From Right Field: Come Tumbling Down

Three Words: Competitive Wall Deck. Well, at least it was until Chris got his hands to it. Peep the carnage inside…

Inspiration comes from the most unusual sources. I once wrote a song simply based on an intriguing laugh I overheard. The way it came out, it sounded like the woman was singing. A friend of mine couldn’t take her eye off of a pinkish-orange (you’d probably call it salmon now) bleach stain on a purple blouse she owned. It inspired her to paint a mural that took up three of the four walls in her bedroom. (The other was mirrored. Yeah, baby.)

Sometimes, though, inspiration isn’t all that mysterious. Sometimes it just smacks you in the head. Like a call I got from Ted Knutson a few weeks ago. From out of the blue, he called me from his vacation home on St. Croix.

TED: (over the din) Romeo? It’s Ted.

ME: Ted? Where are you? It sounds like Gloria Estefan’s rehearsing in your living room.

TED: She is. I’m at my place in St. Croix. Listen, there’s a deck on our forums from a thread called”Anything but Ravager.” It’s a Rolling Stones deck by Sheila McDougal. It looks pretty interesting. I was wondering if (unintelligible due to loud noise).

ME: Sorry, man. I missed that last part. There was a lot of noise, like cheering or something.

TED: Yeah, Sting dropped by. Everyone had to run over and say”hi.” Anyway, I thought you could take a look at it. Do some testing. Her friend says it wins at Friday Night Magic and beats everything except control.

ME: Ted, it’s only five weeks from Regionals. I’m working on my super-secret decks for people to play at Regionals.

TED: . . .

TED & ME: (hearty laughs and guffaws)

TED: Man, you crack me up like no one except Robin Williams.

ME: Thanks. So, yeah, I’ll get on it.

TED: Fantastic. By the way, Fergie says”Hi, Romeo.”

ME: Sweet.

Okay, Ted didn’t really call from his place in St. Croix. In fact, I don’t even know if he still has a place in St. Croix. It was actually a series of e-mails. They may have been sent from St. Croix, though. Let’s not dwell on the specifics. All that matters is that Ted pointed me toward a deck with Walls and Rolling Stones. Little did he know that I had been working on such a deck for a while. Not that such a venture should surprise anyone.

You know what else shouldn’t surprise anyone? My deck was bad. When you’re entire strategy is based on attacking with creatures that can’t attack unless a fragile enchantment is in play, you tend to stall out. The two big saving graces were Ageless Sentinels and Wall of Mulch.

The Sentinels can actually end up attacking on their own. Through the air! Meanwhile, Wall of Mulch turned all of those about-to-die Walls into another card. It still wasn’t enough, though. As my friend and cohort in (bad pun alert) off-the-wall deck building, Karl Allen, would say,”If the answer is ‘Rolling Stones,’ I don’t want to know what the question is.”

Really, I mean, how silly is that idea? Attacking with Walls. It says right on them that Walls can’t attack. So, I scrapped the idea.

Yes, I do have a modicum of self-restraint when it comes to Bad Deck Ideas. I can throw some of them away. Not many, but a few. Okay, very few. All right, fine, two a year. Max.

Then, Ted told me about Ms. McDougal’s deck. She used two ideas that never crossed my fevered mind. First, she went with enemy colors, White and Red. I kept trying to go with friendly colors for the Rolling Stones in either Green or Blue. Then, she decided to use a creature that didn’t need Rolling Stones. Sadly, it was the dreaded, rent-busting, insurance-lapsing, can’t-live-with-her-can’t-live-without-her Exalted Angel. I hear that a 4/5 flying, life-gaining, bustier-wearing Angel is A Good Thing. [She’s like Chandra North with a sword. – Knut]

Of course, I wanted to know how her deck came about. So, I asked forum regular Nathan X (who, it turns out, not only posted but also inspired the thing) if he could have Sheila e-mail me. By the way, if you haven’t clicked on link to the decklist yet, here’s the main deck:

Wallflower, v.2.1

24 Lands

4 Blinkmoth Nexus

9 Mountain

11 Plains

18 Creatures

4 Cinder Wall

4 Wall of Hope

2 Wall of Stone

3 Ageless Sentinels

3 Sunweb

2 Exalted Angel

18 Spells

4 Rolling Stones

4 Wrath of God

4 Starstorm

3 Damping Matrix

3 Ivory Mask

I kept staring at the list, trying to make sense of the numbers and choices. Why no Wall of Spears? What about Wall of Swords? Only eighteen creatures? I was hoping that I would mystically be given the answer to the workings of the deck before she got in touch with me.

