From Right Field: Dirty, Pretty, Vial Things

When I first saw the official spoiler for Darksteel, it didn’t take me long to find a card that excited me. In fact, I couldn’t stand up for several minutes after I first saw it. Kinda like seeing Laetitia Casta for the first time. It didn’t take long to find a card because the very first card alphabetically did it for me. Aether Vial is a damned sexy beast, if you ask me, and today we’re going to see if we can break it.

{From Right Field is a column for Magic players on a budget, although even those with more money and expertise might – I said might – still find something useful here. As such, the decks written about in this column are, almost by necessity, rogue decks. They contain, at most, eight 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 Wrath of God or the Onslaught fetch lands for the colors they play. The decks are also tested by the author, who isn’t very good at playing Magic. His playtest partners, however, are very good. He will never claim that a deck has a 85% winning percentage against the entire field. He will also let you know when the deck is just plain lousy.}

There are three things that I consider to be Major Truths About Magic. First, drawing extra cards is A Very Good Thing (unless, of course, it draws you out of your deck). Second, doing stuff pretty much whenever you want (i.e. with instant timing) is better than having to wait until your turn, during a main phase, when the stack is empty (i.e.”only any time you could play a sorcery”). Third, there has never been a more naturally beautiful national champion than Turkey’s 2003 champ Eda Bilsel. (Sorry, Mr. Finkel.)

As far as these three go, lately, everyone and his cousin have been talking about card advantage and card drawing. So, I’m going to skip that one. On the third point, I can’t get Pete and Ted to spring for the plane ticket to Ankara, the photographer, the hotel, etc. So, that leaves one of The Three Major Truths for me to screw up. I mean, talk about.

“May I Have More Cheesecake, Please?”

When I first saw the official spoiler for Darksteel, it didn’t take me long to find a card that excited me. [Phrases like that in an article that starts off like this one make me a little nervous. – Knut] In fact, I couldn’t stand up for several minutes after I first saw it. Kinda like seeing Laetitia Casta for the first time. It didn’t take long to find a card because the very first card alphabetically did it for me. In case you don’t remember what Aether Vial says, click the link, and all shall be revealed.

Whoa. Uncounterable creatures? At instant timing? That’s better than upsetting terrorists by flaunting our freedom. (“Don’t like that our women can wear whatever they want, huh? Then you’ll hate this!”)

Dear Readers of From Right Field,

You said you wanted more cheesecake. I aim to please.



My mind reeled. I just imagined sitting back on a handful of control with the ability to drop a critter anytime I felt like it. I had visions of dropping Aven Brigadiers and Festering Goblins and Psychic Membranes right into the middle of combat.

Then, I reread Aether Vial. Whoops. It’s missing a key phrase. See where it says”equal to?” Yeah, it’s missing”less than or” right before that. This means that you can’t just let eleven the counters build up over a long game and use the Vial to drop either Darksteel Colossus or Ravenous Rats into play. No, if you have eleven counters on the Vial, only the Colossus can be dropped with it. In other words, it was going to take more planning than just having a bunch of good creatures with some control. It would require planning. I’d have to figure out at what number I wanted the Vial to hold steady. Crud. I hate thinking that hard. Makes my cerebellum hurt.

“Your Kiss is on My List”

[Dear Chris,

Please, no more Hall and Oates references. You’ll drive me mad! Mad I say! The insipid lyrics, the blaring vocals of Darryl Hall. The hair!

– Knut, suffering]

I started listing creatures that would give me a chuckle to drop into play instantly. Of course, anything with a comes-into-play effect has to be considered. In terms of controlling the board, right now, my two favorites are Nekrataal and Duplicant. Either one dropped into combat with instant timing can really hose up your opponent. Look at these scenarios:

Absurd Situation #1: You’ve been able to hold off your opponent fairly well thanks to some countermagic and a well-placed Dark Banishing. (You are such a good player.) Unfortunately, you’re now looking at a Silver Knight and an Exalted Angel. All you have on board is an Aether Vial with six charge counters on it. Your opponent swings. You tap the Vial, drop a Duplicant into play, remove the Angel from the game, then block and kill the Silver Knight with your 4/5 Duplicant.

