From Right Field: Fighting the Good Fight

Sometimes, I just abhor Wizards of the Coast, The DCI, and, of course, penguins. Damn all of their tuxedo-wearing souls. Want to know why I’m ranting this time? Step inside my friends, as I talk about Regionals, metagames, and more Regionals. Oh, and penguins.

{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, eight to twelve 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, City of Brass, or Birds of Paradise. The decks are also tested by the author, who isn’t very good at playing Magic. His playtest partners, however, are excellent. 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.}

For those of us in the part of the world that clearly knows more than the rest of the world about The Really Important Stuff (e.g. that global warming is a fraud, who has weapons of mass destruction, who’s going to Heaven and who isn’t), Regionals is about a month and a half away (June 25th). Sadly, The DCI, Wizards of the Coast’s Enforcers, chose the first weekend after Saviors (“Saviours” for our less advanced cousins in The Olde Worlde) of Kamigawa becomes legal for this rather important tournament. Idiots.

Sometimes, I just abhor Wizards of the Coast, The DCI, and, of course, penguins. D@mn all of their tuxedo-wearing souls.

The problem, of course, is that Regionals, unlike the Pro Tours, is open to everyone. Let’s be honest, though. Only Pros have the resources (i.e. time, money, drugs) to figure out The Best Decks when there’s such a small window between a set’s release and the big tourney. What if there’s a bomb rare in Saviors like Kokusho was in Champions? Will you be able to scrape together the eighty to a hundred bucks you’ll need to get four of them by Regionals? Even if you do, are you sure it’s worth it? What about any tricky, subtle synergies? Will you have time to fully explore them? You can guess that a deck might be good, but, without the data, you can’t be sure.

If you want to see what new decks spring up the first weekend that a new set is legal, do it at a Pro Tour, Nationals, Worlds, whatever. Not at Regionals. Regionals should have been on June 18th. [I’m going to go on record here as saying Chris is officially insane and should be locked far, far away from the DCI. Having a cool open format unexplored by pros twice a year is an amazing idea and gives non-pros a chance to develop new decks and break new territory – a rarity in the PT-centric PTQ era. – Knut, more excited about Regionals than he’s been in years]

(This hosing of us non-pros is what we get for being the best dang country on the planet. Yee haw! I guess The DCI figures that only us Good Ol’ U-S-of-Americans can get ready on five days’ notice. Everyone playing Regionals before us, they get to stick with stuff that’s been out and worked on and disseminated for months. Those playing after us get to see what we toiled to figure out and invent. Just like always. You’re welcome. I’ll bet we get no royalties for this one, either. Ingrates. By the way, you’re welcome for the light bulb, the telephone, and the internet, too.)

You know what, though? Regionals isn’t on June 18th. No matter what you and I do, we can’t change that. So, we have to just deal with it. Oh, how I detest “just dealing with it.” My whole life’s been about just dealing with the “stuff” that other people make me do. I have no choice, either. I do it. Hey, I’m middle class!

In order to “just deal with it,” though, we need to know what’s going to be in Saviors. Right now, we have almost no idea. “Ohmygosh! What Do We Do Now?!?

Well, first of all, don’t panic. Too late, huh? Look, third sets in blocks rarely give us entirely new decks. Sure, Urza’s Destiny gave us the Replenish deck, but that’s an exception. Typically, third sets give us a few great cards (Eternal Witness and Masticore, anyone?) and some stuff that shores up existing decks (Decree of Justice and Eternal Dragon for U/W Control, anyone?). Spawning entirely new and good Standard decks (as opposed to Block Constructed decks) is just not very common. Let’s go with the presumption that all Saviors can do it shore up some existing decks. The question then becomes what existing decks can you expect to see at the pinnacle of Regionals play? Looking at the French (not recommended, by the way), we can see that Mono-Green Beats, Tooth and Nail, Mono-Blue Control (a.k.a. MUC), and Mono-Black Control are the big winners so far. Having had my lovelies handled in a less than loving manner (you know what I’m talkin’ ’bout) by Snakes and G/B Control, I would add those two decks to the list of lip-splitting, azz-chapping, nut-busting nastiness, too.

