From Right Field: Feeling Blue and Seeing Red

Read Chris Romeo... every Tuesday at
StarCityGames.com! Take a bit o’ Blue, add a splash o’ Red, and what have you got? The world’s favorite color combination (allegedly). Everyone loves Steam Vents, or so it would seem, and it appears that Mr Romeo is no different. Today’s offering brings us two budget-centric Red/Blue builds, coupled with detailed game descriptions from Magic Online.

{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.}

Just to set your mind at ease, this is not a column about the extreme political divide in the United States between those who love the country and all that it stands for and those who want to sell it to the godless hordes of infidels. You’re thinking “Whew,” aren’t you? “As agitated as Romeo’s gotten in the past over something as meaningless as Coldsnap being Standard-legal, I can’t imagine what he has to say about women marrying goats or rich men who look like Jabba the Hutt plundering the Great Barrier Reef of its natural resources. That would be outrageous!”

No, this is about my latest re-obsession with a pair of colors to which I keep returning the way the swans return to Capistrano or Pamela Anderson keeps returning to Tommy Lee… or is she back with Kid Rock this week? Two events happened almost simultaneously to spark my interest in those two colors again. First, Frank Karsten listed this deck in his “official” Magic column:

An alert reader pointed out to me that this deck contains a mere twelve maindeck rares, only six of which are non-land rares. If we disregard the lands, the other rares (three Stuffy Dolls at five dollars apiece and three Teferi at seven dollars each) cost only $36. Disregarding all of the other rares, though, means disregarding Scrying Sheets. I can’t quite bring myself to do that. At ten dollars each, that’s another thirty dollars for a rare total of $66.

Romeo’s Philosophy on Scrying Sheets

I debated long and hard with myself (ew, what a disgusting clause) regarding Scrying Sheets. Should the Sheets be considered one of those rare lands that people simply must have or not?

One side of me said, “Of course!” The card works in almost any deck. As long as you’d be running a lot of basic lands, why not make those Snow-Covered basics? Imagine a mono-Red deck that can draw cards in the mid- and late-game stages, a problem Red’s had since, well, forever.

The other side of me, though, the budget side said “Hold you horses, Dusty.” Of course, you can justify dual lands. If you have certain pet color combinations, the dual lands can always be used. Scrying Sheets doesn’t just “slip into” every deck’s manabase, though. Three-colored decks, for example, may not run enough basics to justify running Snow-Covered basics. More important, a deck with that kind of manabase may not be able to handle a couple of lands that produce colorless mana.

In the end, while I was leaning most assuredly toward saying “Scrying Sheets are a staple land,” I just couldn’t pull the trigger. However, I like the card a lot, maybe more than anyone except Mike Flores.

In addition to the joy of drawing cards in an uncounterable fashion with Scrying Sheets, the combination of Red and Blue (when it’s not used for Magnivore decks) is capital-F fun to play. Part of the reason that I get so high playing U/R decks is that they always seem on the verge of collapsing. Have you ever gone rock climbing or mountain climbing? You know that feeling when you really push yourself, that “Man, I could die, but what a rush” feeling? It’s the Magic equivalent of that, minus the chance of dying. Blue/Red decks always seem on the verge of collapsing. When they finally take over, though, there’s a feeling of inevitability that you don’t get with any other deck except for maybe those Evil Combo decks [and even they’re Blue/Red nowadays… – Craig]. Not even creature-based decks give you that same feeling of inevitability. You could have lethal damage on the board against a rotten Black-Green deck when your opponent casts – dubya-tee-effPlague Wind?!? Really? And there’s goes the inevitable victory, for a while, anyway.

So, I looked at the deck and realized that I could make a really minor change or two, spend only $46 on non-dual-land rares and maybe have a pretty decent deck. Thus was born:

(FYI, yes, you do get to rename the deck by simply changing a couple of lands, but only when the original deck name is as boring as “U/R Snow.” Does no one but me and Talen Lee care about giving decks more evocative names than “Color/Color Main Card or Theme of Deck”?)

By the way, have I ever mentioned how much I love, love, love drawing cards? To paraphrase my man Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh, “It’s better than not drawing cards, if you know what I mean.” This deck is all about getting as deep as you can, getting Teferi and / or Stuffy Doll out, and protecting them for the win. With something in the area of a-hundred-twenty-six card drawing spells in here, that’s fairly easy to do.

I still had to take this puppy for a spin. It’s been a while since I threw in my game reports. For some reason, people luv ‘em. So, I thought I’d do that with this deck. I started off in the Casual Decks room on MTGO, but it quickly became apparent, regardless of the fact that I advertised that I was testing a deck and that it had countermagic (yes, I’m that nice), people did not like facing it in the Casual Decks room. So, after tearing the roof off of that sucker (7-1, including four concessions with no “gg”), I headed for the Tournament Practice room.

