From Right Field: Easy Like Christmas Morning

Read Chris Romeo... every Tuesday at
I’ve got a new favorite cheap, cheap, cheap pet deck, one that I don’t mind letting my friend Matt play. It’s dirt cheap, which is perfect because I don’t always know where his hands have been or when he washed them last. I alluded to the deck in my last piece. It’s sometimes called the new Goblins deck, but you’ll start calling it the Empty the Warrens deck soon enough…

{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.}

There are about a gazillion and one things that I both like and love about Luanne. One of the ones I don’t mention much is her family and the way that they mesh with mine. They like me. I like them. My family likes Luanne and vice versa. Moreover, we don’t have those “my family or yours” holiday arguments. For example, my family is big on Thanksgiving. We all cook something, and there’s enough to feed a small army, which is convenient since that’s what shows up. Her family, they really don’t care. So, Thursday is spent with my family. Friday, we sleep in and then head to see her family for the weekend. This is mostly so that her and her sister Allison can go shopping the Saturday after Thanksgiving! I get to play games with my nine-year-old nephew Matt. (It used to be Matt and my niece Abbey, but Abbey is 13 now. So, while she likes to play games with us, she can’t say so in front of all of her cool friends. Since they’re almost always around, that means it’s usually just me and Matt and whichever other adults we can trick into playing get to play with us.)

Christmas is similar. Her family is all about Christmas Eve and really early Christmas morning. Their big meal is on the 24th. So, we drive up to see her family and have a nice, big, Southern dinner. The next morning we’re up at oh-my-gawd-thirty so that the kids can open presents. We pack up the car and head back to my Mom’s for Christmas dinner and presents there.

See? It all works out so perfectly.

What does this all have to do with this week’s column? I mean, am I not all focused up on Christmas-related stuff on the SCG Dailies right now? Yes, I am. Can you have too much Christmas, though? Okay, maybe you can. I can’t, but I understand how you might be all eggnogged out.

By the way, Dave “Mr. Jeopardy” Meddish, where does the word “nog” come from, and how come it’s not on the ingredient list? Moreover, exactly how much whiz is there in Cheez Whiz? (Special thanks to Jay Leno, circa 1986 for that one.)

The reason for this horrible introduction / segue is that I’ve got a new favorite cheap, cheap, cheap pet deck, one that I don’t mind letting Matt play. It’s dirt cheap, which is perfect because I don’t always know where his hands have been or when he washed them last. I alluded to the deck in my last piece. It’s sometimes called the new Goblins deck, but you’ll start calling it the Empty the Warrens deck soon enough.

The version that Takafumi Matsuo took him to fifth place at Nagasaki Champs isn’t the one that I’ve seen popping up lately. Obviously, I’m not gonna take anything away from someone or his deck when they do that well in such a tourney. However, there’s a version that’s even cheaper (yes, really) and seems to be a bit faster. So as not to confuse it with the tourney-winning versions that run rares like Pandemonium, Blood Moon, Demonfire, and Greater Gargadon in the maindeck, I call this Empty the Trash.

The Rube Goldberg Goblin Machine

This was actually the last thing I wrote on this. After it was done, I realized that I hadn’t explained what the deck does. A lot of you already know. This is for those who don’t know, the ones who look at Rite of Flame and Seething Song and say, “ewwww, gross.” There are two spells in here with Storm, the key one being Empty the Warrens. While the deck can win by playing the typical beatdown role (i.e. cast creatures and burn out blockers), the ultimate way to win is by casting several spells on one turn, usually aided by the Rite of Flame and / or Seething Song and then ending with an Empty the Warrens for six or ten or twelve or twenty Goblin tokens.

“Prices So Low, I Must be Santa Claus!”

There are exactly five rares in this deck. Four of them are Goblin Kings, a card that you can get for as little as a buck fitty on this site, if you don’t mind heavily played copies. If you can stand slightly played ones (and I’ve always found those to be very nice; Ben and Pete grade tough, as far as I’m concerned), you get them for $2.50 each. So, that’s between six and ten bucks for four Goblin Kings.

The other rare is Scrying Sheets, a card that goes for ten bucks. It’s not necessary, but it can help you if the game goes past turn 5. Usually, though, if the game goes that long, Empty the Trash has lost.

So, here’s a deck that will cost you between six and twenty bucks, depending on what options you choose. And you were worried that I’d abandoned cheap decks when I started yakking about how you need to get yo’-seff some dual lands. Shame on you!