One thing that did become apparent was that this was really a control deck. It doesn’t look like it at first glance, but it is. Walls stop up the creature rush until Wrath or Starstorm can clear the board. Damping Matrix and Ivory Mask both just say”no” to a ton of decks. Then, when this is in control, a huge, flying Wall or Angel attacks.

I asked Sheila how she had done at the Friday Night Magic tourney that she won. The gauntlet that she faced and passed was impressive. In the Swiss she beat three Ravager Affinity decks and two Goblin Bidding decks. In the top eight, she beat two Ravager Affinity decks and her friend Nathan X’s Greater Harvester Deck. In other words, she was 5 – 0 against what will be one of the most popular decks at Regionals and 2 – 0 against another.

Still, I was curious about the choice and numbers of each creature and the support spells. Luckily – whoops, I mean, fortunately – she did answer my e-mail.

I asked her where the idea even came from. I mean, I know how my fevered mind works, but I wanted to know how someone else would have tried an All-Wall deck. She said that her friend Nathan has suggested using Walls as early defense. So, she started with the one-casting-cost Walls.

Did you know that in all of Standard right now, there are only three one-mana Walls? They are Wall of Hope, Cinder Wall, and Steel Wall. After a bit of testing, she found that Steel Walls stunk. All it did was block. I know that sounds rather obvious, since that’s all that Walls (usually) do. However, the other two do more than just block. The Cinder Wall kills things. The Wall of Hope gains life. When you’re playing control, you can’t underestimate the value of those two things. As Sheila pointed out, no one’s sending their Goblin Warchief into a Cinder Wall, and one Wall of Hope essentially negates two Frogmites. Given the mass removal in both Red (Starstorm) and White (Wrath of God), she said her color choices were easy.

There’s also a very interesting synergy between Wall of Hope and Starstorm. If you Starstorm for, say, six with two Walls of Hope in play, you will gain twelve life while simultaneously wiping out anything with a toughness of six or less that isn’t pro-Red and can’t regenerate. Not bad, huh?

At first, her deck was thirty-two Walls, including Wall of Swords and Wall of Spears, twenty-four lands, and four Wrath of God. No, Rolling Stones hadn’t been added yet. The Nexi, face down Crude Ramparts, and attacking Ageless Sentinels were her kill mechanisms.

She needed more control, though. First, out went the Wall of Spears for Starstorms. Too much artifact hate meant that the Wall of Spears accidentally gave opposing decks a target for those Shatters and Naturalizes. When she finally learned of Rolling Stones, those were added in place of the Wall of Swords. I asked why she chose that instead of the Sunweb.”Sunweb doesn’t die to Shrapnel Blast, and its drawback is minimal.” Makes sense to me.

She still needed more control. Crude Ramparts went out next, since the Rolling Stones had been added. She wanted to bring in four of each of Damping Matrix and Ivory Mask. That would have meant dropping all of the Ramparts plus another entire slot of Walls. Turns out she only needed three of each. So, she dropped the Ramparts and one each of the Ageless Sentinels and Sunweb.

Finally, she had to get some sort of big damage in there that didn’t require the use of either a Wall that had already blocked or a land that might die. She dropped two Stone Walls, since they had no power, for two Exalted Angels.

And that’s the story of how Wallflower (v.2.1) came to be. So, just build it, play it, and win, right?

The End. Not.

Not so fast, there, Cowboy Wally. Whose column is this, anyway? Not yours. It’s mine, and I sez that’s too many rares.