Match #1: Right away, I faced off against the new Empty the Warrens deck. I’ll be honest. I was scared. I had not built a sideboard, wanting, of course, to test the maindeck first. Obviously, I’d have Pyroclasm in my sideboard, maybe even Sulfurous Blast. I just didn’t think I’d be able to last long enough to do anything against the EtW deck.

For what it’s worth, I am a huge fan of the Empty the Warrens deck. It can do really stupid things like drop an opponent from twenty life to zero on turn 3. How is that possible? Like this. On turn 1, you drop a Mountain and Suspend a Rift Bolt. On turn 2, you play the Rift Bolt. If you have an opposing blocker you can knock off, great. If not, to the dome with it! Drop a second Mountain, and cast Rite of Flame. Use that three mana to cast Seething Song. Take one of that Red mana to cast a one-mana Goblin, usually Frenzied Goblin. With the other four, cast Empty the Warrens. Since you’ve played four other spells on the turn (Rift Bolt, Rite of Flame, Seething Song, and Frenzied Goblin), you’ll get a total of ten Goblin tokens to go along with your “real” Goblin. On turn 3, you drop a Goblin King. You can then swing with 22 points worth of Goblins. If your opponent has a Mountain in play, there’s nothing he can do unless he can burn out the Goblin King. If so, that’s still eleven points of Goblin loving coming at him. All of that, and the deck runs almost no rares. Goblin Kings are a must, and some versions run Demonfire (because it’s really, really good). That’s often all, though. See why I like it so much?

As I said, I was worried. Fortunately, just as the first game was starting, I realized what a great weapon Remand is. So, when he cast Seething Song off of Rite of Flame on turn 2, I just Remanded it. No huge turn 2 Storm spells for you! I had to make sure after that, though, that Goblin King didn’t hit or, if it did, live. I run Mountains, you see. The King got Cancelled twice and Skredded once, and it was on to game 2.

I made no sideboard changes because I had no sideboard. He didn’t get the explosive start that he might have had in game 1. I was able to get two Stuffy Dolls (one isn’t enough with Frenzied Goblin around) and a Teferi on board. Two Skreds later, that was game. (1-0, 2-0)

Match #2: What was this, budget night in the Tourney Practice room? For the second match in a row, I faced off against a deck that showed only a single rare per game. Don’t get me wrong. I like that. I just wasn’t expecting it. Let’s say that I was pleasantly surprised. This one was a U/W deck, but not the kind you’d expect. It was quite low on countermagic (I saw one Remand in two games), and high (heh) on fliers and card drawing. He was able to get down more creatures than I had answers for. Looter Il-Kor, Cloudchaser Kestrel, Spiketail Drakeling, Knight of the Holy Nimbus, and Soltari Priest all made appearances. Both games ended when he cast Fortify with three creatures on board and swung over for lethal damage of eleven points. Yes, I will have Pyroclasm or Sulfurous Blast in the sideboard. (1-1, 2-2)

Match #3: At this point, I figured that I should really add a sideboard. There’s nothing like a deck looking like it’s worse than it really is simply because you have no game 2 or 3. I thought that this would help.

3 Spell Snare
4 Blood Moon
4 Sulfurous Blast
4 Shadow of Doubt

I think these are all self-explanatory except for the Shadow of Doubt. This deck has no way to deal with Dragonstorm decks. No matter what you’re holding, you can’t counter all of the Stormed copies. Bring in SoD, and they can’t search their library. Ta da!

The one hole that I’m worried about is decks that use their graveyard as a resource. Neither Blue nor Red can handle that. This means that I’d need Tormod’s Crypt, a card that’s still pretty expensive to get online even though it can be had for as little as $2.50 each from this here site here. We’ll see if it hurts me.

In this match, not only did I face off against another budget deck, but it was one of mine. Remember, the Spectral Force deck from two weeks ago? That was the one my opponent brought to the table, Inspirit included. It was not pretty. I lost in two games, though both were close. Stuffy Dolly shut down much of the offense… except for Spectral Force. For game 2, I dropped the Rewinds and a Careful Consideration for the four Sulfurous Blasts. I figured that there weren’t many non-creature spells that I needed to stop. I could afford to let some weenies through and then nuke ‘em all. It almost worked. When the game ended, my opponent was at one. In game 1, he was at two. So, it was close, but I still lost 0-2. (1-2, 2-4)