Geez, that is a pretty ugly list. Reminds of the people at my senior prom. (Napoleon Dynamite would have been prom king had we had one. As it was, the school officials were smart enough not to have us elect a king or queen. “Homely” would be a kind word for our class.) Anyway, if you’re planning on playing in Regionals this year, you better test against all of those decks. If you’re Rogue Like Me ™, then your testing will look a lot like this:

My Deck vs. MUC: Got clocked.

My Deck vs. Tooth and Nail: Got hammered.

My Deck vs. Snakes: Got kicked in the groin by David Beckham wearing steel-toed boots.

My Deck vs. G/B Control: Got my eyes plucked out and shoved down my throat with dirty plunger recently used in a women’s prison.

Why is this? Why do rogue decks tend to get rolled like that? The quick answer is “because they’re rogue decks. If they were Tier One decks, they wouldn’t be rogue.” (I love simple, elegant answers, especially when they’re right.)

A longer, more philosophical answer would start with paraphrasing David Price. Price would say something like “There are no incorrect threats. There are, however, incorrect answers.” From my Travels as a Rogue (due out in September from Scholastic Press), I can tell you that a lot of rogue decks suffer from what I will now name:

The Wrong Answer Syndrome ™.

(It would be so cool to get one of my phrases into the Magic lexicon. Please, use this and The Princess Bride Conundrum™ as often as possible.)

I don’t want to point fingers, even though that is a total blast. Instead, I’ll just use me as an example. No one will get mad at me, and I’ll look like a decent guy because I’ll be all self-deprecating and stuff.

I’m as guilty as anyone of falling into The Wrong Answer Syndrome ™. I may even be guiltier than most because I throw out rogue decks like a drunken krewe member on a Mardi Gras float throws out cheap beads to topless women. “Hey, mister! Over here! Throw me some decks!”

Of course, it all starts with the fact that rogues often look for answers instead of looking for threats. For example, a rogue deckbuilder might try to solve The Case of the Ubiquitous Jitte by asking “how can I destroy it?” The most versatile answer for the Jitte in Standard is Wear Away. It’s cheap. It can Spice and be Spliced. It can kill enchantments.

It’s The Wrong Answer™, though. Why? First, Wear Away is dead with no targets. I know that seems kinda obvious, but obviousosity doesn’t make it false. I can say “Paz Vega is hot,” and that’s obvious. It doesn’t mean it’s not true. If you’re holding Wear Away when they cast Umezawa’s Jitte, you’re golden. Congrats. If you’re holding Wear Away and nothing else when they cast, I dunno, Kodama of the North Tree, you have The Wrong Answer™.

Second, Wear Away is not aggressive. A lot of folks don’t understand that. “It says ‘destroy’ on it. How is destroying something ‘not aggressive’?” Because this isn’t “real life.” It’s Magic: The Gathering. In real life, destroying stuff is very aggressive. Bombs destroy building and people. That’s aggressive. Mothers who are control freaks destroy kids’ psyches. That’s aggressive. In Magic, destroying stuff isn’t always aggressive. In fact, it’s usually very passive, very reactive. Here comes another one you may want to quote in the future:

You can only destroy that which has been created.

Ooooooo, deep. Again, simple, but true. Wear Away is passive, not aggressive, because it can only work if the other person has already created something you wish to destroy.

This is not to say that Wear Away is bad. When you go up against that Shrine deck, you’ll be happy to be packing four maindeck Wear Aways. Besides, a lot of folks will be playing the Jitte. Some folks will only be playing the Jitte because, thanks to those wise folks at Wizards, a second Legendary permanent now acts as a “destroy target Legendary permanent with the same name” spell. (I love the new Legend Rule, by the way. I’ve always thought that’s how it should be. Now, it is. You’re welcome, again.)