Absurd Situation #2: Once again, you’re looking at a Silver Knight and an Exalted Angel. This time, though, it’s only the fourth turn. Your opponent snuck that Angel in on turn three and flipped her over on turn four. Ooo, I love Angels that are flipped over. Where was I? Oh, yeah. This time your Vial only has four counters on it. Darn. Your opponent swings. You tap the Vial, drop a Nekrataal into play, kill the Angel, and block the Silver Knight. Since both the Necktie and the Knight have first strike, there’s mutually assured destruction. However, you got a Silver Knight and an Angel with one card. Not bad.

The question simply became to what number do I want to get the Vial set?

“I Want to Six You Up”

It quickly became obvious that six was the number that gave us creatures with the best CIP abilities (like Duplicant) or that were just plain tough to deal with (like Silvos and Exalted Angel). The problem with that number was that it meant I couldn’t drop a creature for free until my seventh turn at the earliest. (That’s Aether Vial on turn 1 and one counter per upkeep for the next six.) That’s a while to wait. Clearly, using these guys would mean this would have to be a draw-go, control-type deck.

“She Blinded Me with Science”

If you’ve been involved in any scientific endeavors, you’ve probably heard of the scientific method. Basically, it’s a way of testing a hypothesis. Good experimenters will set up the experiment, see what happens, and find out whether the hypothesis tested true or not. Bad ones, of course, will try to make the conclusion show that their hypothesis was true no matter what the data say.

Coming up with a new deck is a lot like that sometimes. We can either be honest about the fact that a deck is awful, or we can try to make it look better than it was.

I don’t like that second way. It’s not respectful to you, the reader. As my friend Shannon says, if you’ve been playing a while, you can pretty much grab any sixty cards and beat someone who’s only played four games in their entire life. Is it a good deck because you won eight out of ten games? No. It means you’re a lot better than the newbie, even if s/he was running a Goblin Bidding deck.

I mention this because the first two decks that I came up with turned out to be not very good against the current tournament field. I thought they would. That was my hypothesis. They weren’t. That was the result. Still, I’m going to tell you a little about them because they do some fun things. They also look to be fairly good against slower control decks and possibly in casual play.

The first was Blue-Black control-type deck that ran Duplicant and Triskelion as well as Black removal, countermagic, and Echoing Truth. Playing the deck was simple. Use the removal and countermagic to survive long enough to get a threat into play for free using the Vial, and then protect it. Echoing Truth would allow you to send back their critters as well as play all sorts of silly tricks with yours. For example, if you have two Duplicants on board, they have, hopefully, already removed two creatures from the game. If you yourself into a pickle or a jam or any other number of fruit and vegetable-related situations, you can cast the Truth on your Duplicant. Both will come back. Then, you can drop them again, taking out two more critters. Delicious. Speaking of delicious, did you see Angelina Jolie at the Oscars? Man, I could eat her up with a spoon. (If you never hear from me again, it’s because Luanne read that, and I am dead.)

So, off I went to test the thing. It did passably well against control decks.

Then, I started testing against Goblins.

Isn’t that quickly becoming the Famous Last Words in Standard Magic today?

“So, how’s your new deck doing, Bob?”

“Great. Well, against everything except Goblins.”

“So, then, you’ll be playing something else this weekend?”


Really, the deck did quite well until the weenie decks showed up. Makes sense, though. Control is fine when the opponent is casting one creature per turn. Those control spells quickly run out, though, which is A Bad Thing when your creatures all cost six mana to cast.

In other words, in a control-heavy environment, this seemed okay. Otherwise, it blew sausage balls.

So, I started thinking maybe the best way to use the Vial isn’t to find a number and sit on it but to use it to enable you to drop a free creature almost every turn as the counters built up. For example, on turn three, you could cast three-mana creature like Rotlung Reanimator and drop Ravenous Rats for free with the Vial. The next turn, you could cast Nekrataal and drop another Rotlung for free using the Vial.

This version was much more Black, as you can tell from the example above. It was still not beating the weenie decks, though. Sure, I could have tried other spells and ratios of spells and a higher or lower percentage of creatures. It just seemed like banging my head against a Steel Wall. No need to keep doing that. So, I dumped that idea because, let’s be honest, for the next few weeks, the Standard format is going to be all about the beatdown decks. Everyone wants to play Skullclamp. Skullclamp is so good that it’s showing up in Yu-Gi-Oh decks. If you can’t beat any of the weenie decks, you hafta shelve yours.