Utvara Scalper? Seriously?!?

Yes, really, it’s a 1/2 flying Goblin for two mana. Some decks run Greater Gargadon in that slot, and that’s an awesome choice. If, for example, you had six Goblin tokens that were about to die to Pyroclasm, you could sac them to the Gargadon. Don’t even get me started with Wildfire. Of course, he’s not so good against Black, which has “destroy target creature” cards; Blue, which can bounce him (horrible if you’ve just sacrificed all of your stuff to him); or White, which can Condemn him. In other words, he’s great against Red and / or Green decks. For only four more dollars, you can throw a couple in here.

I like the Scalper because he flies and he’s a cheap Goblin. He helps with the Storm count where the Gargadon (usually) doesn’t. That’s just me, though. I could be wrong.

Who Do You Think You Are? Burt Reynolds?!?

While I am a fine-looking, raven-haired, formerly-mustachioed Southern gentleman, I didn’t go changing Matsuo’s deck willy-nilly because I think I’m just as good as the Gator himself. The deck’s not even that expensive in its original form. First off, Matsuo doesn’t run Scrying Sheets. Second, the two Blood Moons, one Pandemonium, and two Ib Halfheart, Goblin Tactician, aren’t too expensive, either. As I was testing it, I just didn’t like a couple of things about the deck.

First, Pandemonium. I know that he only has one in there, but it always came up at the wrong time. When was that? Whenever I needed something other than an Enchantment that didn’t do anything for me unless I could also cast at least two other spells that turn. You see, you’re not the only one who gets to use the Pandemonium. Your opponent does, too. So, the Pandemonium has to hit at just the right time, like when you can kill them but they can’t kill you. For example, if you’re at five life when you drop it, you’d better hope they don’t cast Savage Thallid on their turn. That’s just such a sad way to go.

On the other hand, Pandemonium can be great late in the game. Let’s say you have ten mana when you draw Pandemonium. You drop Frenzied Goblin, cast Shock, play the Pandemonium, and then cast Empty the Warrens, making eight Goblins. Eight to the dome! [Or deal an extra one damage by making the Frenzied Goblin after the Pandemonium… – Craig.]

One question, though. If you’re playing a deck like this, how did you get to ten mana while still holding Frenzied Goblin, Shock, and Empty the Warrens? Makes no sense.

I also didn’t like the two random Blood Moons. I understand the theory. Trust me on that point. Hell, I invented the freakin’ theory. That theory is “with all of the decks running a vast majority of non-basic lands, Blood Moon is a huge maindeck weapon.” Just not as a two-of. Run four maindeck, or leave them all in the sideboard. Don’t split the baby on this one.

Then, there’s the Timeshifted Browbeat. I’m a huge fan of that card. I have been since it first saw the light of day. I just don’t like it in this deck. You see, this deck is all about early, high Storm count. You want lots and lots of cheap spells. Pandemonium, Greater Gargadon, and Browbeat are nice late-game tricks.

Guess what? You’re not making it to the late game with this deck because there’s no mid-game. You can argue that the Browbeats can help you have a mid-game, but I didn’t find that to be true. What I found was that Browbeat was a desperation spell in this deck. My opponent would take five, I’d have no more cards than before I drew the Browbeat, and I usually lost on the next turn. When my opponent did let me draw cards, well, he was usually so low that I would have liked the Browbeat to be something else. Like Rift Bolt.

So, I slowly stripped away the cards that didn’t seem to be working. First to go was the Gargadon. He was just so gluttonous and yet so fragile. Do you really want to sac lands and Goblins to him only to see him Remanded or Boomeranged or Dark Banished? No, of course not. He’s a great sideboard card against mono-Red or even U/R Land Destruction. So, in the sideboard he will stay.

The Gargadon slot became four Grapeshots. There’s nothing like Storm spell upon Storm spell. After some testing, I dropped the Grapeshots to three so that I could get a full set of Goblin Kings. You need two Kings to make your boys immune to a single Pyroclasm, and you want that as soon as you can get it. That means four copies, not three.