You want aggressive? Umezawa’s Jitte is aggressive. If you’re the first one with one on the board and you have a creature to pick it up, it’s a sledgehammer to your opponent’s watermelon. How aggressive is it? This piece of Equipment is sentient, baby. Even if no creature is wielding that sucker, it can decide on its own, “Hmmmm . . . that creature needs to be -1/-1,” or “That guy needs to gain two life.” It’s like that really smart deodorant that knows when I’m in a stressful situation and can turn itself on, soaking up my flop sweat. Scary, when you actually think about it. If you’re not the first one with a Jitte on board, Umezawa’s Jitte is aggressive because you get to blow the other one up.

Still, the Jitte can’t swing. You know who can, though? Hearth Kami and Glissa Sunseeker.


Yeah. Remember her?

“Hmmmmm . . . you look familiar? Did we meet at the Mirrodin pre-release party at Ashton’s place? I think we did ’cause I remember that silky green skin, that leather bustier, those ow ow OW OW!”

Of course, Glissa’s a legend, so you’d only run three in the deck, maximum. However, being in Green, you could use Time of Need to grab her and maybe even another couple of Legendary creatures. Along with the Jitte, you have the basis for a nice G/R deck, I’d say. Something like:

24 Lands

24 Lands that Make G and or R

22 Creatures

4 Something or Other Cheap

4 Hearth Kami

4 Something or Other That Costs Three Mana

3 Glissa, Sunbather

3 Another Legendary Creature or Big Monster

4 Important Critter

14 Other Spells

4 Umezawa’s Jitte

2 Time of Need

4 Something Red

4 Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue

Not very budgetary, though, is it? Look at that. There’s four Jittes in there. Why couldn’t Umezawa’s Jitte have been uncommon like Skullclamp was?

Whoops. I violated my License to Write About Magic license (issued by WotC’s Department of Redundancy Department). In part it reads:

Rule Number One: You do not talk about Wizards’ Mistakes.

Rule Number Two: You do not talk about Wizards’ Mistakes.

Rule Number Three: If you talk about Wizards’ mistakes, you will be expelled from Magic Writing Club.

Rule Number Four: You DO NOT talk about Wizards’ Mistakes!

Sorry. My bad. Won’t happen again. Until the next time.

Granted, starting with “4 Umezawa’s Jitte” isn’t cheap, but it is aggressive. With four Jittes, four Hearth Kamis, three Glissas, and two Time of Needs, you have thirteen maindeck ways to deal with the other guy’s Jitte, and all thirteen are aggressive. Plus, we all know how good Red and Green are together. Let’s look at some classic pairings and where G/R falls on the list:

1) U/W Control

2) R/G Beats

3) Hall & Oates

4) U/B Aggro Control

5) The White Stripes

6) G/B Control

7) Eurhythmics

As you can see, R/G Beats ranks right up there, even ahead of the boys who gave us “Sara’s Smile” and “Maneater.” [Damn your evil black soul, Chris! Every time he does that, I end up with Darryl Hall’s voice stuck in my head all day. I enjoy me some Romeo, but yeesh! – Knut, desperately seeking better music now] A deck that has that kind of mana curve and can deal with the Jitte can be very scary, especially if that “4 Something or Other That Costs Three Mana” is Troll Ascetic. Man, that guy looks darn good wearing the Jitte. He’s hip. He’s fashionable. He gets invited to all of the hottest par-tays. Eva Green even has him on her speed dial. I wonder why people are just starting to rediscover him now? It’s not like he was ever bad. I wonder what it was. . . .

Oh, wait. It was me. Finally, people listened to me. Thank you. Thank you. You really like me. I’m flattened.