“What’s Wrong with This Picture?”

Still, I felt that the Vial was a sweet deal. During my naps at work, I kept seeing words like”uncounterable” and”free.” There had to be a way to make this work. [And here I thought I had the only job that afforded me mid-day naps. – Knut, lucky]

Like an Electrostatic Bolt, it hit me. How about looking at a compromise between the two ideas? Instead of trying to sit on one number or let it continue to build up through a large range of numbers, how about we find a very small range, say one and two, and make all of our creatures fit into that range? In this way, the Vial can be used in a more aggressive deck to help drop extra creatures into play. Imagine, if you will, playing the Vial on turn 1. On turn 2, it would have one counter on it. You drop your second land and a second Vial. You play a Glaivemaster. At the end of your opponent’s turn, you can use the Vial to drop a Suntail Hawk, Auriok Glaivemaster, or Tundra Wolves into play for free. After your next upkeep, you’d have a Vial with two counters on it and one with one counter. If every creature card you had in the deck cost one or two, you’d be able to drop any creature in your deck instantly, for free, and without any fear of getting it countered.

Read that last part again.”[Y]ou’d be able to drop any creature in your deck instantly, for free, and without any fear of getting it countered.” Yeah. Powerful stuff, no?

Of course, you’d want to be drawing extra cards so that you had a hand full of goodies.

That means – yeah, you guessed it – you probably also want Skullclamp.

Hey, come on. Give me a break. I’m a Magic Writer. I’m required to write about a deck with Skullclamp in it before the end of March, or I lose my Magic Writer’s License. So, let’s get this out of the way.

Blah blah blah Skullclamp is good. Drawing cards blah blah blah. Yadda yadda yadda card advantage. Wrath of God blah blah blah. Blah blah blah yes, even with Akroma’s Vengeance. Yadda yadda yadda completely rewrite the laws of physics and make you more appealing to members of the appropriate gender.

Okay, that’s over with.

This was my next iteration for the deck. I decided to try a White Weenie thing. Why not, right? White creatures in Mirrodin and Darksteel seem to benefit most from Equipment.

Little White Vial

18 Lands

14 Plains

4 Flooded Strand

24 Creatures

4 Auriok Glaivemaster

4 Tundra Wolves

4 Suntail Hawk

4 Silver Knight

4 Leonin Skyhunter

4 Leonin Shikari

18 Other Spells

4 Bonesplitter {or Lightning Greaves, if you prefer}

4 Skullclamp

2 Ritual of Restoration

4 Aether Vial

4 Raise the Alarm

“These Boots are Made for Walkin’ / And They’re Gonna Walk All Over You”

I didn’t end up running Lightning Greaves in my version. After some quick games playing with the boots in the deck, I switched to the Bonesplitter and never looked back. The Greaves said,”Ha ha! You can’t target my creature! Who, sadly, will be staying back to play defense and dying anyway, and, oh, crud, I can’t put the Skullclamp on him, either, darn it.” Bonesplitter said,”Eat rusted, jagged metal, maggot! If I die, I am leaving a big mess behind, too.”

I found no problem in using the Greaves, though. It’s merely a matter of play style. Me, I like to turn the gang ninety degrees and say,”Boo ya!” The Greaves let’s you do that a turn quicker. The Splitter, however, makes the Suntail Hawk and Leonin Skyhunter formidable foes at 3/1 and 4/2, respectively. You can go either way. Whatever you’re more comfortable with. [There’s a bi-curious joke here that I’m not allowed to make because we’re still a family site. – Knut]

Goblin Sighting: If you expect a bunch of Goblin decks, no matter what the version is, use the Greaves instead. This deck is very vulnerable to the Goblin Sharpshooter. Being able to make your guys untargetable at will (with the Shikari on board) is huge. It’s huger than huge. It’s colossal. It’s Dale-the-Whale big.