Match #4: This was the dreaded Dragonstorm deck. I held him off for nineteen turns in game 1. One trick is to counter the Seething Song. That mightily disrupted his Storm plans. Still, he was able to squeeze through an actual, hard-cast Bogardan Hellkite, which went all the way. The changes for game 2 were easy: out went the Skreds; in came the Shadow of Doubts. I never saw a SoD, and he won that one, too. (1-3, 2-6)

Match #5: At this point, I was merely playing it out to save my record. My opponent for match 5 brought a White Weenie much like the one that took second place at West Virginia State Champs this year. I lost game 1 simply due to being overwhelmed by creatures. For game 2, I dropped the Rewinds, Careful Considerations, a Remand, and a Mana Leak for the three Spell Snares and the four Sulfurous Blasts. Tell me if I’m wrong, but I felt that the Spell Snares were better against a weenie deck than the Rewinds while Sulfurous Blast could wipe out all of the weenies except for the Soltari Priests. It seemed to be the right call, since I won games 2 and 3 on the back of the Blasts, Stuffy Doll, and Spell Snare / Repeal dealing with the Priests while Cancel handled the Paladin en-Vec. (2-3, 4-7)

To say the least, I wasn’t impressed. Maybe Sulfurous Blast should be maindeck since it always seemed to come in. What would I drop, though? (Please, discuss amongst yourselves in the forum.) Of course, it could just be that I’m not good with decks that run that many counterspells. I could have been leaving myself open too much, but I don’t know how. Careful Consideration and Sulfurous Blast were the only cards I was regularly tempted to play during my turn. (Once or twice, I cast Think Twice in desperation, trying to get that third land, but not often.) Normally, I was “Mana All Up” on my opponents’ turns. You’ll have to decide if it was faulty mechanics or pilot error.

Lightning Strikes Twice

Remember, waaaaay back up there when I said that two things happened that got me thinking about U/R again? The second one was Talen “Don’t Call Me Mister” Lee. He caught me in a dark alley of MTGO and sent me a message saying “Psssst. Wanna buy a U/R decklists with only four cheap rares in it?” How could I say no?

Just so you know, this isn’t the exact deck that Talen Lee sent me. It’s tweaked just a tad, but it’s close enough that I still need to give him credit for it. I call it:

In the interest of full disclosure and so I don’t embarrass another writer, this isn’t exactly what he sent me. To be honest, I can’t remember exactly what he sent me (I really should keep better notes), although I know that his list did not have Snow lands or Scrying Sheets. This is to what I tweaked it after a few games in the Casual Decks room. I was soon enough led by my sense of decorum (and my undefeated-with-many-concessions record) to the Tournament Practice room.

The sideboard is the same as with Snow Patrol. Just in case it’s not obvious, the point of the deck is to control the game long enough to get a Djinn Illuminatus into play. You protect it and then ride it to the win through a little combat damage and a lot of replication of Volcanic Hammer and Electrolyze (and card-drawing spells which draw the burn). How did that work out? Let me show you.

Match #1: When his first play was Stomping Ground, Kird Ape, go, I figured I knew what I was up against: Gruul (a.k.a. R/G) Beats; or Zoo. Turns out it was a new take on Gruul Beats. He splashed Blue for Remand and Psionic Blast. I couldn’t keep up with him in game 1 because Pyroclasm and Shock didn’t take care of enough of his creatures. Between Ohran Viper, Kird Ape, and Scab-Clan Mauler, I was more worried about a toughness of three. Moreover, he was able to ride his Remands to protect the big guys if / when he felt like it or to protect his spells. That actually left him with a lot of mana open. That meant that Rune Snag was dead, something that isn’t usually true with straight R/G Beats. Those decks tend to tap out as often as possible. What he did seem vulnerable to was Blood Moon. In all of game 1, the only basic land he has was an Island.

So, for game 2, I dropped the two Pyroclasms, the Rune Snags, and two Shocks for the four Sulfurous Blasts and the four Blood Moons. He has tapped out on his second turn to cast an Ohran Viper (off of a Karplusan Forest, a Breeding Pool, and a Llanowar Elves). I dropped Blood Moon on my third turn, and that was essentially all she wrote. He got a couple of points of damage in, drew a couple of cards, overextended, and I cast the Red Wrath of God (a.k.a. Sulfurous Blast). Djinn Illuminatus came out to play, and turned an Electrolyze the next turn into six damage and three cards.

