I want to win every game I play, even when I’m playing decks with only lands and creatures to teach a new player. I have no desire to lose. That’s much different that wanting to win on my own terms. If I have to chose, though, between winning with a “net deck” and losing with my own, I will pick losing with my own.



That’s it for this mailbag. As usual, you’ve been a great audience. So, what’s your Magic Savings Account at right now? Mine’s sitting at thirty bucks after this week. In two more weeks (if I don’t break down and spend some of it), I should have enough saved to get deck sets of all of the commons and uncommons from Planar Chaos. What are you saving yours for?

Chris Romeo