Shhhhhhhh . . . Super-Secret Tech for Your Eyes Only: The super-special tech in here is the Ritual of Restoration. Normally, with Skullclamp on board, Wrath of God is not A Bad Thing. However, Akroma’s Vengeance isn’t pretty. Sure, you get to draw cards from the ‘Clamps even in that case, but then the ‘Clamps are gone. With the Ritual, though, things are different. They cast Vengeance. You draw some cards. Next turn, you bring back a Skullclamp from the ‘yard. You should have plenty of creatures in your hand to ‘Clamp up, too.

Third Rare Slot Suggestion: If you have them, Second Sunrise would be even better than the Ritual. Of course, they’re rares, but they are such good rares. If you like playing White, whether it’s in tournaments or at the kitchen table, get four Second Sunrises. You won’t be disappointed.

They key to this thing running like a well-oiled swimsuit model is that you have the same number of one- and two-mana creatures. This allows you to leave the Vial at one or allow it to go up to two and know that you have a darn good chance of getting a creature with that converted mana cost. With the limited amount of mana you run, you wouldn’t normally be able to cast two creatures in one turn unless both were one-mana spells. With the Vial, you can do things like play a creature and drop one into play with the Vial. That will give you a way to really ramp up after a Wrath or Starstorm.

Chalice of the Void Alert: Chalice of the Void can just ruin this deck. On their second turn, they can drop it for one while turn 4 gives them two. That’d be game. Except for the act that you’re gonna play Altar’s Light in the sideboard, right? Of course you are because Damping Matrix horrendous for you, too.

Altar’s Light is pretty expensive for an eighteen-land deck, though. We have more mega-secret tech for that. See those Flooded Strands? We’re going to have three Islands in the sideboard. They’ll serve a dual purpose. First, you can bring them in along with the Altar’s Lights. This will allow you to get to four lands in a timely manner. Second, it will allow you to bring Echoing Truth in from the ‘board.

So, I guess you want to see the sideboard, too, huh? Here it is:

15 Sideboard

3 Island

4 Altar’s Light

4 Echoing Truth

4 Scrabbling Claws

As you can see, there are no Sacred Grounds in here for two reasons. First, over the next few weeks, I expect to see many more decks packing Damping Matrices and Chalice of the Void in the sideboard than land destruction decks. Second, I didn’t find LD to be that much of a problem. Little White Vial doesn’t need much land at all to run. Once the ‘Clamp gets going, you draw enough cards to get into more land if it’s needed. Plus, you can bring land in from the sideboard. The only problem I had testing this against the R/G LD deck was in the games in which (a) the LD deck went first, (b) the LD deck got that horrible second-turn Stone Rain or Molten Rain, and (c) I did not have a second land. Even then, though, I usually had a creature or a ‘Clamp on board. So, it’s just not that bad.

Playing the Deck

The deck is aggressive. Say it with me:”Grrrrrr.” Even though the point of this piece is to use Aether Vial, your first play should almost always be a creature. You want to start banging heads ASAP. However, if you know that you’re playing against a deck with countermagic, you may want to drop the Vial on the first turn. Sneak it in under the countermagic and not have to worry about your creatures being countered.

Against most decks, this has performed well in testing. That shouldn’t be surprising since it’s very much like all of the White Weenie decks running Equipment except for the fact that we’re not using the Steelshaper. Something had to go to fit the Vial in, and he was it. The ability to play an extra creature or two each turn seems to be the push that makes this thing go. If you have to have the Steelshaper (and he does help the deck do some great things), drop the Raise the Alarms.

Against Goblins: Be aggressive, but use the Silver Knight for defense unless you can swing for the win. They won’t be able to kill your guys quickly enough to beat you if you’re playing the Greaves version. If you’re playing with the Bonesplitter instead, you have to be more defensive. Don’t forget the surprise factor with the Raise the Alarm. With the sideboard as is, there’s pretty much nothing to do. Sulfuric Vortex can hurt them as much as it hurts you, and you weren’t planning on gaining life, anyway. So, Altar’s Light is N/A. Scrabbling Claws is only used if it’s the Bidding version. If that’s the case, drop the four Raise the Alarm for the Claws.