Game 3 was even worse for him. He apparently mulliganed to five and kept a one-land hand. He must have thought it was okay since that land was Stomping Ground and he had Llanowar Elves. I showed him the error of his ways by casting a main-phase Sulfurous Blast when he has Elves, Kird Ape, and Ohran Viper on board. Next turn, he tapped out for another Viper and a Kird Ape. I dropped an uncontested Blood Moon. He tried to break through, but the game was mine after that as I cast the Djinn and used him to double and triple spells. (1-0, 2-1)

Match #2: B/W Haakon Knights?!? Awesome! I’ve been trying to figure out how to make Haakon work in Standard. My first attempt was U/B with Compulsive Research as a way to get Haakon into the ‘yard. This guy figured it out. Use Peace of Mind to gain the life that you’ll lose when Haakon is destroyed and as a way to get him into the ‘yard in the first place.

Game 1 was all his because I couldn’t kill big groups of Knights. For game 2, I dropped the Rune Snags for the Sulfurous Blasts. It worked well enough that I won game two handily. In game 3, though, I didn’t see enough mass removal. The game was back and forth. But he got Haakon and several Knights out at a point when I didn’t have Sulfurous Blast. The next turn, I was dead. (1-1, 3-3)

Match #3: This was interesting since my opponent was playing the U/R Snow deck. Game 1 was his because Pyroclasm stinks when Stuffy Doll is the only creature on board.

For the next games I dropped the Pyroclasms for two Spell Snares. Both games ended with massive Replicated Volcanic Hammers (2-1, 5-4)

Match #4: I’m just gonna say that Empty the Warrens can be really, really fast. And when you also have a Suspended Greater Gargadon to deal with, cards like Pyroclasm and Electrolyze don’t really help. My favorite play of his was the double Rite of Flame into six Goblin tokens on his second turn. Next turn, he dropped Goblin King for twelve damage. I didn’t get Sulfurous Blast, and that was that. (2-2, 5-6)

Match #5: Another U/R deck. Ugh. This one traded in Teferi (big mistake) for Giant Solifuge. These were the two longest games that I’ve ever played on MTGO. How long? Let’s put it this way: I watched the Fall finale of Heroes, Studio 60, and part of the news. Anyway, game 1 was a back and forth affair marked by my ability to squeeze through Pyroclasm when he had Giant Solifuge on board. More counter wars ensued, Djinn Illuminatus was made and stuck, and Volcanic Hammer hit him in the head six times.

For game 2, I dropped the Skreds (can’t target Solifuge; don’t want to target Stuffy Doll) for the three Spell Snares and a Sulfurous Blast. Game 2 looked like something like this. Me Think Twice. He Think Twice. Me Think Thrice. He Think Thrice. Compulsive Research him. Compulsive Research me. Stuffy Doll? Rune Snag. Spell Snare! Remand my own Rune Snag. Recast Rune Snag. No Stuffy Doll. Djinn Illuminatus? Nothing. His turn. Nothing. Draw. Go. His turn. Nothing. End of his turn, Electrolyze Replicated many times. My turn. Swing. Electrolyze Replicated many times. (3-2, 7-6)

What does this all mean? One camp would say “Not a whole lot.” There were only five matches with each deck, and that’s just not enough to get any definitive data. The other camp would say that Djinnx You is clearly better than Snow Patrol. As the person who played those decks, I come down somewhere in the middle. As I described above, I almost always felt on the verge of losing with Snow Patrol except for when I was just about to win. This was essentially a function of not having any twofers (i.e. cards that could garner me two or more creatures killed with one card). Djinnx You has Pyroclasm. Yes, there are only two in there but that’s infinitely more, percentage-wise, than Snow Patrol has. In addition, Djinnx You also has Electrolyze, a card whose power is woefully underestimated. To top it all off, the Djinn itself allows you to get two-or-more-for-one advantage thanks to Replicate. Volcanic Hammer is normally a one-for-one trade. With 3RRR available and a Djinn Illuminatus on board, one Hammer can kill two or three creatures. You have to respect those kinds of advantages.

This is not to say that Snow Patrol isn’t good or even great. I may have played it badly. I also know that it was not welcome in the Casual Decks room, especially against other Blue decks. When Teferi hits, it essentially says “unless you deal with me first, you can’t counter anything for the rest of the game.” That’s mighty, mighty powerful stuff.

The fact is, though, that I was much more comfortable with Djinnx You, and, even in the face of a sure loss, like when I was facing the B/W Haakon deck, I always felt like I could win it at any time – right up until I lost, of course. I never felt that way with Snow Patrol. You’ll need to play these and decide for yourself, though.

As usual, you’ve been a great audience. Next week, a special Christmas treat for you: I’m doin’ the Dailies!

Chris Romeo

P.S. I’ve got forty bucks in my Magic savings account right now. Next week, it will be fifty, and I plan on giving myself a Christmas present of four sets of each common and uncommon from Planar Chaos.