Yeah, sorry, Sheila, I’m gonna ruin it. Apologies in advance. Please, forgive me.

Before I start, though, I want to thank Sheila for being so forthcoming about the deck. It’s a blast to play as is. If you have the cards, please, play it the way Sheila has it. All I’m going to do is suggest some alternate cards. The rares in here, other than Starstorm, Blinkmoth Nexus, and Wrath of God, aren’t expensive at all. However, they may still be hard to find. Sometimes, the cheap rares are harder to find because no one wants to clutter up their trade binders with them. On the hand, you could just order them from StarCity. (Yes, I am shameless.)

Grammar Lesson Digression:”Alternate” is an adjective. It modifies a noun.”Alternative” is a noun. So, for example, when Wizards made the new version of Voidmage Prodigy, it had alternate art. By doing so, they gave you an alternative to choose for your bad Wizards deck if you didn’t like the original.

The first thing I need to identify which rares simply can’t be closely duplicated with anything else. That would be Wrath of God and Rolling Stones. White has no mass removal at the uncommon or common slots, and there is no card in at any rarity in any color that does what Rolling Stones does.

Normally, the decks in From Right Field only have eight rares. With four each of Wrath and Rolling Stones, we would have shot our wad. Normally, that would be okay. You know what, though? I found it extremely difficult to move on from this point. For example, both Sunweb and Ageless Sentinels are flying Walls. Sadly, both are rares. You also lose the Damping Matrix, Ivory Mask, Blinkmoth Nexus, and Starstorm. Holy piggy banks, Batman! I hadn’t realized how expensive a deck based on Walls could be.

So, what substitutes can we make? Going from the top down, Stalking Stones steps in for the Blinkmoth Nexi. Yes, often, the Stones will be worse than the Nexi. The Stones permanently become artifact creatures, thus making them vulnerable to all of the spells and abilities that can hit artifact creatures. The Nexi are only creatures until the end of the turn. The Stones are stuck on the ground while the Nexi fly. However, you don’t have to reactivate the Stones, and they are 3/3’s.

Next, we come to the rare Walls. Ageless Sentinels can be kicked up to four copies, eating one of the Sunwebs. I like the fact that the Sentinels often won’t need Rolling Stones to be able to attack. Yeah, it makes twelve rares, but eight of them are Ageless Sentinels and Rolling Stones, so cut me some slack.

The replacement for the other two Sunwebs is Wall of Swords. Again, I know this is inferior. The WoS is a 3/5 flier that can be killed by Shrapnel Blast unlike the 5/6 Sunweb. Where else are we gonna find a flying Wall, though?

The final creature will be replacing Exalted Angel. Forgive me for writing that sentence. No one will ever replace the Exalted Angel. Not Rachel McLish. Not Marisa Miller. Not even the classic Raquel Welch. Emissary of Hope, however, can gain quite a bit of life. I just wish she had a bigger back end.

Now, we’re up to the support spells. Slice and Dice is a nearly even trade for the Starstorm. (I said”nearly”!) They both cycle for the same amount of mana (even though Slice & Dice requires one of them be Red), and S&D does damage when it’s cycled. Granted, Slice & Dice can’t be contoured for the amount of damage needed – you get one or four and nothing else – but that’s what we get when we substitute. On the flip side, Slice & Dice can be cycled to kill lots of Soldier tokens, and the only thing that can stop it is Stifle. Starstorm has to be cast to kill Soldier tokens, meaning that it can be countered.

What to do about Damping Matrix? There’s nothing in the game that shuts down as many permanents simultaneously as the D-Matrix does. However, we may end up walking into a field of artifact hate (ya think?) which will accidentally hit the Matrix anyway. The Law of Unintended Consequences incarnate. Maybe losing it isn’t that bad.

Yeah, it is. But what can we do?