Next out were the Blood Moons and Pandemonium for three more lands. How he made this deck work with so few lands, I’ll never know. Yeah, I get that Rite of Flame and Seething Song can accelerate stuff for you, but that’s not the best use for those spells. You don’t want to waste a Rite of Flame on your second turn to cast Blood Moon or so that you can use Seething Song to get an early Pandemonium. Why? Because if the Blood Moon or Pandemonium are countered or blown up, you just lost the RoF or Song. You want the Rite of Flame and Seething Song not just for mana acceleration but for enabling huge Storm counts. So that you’re not wasting your mana spells, you want to hit all of your early land drops. So, out went Blood Moons and Pandemonium for three more lands.

The final change was to get a full complement of Rift Bolts in there. Again, we want a huge Storm count, and four Rift Bolts that you can Suspend are better than three.

When I was done working this I realized that, holy crap, this is a really cheap deck. I might even let Matt play with it (minus the Scrying Sheets, of course). True testing, though, would have to be done in the Tourney Practice room because, well, honestly, I got booed out of the Casual Decks room. Not booted, as in “an adept booted me from the Casual Decks room.” People were aghast that I, Chris Romeo, was playing such a net deck and doing it in the Casual Decks room. I tried to explain that I was learning the deck and tweaking it. Isn’t that Casual? As persuasive as my arguments often are, I couldn’t even persuade myself on that count, especially when I was whipping people quickly and badly. The final straw was probably when I had this incredible first and second turn. On my first turn, I played a Mountain, cast Rite of Flame for two mana, used one of those to cast a second Rite of Flame for three, and used the resulting four mana to cast an Empty the Warrens for six 1/1 Goblins. On turn 1! Next turn, I cast a third Rite of Flame to drop a Goblin King and swing for twelve. Holy fried nubblies! Swinging for twelve on turn 2 in Standard. That’s just so wrong.

When testing started in earnest, I got the distinct feeling that I had too many lands. So, out came a Mountain for the fourth Grapeshot. Such a small change, and yet the results were noticeable. Or it could have been the simple luck of the draw. That is one of the problems with only being able to get six or ten test matches in at a time rather than a hundred. You can’t really tell if your changes or simple randomness made things better. I can tell you that it felt as if Grapeshot was coming up more often.

Back to the Drawing Board… Kinda

As I ran this deck, I kept running into the questions of how long do I hold onto spells to help Storm, and what do I do when I draw Empty the Warrens or Grapeshot with an empty hand? That’s when I thought, “man, some more Suspend spells or something free would be great.” The reason I wanted those was so that I could spend as much mana as possible on the Storm spells. My mind immediately went to Tormod’s Crypt. I quickly disabused myself of that notion because the Crypt didn’t do anything other than help Storm count most of the time. Once in a while I’d face a deck that mucked with its graveyard, and the Crypt would be a serendipitous maindeck choice. But I wasn’t completely satisfied. That’s when I remembered Mishra’s Bauble. A bit of tweaking got me to this:

I didn’t even try this in the Casual Decks room. It’s not different enough to justify unleashing it there. So, I was off to the Tournament Practice room again.

I knew I was on the right track when I had this auspicious start. On my first turn, going first, I dropped a Mountain and a Mishra’s Bauble, cast two Rite of Flames, and then Empty the Warrens for eight Goblin tokens. I popped the Bauble on his turn (no need to risk having a card Blackmailed when I couldn’t cast it on his turn) to draw another card on my turn. He played an untapped Temple Garden and played a Birds of Paradise. My two draws gave me another Rite of Flame and a Goblin King to go with the two Mountains I was holding from my original hand. I dropped a Mountain, cast the third Rite of Flame, cast my Goblin King, and sent in sixteen points of Goblin lovin’ on my second turn. My opponent apparently did not draw Pyroclasm and conceded. It was the fastest concession I had ever gotten in the Tournament Practice room.

The next game was not nearly as good. In fact, it was downright awful, but it highlighted one of the problems with a deck like this. Sometimes, you have to mulligan a lot to get a decent hand. My opening hand was one Mountain, a couple of Rift Bolts, a Frenzied Goblin, a Seething Song, a Goblin King, and a Mogg War Marshall. Doesn’t look too bad, right? Suspend that Bolt in case my opponent casts a creature, or cast that Frenzied Goblin. Yeah, and what if I don’t get another land or see Rite of Flame in the next couple of turns? Back it went, and out came a three-land, two-Goblin-King, one-Seething-Song hand. Back it went, for five and then four cards. I kept the two-land hand with the two Rift Bolts and lost badly.