Against Affinity: You have plenty of fliers to block Broodstars. So, those will often just sit on the other side of the board. Echoing Truth is a sweet trick from the sideboard. Often, they will wait until they can alpha strike you. Echoing truth can send back all of the Broodstars if even just one of them doesn’t have Lightning Greaves on it. You don’t need extra mana for the deck to run since the Truth is a two-mana spell. Simply switch out three Plains for the Islands and the Raise the Alarms for the Echoing Truths.

Against Ravager Affinity: Concede, and go get something to eat.

Honestly, you can not win this because you have no way to rid yourself of the Disciple of the Vault. They could simply sit on that thing and let dying artifacts kill you. Okay, I guess you could accidentally win a game here or there if they don’t get out the Disciple. Don’t count on that happening.

Against Clerics or Zombies or Anything that Uses the Graveyard as a Major Resource: Well, that’s what Scrabbling Claws is for. I don’t wanna get scolded by Ted like my former 7Towers.net writing chum Joshua Claytor did. [I did not scold, I merely asked some questions. Apparently Eternal Dragon and Unholy Grotto are banned in the state of Kentucky and I missed the memo. – Knut] So, you make sure you bring in those Claws, ya hear? Of course, that means that you have to take out for of something. Again, I would suggest dropping the Raise the Alarm for the Claws.

I know. I know. It seems like the RtA comes out in every match. So, why use it? Jedi Mind tricks, folks. For example, against Clerics, the first time that they swing with a Dark Supplicant and lose it instant-timed Soldiers will be the last. In game two, they’ll keep ’em back. Yet, you won’t have any RtA’s. Brilliant!

Besides, what else goes? The Glaivemaster can gain first strike while the Tundra Wolves and Silver Knight have them. They stay. They Hawk and the Skyhunter fly, thus breaking up ground stalls. The Shikari makes all sorts of tricks possible. So, those stay. The Equipment is too important to the deck while the Vial let’s you overwhelm them. You sure aren’t dropping the Ritual since it’s too helpful for what it gets you back if they cast Oblivion Stone. The process of elimination leaves Raise the Alarm.

The biggest problem with the Cleric decks is how they can trade life so easily. You have to just overwhelm them with creatures. However, you want to leave some first strikers back to block that Scion of Darkness. Remember, two Tundra Wolves wearing Bonesplitters on defense beat a Scion.

Sadly, this is another bad matchup, especially after they bring in Persecute. The good thing is that, even with you hand empty, you can reload quickly.

You’ll be tempted to bring in Echoing Truth to deal with the Zombie tokens. If you feel that you must, be careful about what you take out. All of your creatures give you some sort of advantage. Taking any out will weaken the deck. You just have to figure out if the Echoing Truths will strengthen it enough to make up for the loss of the creatures. I would take out the Tundra Wolves since it gets no bonus from being Equipped.

Against Mono-White Control: Drop three Plains and the Tundra Wolves and bring in the Islands and the Echoing Truths. This is how you kill both Soldier and Angel tokens. The biggest problem here will be defeating the Exalted Angels, however. Echoing Truths help here, too. So do fliers wearing Bonesplitters. However, you will lose two fliers to kill one Angel. Sometimes, it will be a trade you have to make.

You may want to wait until you can alpha strike your opponent. Often, having enough fliers in the air to kill an Angel will keep them back on their heels. If they’re dead before the Angel’s lifegaining ability resolves, it won’t matter.

Against Blue-White Control: Mulligan until you can get a turn 1 Vial. For game two, do the same as with MWC.

In both of these last two matchups, you have to be wary of the Damping Matrix. If you think the Matrix will be revealed, you will have to drop an additional slot of spells (such as Raise the Alarm) and some other creatures (such as Silver Knight) so that you can bring in all of the lands and the Altar’s Lights.

I wish I had had more time to test against Green/Black Cemetery, other White Weenie decks, and Elves. However, I only have so much time in my week for this stuff. In addition, a friend of mine, often mentioned in these pieces, had to have emergency heart surgery this week even though he’s only thirty-three years old. That’s right, kids, this thing could have been even longer. Oh, yeah, he’s doing fine.

I’m so confident in this deck and had such a good time testing it that I’m heading back to the tournament scene this weekend, and I’ll be playing this. I’ll let you know how it goes.

As usual, you’ve been a great audience. By the way, you’ve been Punk’d!

Chris Romeo

[email protected]