What are we trying to shut down with this thing? Sadly, it’s about four hundred things. We don’t want Skulls to be Clamped. We don’t want Goblins to recruit Sharpshooters. We don’t want Ravagers to be, um, Arcbound. Well, you get my drift. Most of the offending permanents shut down by the Matrix fall into one of two categories. The first is stuff that targets us in bad ways like the Goblin Sharpshooter or Mindslaver. The other is stuff with abilities that are simply useful to our opponent without directly being detrimental to us. By which I mean, Skullclamp. For lack of a better answer, I think Altar’s Light will solve a lot of problems, especially in conjunction with Ivory Mask. Or rather, in conjunction with its replacement.

The Mask, an enchantment, can be replaced by Gilded Light, which can’t be Naturalized. Again, each has pros and cons. The Mask is permanent. They have to deal with it before targeting you. Once they deal with it, however, they can target away. Gilded Light has the surprise factor, but once it’s gone, they can target away.

These changes bring us to a new deck, which is

Gathering No Moss

24 Lands

4 Stalking Stones

9 Mountain

11 Plains

18 Creatures

4 Cinder Wall

4 Wall of Hope

2 Wall of Stone

4 Ageless Sentinels

2 Wall of Swords

2 Emissary of Hope

18 Spells

4 Rolling Stones

4 Wrath of God

4 Slice and Dice

3 Altar’s Light

3 Gilded Light

Obviously, if you have the cards listed in Sheila’s deck, use those. Exalted Angel is infinitely superior to Emissary of Hope while the same is true of Sunweb over Wall of Swords.

Tips and Tricks

Here are some fun notes on playing the deck.

• If you can drop Cinder Wall on the first turn and a Rolling Stones on turn 2, you are attacking on the second turn with a 3/3. Don’t worry about it being blocked. The Cinder Wall only blows itself up when it blocks.

• If your opponent has a Disciple of the Vault on board and you have both Wrath and Gilded Light in hand, cast the Gilded Light first. Your opponent will have to decide right then if you’re playing mind games with them and bluffing the Wrath to trick them into sacrificing stuff to the Ravager or not. If they let it go, Wrath away. The Disciple won’t be able to target you, making the Ravager as useless as if you had both Damping Matrix and Ivory Mask on board at the same time. If they sac all of the artifact critters, it doesn’t matter if you have Wrath. They just sac’d all of their artifact critters. You turned Gilded Light into a one-sided Wrath. (Of course, if you do have Wrath, you could save it. Cool, no?)

• Rolling Stones’ ability is not cumulative. In other words, you get no extra effect from having more than one out at a time unlike, say, Sun Droplet or Mind’s Eye. So, if you have Mick playing for you, no need to ask Keith to come along for the ride, too, just in case Akroma shows up and, in all of her Vengeance, wipes everyone out. Especially since Keith is just about out of regeneration shields.

• Sheila says that it’s just plain fun to call”Walls!” when an opponent casts a Patriarch’s Bidding.

Sideboard Suggestions

• You’ll want something like Purge for the stray artifact and/or Black creatures that you’ll see. What do I mean,”something like Purge”? There isn’t anything like Purge. Use Purge.

• Scrabbling Claws is almost certainly a four-of if anyone near you plays any sort of Bidding, Cleric, or Zombie deck. Come to think of it, Myr Retriever would stink, too. Yeah, you need the Claws.

• Electrostatic Bolt should probably be in there against all of those artifact creatures.

• Having played with it this weekend, Echoing Ruin is some good. Nothing like killing two or three Skullclamps or Myr Enforcers at once.

A Final note on Rizzo

I had a blast doing the Rizzo thing for April Fool’s Day. It’s very liberating being able to write like someone else. I was afraid that I’d gone over the top. A lot of folks apparently didn’t think so. A few thought that Rizzo had actually written the piece. Others felt that only The Ferrett, what with having edited about one million words of Rizzo prose, could handle such a feat. Meanwhile, a lot of folks thought that I had done Blisterguy’s or Ted’s pieces. Given the great respect that I have for all of those guys’ works and the enjoyment I get from reading all of their stuff (please, write more Monsieurs The Ferrett and Blisterguy, please), I will take this as a compliment, whether it was meant to be or not.

As usual, you’ve been a great audience. Now, go attack with some Walls, whydoncha.

Chris Romeo

[email protected]