Game 3 was awfully long for an Empty the Warrens deck. I kept a hand that looked like straight up Goblins: Mountains; a little burn; Goblins. I drew only one more land the entire game, which was perfect. This game also taught me that I really had to think about sandbagging. My opponent got his creatures and his Glare going. My only hope was to create a massive number of Goblins. And I did. He had gotten himself up to an effective life total of 28 by casting two Loxodon Hierarchs. He also had his Glare, a Watchwolf or two, a Birds of Paradise, and a Llanowar Elves. I had made a couple of Mogg War Marshals, who had gladly given up the ghost for the cause, and a couple of Frenzied Goblins. I had let a couple of creatures through and was hovering at around six or seven life when I simply went off. I had only three Mountains. My hand was almost full, and my draw brought me up to seven cards. I drew a Mishra’s Bauble. Here’s how the turn went.

1) I dropped the Bauble – first spell;
2) I cast Rite of Flame, giving me two mana in my mana pool and two Mountains up – second spell;
3) I cast Seething Song, giving me five mana and a Mountain untapped – third spell;
4) I cast a second Seething Song, giving me seven mana and an untapped Mountain – fourth spell;
5) I cast Grapeshot, giving me five damage to spread around. I offed an Elves, a BoP, and a Watchwolf – fifth spell;
6) I cast a second Grapeshot, giving me six damage to spread around. I killed two Call of the Herd tokens – sixth spell; and
7) I cast Empty the Warrens for fourteen 1/1 Goblins.

He was left with almost no defense, even with the Glare. I feared a Spectral Force, but he didn’t get it until I could swing a second time, causing lethal damage. Of course, I had to take the chance that he couldn’t overwhelm me before I could do this, but I had little choice. Essentially, my early boys played chump blockers and kept me in the game long enough to do that trick.

You’re One in a Million

Discussing this deck with my boy-eez, I heard this sentiment more than once. “That’s too much luck. Those second- and third-turn kills will never happen.” Probably not. I was reminded, however, about the Onslaught-era Goblin decks, the ones that could kill by turn 3 with the right draw. Those almost never happened, either. What was important was that there was the possibility of it happening. Moreover, when it didn’t happen, the deck still had game.

The Empty the Warrens deck feels like that. Someone’s going to compare this to the Raging Goblin/Spark Elemental/Blazing Shoal/Myojin of Infinite Rage deck. Empty the Warrens isn’t like that at all. It’s not a one-trick pony any more than Onslaught Goblins were. It’s a pony that has one really awesome trick and several good-to-great ones.

Do I expect to see this take the world by *tee hee* storm? My first draft of this said “no.” However, as I watch more people play this online, I think it could. It might not be this very version. It might not even be close. However, any deck that can do what this does has to be a contender.

On the other hand, who cares? I have a deck that I can give to my nine-year-old nephew and with which he might win a tournament match. If he ruins some cards on the way, no worries. The cards are all commons or uncommons except for the four Goblin Kings and the single Scrying Sheets. My Goblin Kings have seen much better days, too. Of course, I won’t let him use the Scrying Sheets, but that’s okay. It didn’t come in very handy, anyway.

So there you have it, naysayers. I can indeed write about a deck that can wreck people without requiring two-hundred dollars of manabase. And this one just pukes out Goblins. What’s more fun than that?

Finally, on the budget front, my Magic savings account is at fifty dollars. So, I’m off to buy my four sets of each common and uncommon from Planar Chaos. A Christmas present to myself. What have you done with your savings?

As usual, you’ve been a great audience. How do I know that? I see you when you’re sleeping. It’s called a pinhole camera.

Chris Romeo

Holiday Post-Script

I am rarely, if ever, serious in my columns. That’s a function of the facts that I feel like there’s too much negativity in the world as it is and that my subject matter is a game. A card game. With Elves and Trolls and Nightmares and Hundroogs. [Hundroog! – Craig, channeling the weasel.] In the end, it’s there for fun and diversion. That’s why I’m putting this at the end.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten more sensitive to the plight of others. As far as I can tell, this is just part of growing up, although there may be some guilt thrown in for good measure. The apex of this came when I watched my adopted hometown of New Orleans get decimated by Hurricane Katrina. Even though I’ve often cursed my lot in life (and I still need to remind myself that most of my problems are due to my own choices), I do actually understand how lucky I am. I was fortunate to be born to middle-class parents. I was fortunate to be born to parents who cared about my well-being, my education, my upbringing, and my values. I was fortunate to be born in the United States. I’m fortunate that I can get food pretty much anywhere. (The Home Depot near my place has candy, soft drinks, and cookies. Sometimes, you can even buy hot dogs. At Home Depot.) I’m fortunate that no war has ever been fought anywhere near me. I could go on and on and on. My sympathy makes me want to do something to help. My relative good fortune – relative to most of the rest of the people in the world – makes me able to do something to help.

On the other hand, I also play this expensive, frivolous game. I know that Pete, the StarCityGames.com employees, and all of the people at Wizards who make their living from the game wouldn’t consider Magic to be frivolous… but, really, it is. This game isn’t necessary for anyone’s survival. I could live without it. I might not be as happy, but I’d survive. If I have an extra forty dollars a month to spend on this game, why not just send it to Heifer International or the World Wildlife Fund instead of buying Magic cards? The thing is you could say that about almost everything in your life. You don’t need cable. You don’t need to buy music or see movies or read books or drink coffee or eat Doritos. Where do you draw the line?

That is the question that you have to answer for yourself. Thanks to the great fortune we have in living in the societies we do (and I’m including all of people reading this anywhere in the world; if you have internet access, you’re fortunate), we can pretty much do whatever we want with the money we earn. I won’t even begin to suggest that you stop playing Magic or videogames or buying DVDs, CDs, soda, and chips. Those things are there to make your life more enjoyable, and they’re probably the only reasons that you actually go to whatever craptastic job you have.

What I’m asking is that you do what you can for whatever cause means something to you. Of course, “what you can” is something you have to define for yourself. For me, doing what I can means that I continue to play Magic on a budget and use the money that I could be spending for other things. I’ll be honest with you, when I started playing this game eight years ago this month, I had no choice but to play on a tight budget. I had been working in retail, and I know that you know what that means. I had just started this job I have now. School loans were crushing me, and I was up to my eyeballs in credit-card debt. If I wanted to play Magic, I had to do it with whatever cards I could scrounge up.

Today, things are much, much better. Between my credit cards being all paid off and being part of a DINK (double income, no kids) household, I actually have extra cash. Sure, the school loans are still huge, but they aren’t half of my income anymore, either. Truth be told, if I had wanted to, I could have ordered four complete sets of Time Spiral and been done with it. I mean, that’s only $749.99. I could have done that, but I chose not to. Instead, I funnel that money into other things. It’s not all anonymous altruism to non-profit organizations. Sometimes, I simply buy things for family and friends. I like being generous. However, I donate a lot more than I ever used to. Then, I continue to play Magic on a budget. Granted, it may be a bigger budget than some have, but it’s not as big as many.

I don’t want this to sound like I’m guilt-tripping you. (As an Italian and a Catholic, I have to be very careful about slipping into that mode. Most of my motivation as a child came from guilt trips, and I still go on them a lot.) What I want to do is motivate you to look for extras in your life that you can do without. If you have extra money, donate it to a cause that means something to you. If you’re a poor student or the father of teenagers and the phrase “extra money” is as intelligible as Morse code, donate your time. Heck, donate your Magic cards. Don’t throw out those crappy commons from your draft. Find a local charity and donate them, or give them to that kid that you see hanging around the card store and who seems never to have any new cards. If you don’t have extra time or money, you can still find ways to be charitable. For example, I know a man who is so financially strapped that he’s living with his grandparents right now. Beyond his clothes, the only thing that he actually owns is a cell phone. The phone he chose, though, is one of those from which a portion of the sale and monthly fees goes to help a charity. When he does have the money to buy someone a birthday or Christmas gift, he tries to buy it from Wireless or Signals so that the money goes to support National Public Radio or PBS, respectively.

I’m not as naive as I used to be. I know that you can’t save the world by yourself. Hellfire, Bill Gates had to get help from Richard Branson, and he’s only trying to deal with one or two issues himself. What you can do is give back in some fashion as a way to try to make the world a bit of a better place. Just do whatever you can. You may think that your contribution is too small, but there’s no such thing. As the carol “Christmas is Coming” says:

Christmas is coming,
The geese are getting fat,
Please put a penny
In the old man’s hat.
If you haven’t got a penny,
A ha’penny will do,
If you haven’t got a ha’penny,
Then God bless you.

Have a Merry Christmas. I hope you get everything you want, but not necessarily everything you deserve. The naughty ones out there know what I mean. – Chris