Between the Jitte and the Troll (the title of my new electronica CD, available from Polymer Records in June; it’s a series of soundscape experiments designed to echo and mimic the cycle of life), we’re already over a hundred bucks for this deck. We’re just talkin’ theory, though. No need to panic. Just some ideas. No need to get yer knickers in a knot, presuming you’re even wearing any.




Sorry. I zoned out there, picturing you with no knickers on. FYI, you need to shave. Or at least a trim. It’s like a jungle but without the interesting tropical plant life. [Ahem. Please stay on topic, or at least off that particular topic… – Knut]

The great thing about being aggressive like this is that you can catch some other cards with the scattershot. (Other folks would call it Splash Damage ™, but I don’t want to pay anyone any royalties.) Think about the Hearth Kamis and Glissas. You kinda have Vedalken Shackles in the crosshairs on accident, doncha? Yeah, you know you do, especially if you add in Eternal Witness to bring back anything that might be countered. Then, there’s the Swords of Fire and Ice, Light and Shadow, and Peanut Butter and Jelly. All those are also “innocent bystanders,” too.

Ewww. Sorry. I mentioned the Witness. Money. Forgive me. Thanks a ton.

What if you’re not worried about the Jitte, though?

You’re Not Worried About the Jitte?

Then you’re an idiot. I don’t mean you’re a no-turn-signal-into-the-Dairy-Queen kind of idiot. I mean, a colossal nougat-head. You’re the kind of person who would stand up in front of the United Nations with [political scree expigated]. A dunderhead, if you will.

You have to worry about the Jitte. Every deck that runs critters will run the Jitte. Some decks that don’t run critters will run the Jitte just so that they have a weapon against the other decks running the Jitte. If you don’t have the Jitte and won’t be buying any, you could always go the Jamie Wakefield route and run four Elvish Scrappers. Lookie there. You’d have both first- and second-turn critters that could off the Jittes, and you just cut eighty bucks from the cost of the deck. If you want to go somewhere in the middle, there’s always Viridian Zealot or, for a bit less, Viridian Shaman.

Aren’t There Any Other Cards to Worry About?

Well, duh, of course there are. You have to be worried about Cranial Extraction. I think Zvi suggested running your own and even called it something like Gaining Extraction Superiority. Very military. Very hot. Very, how you say, sexxxy? Cranial Extraction does not have an easy answer, though. It’s a sorcery, not a permanent. You have very few choices of how to deal with that:

A) Play your own Extractions and hope to get yours off first, naming Cranial Extraction with the first one;

B) Counter it;

C) Make yourself untargetable;

D) Change the target of your opponent’s Cranial Extraction; or

E) Play a Highlander/Singleton deck.

For the rogue/budget player, the problems are these:

A1) It’s Cranial Extraction. We don’t have the money;

B1) This means playing Blue;

C1) Without True Believer and Gilded Light in the format, this means playing Ivory Mask, an enchantment that comes out the same turn as the Extraction sees play. In other words, it’s a turn too slow since the Extraction player is probably playing G/B and can get it off on turn three;

D1) This means playing Deflection, Shunt, or Sideswipe; and

E1) Hmmmm . . . a very rogue answer. Could you get enough one-of threats into a deck . . . what am I doing? This is an awful idea. Isn’t it?

Note that these aren’t truly awful answers (except for E), just not great ones. Take Ivory Mask. “Please!” It’s gonna stop Extraction. It’s gonna stop those silly Splice-four-Glacial-Rays-onto-Lava-Spike tricks because Lava Spike can’t target you. It’s not gonna stop creatures from attacking you, though. If your problem is getting hit by Snakes and Spirits, Ivory Mask is The Wrong Answer™. The Deflection / Shunt idea would be great in a format with a lot of spells that target. Sadly, Death Cloud, Kodama’s Reach, and others that I can’t think of right now because I’m going too fast don’t target. So, yeah, you can Shunt the Cranial Extraction. Woo and hoo. However, if you’re holding Deflection when Death Cloud goes off, you’ve just fallen prey to The Wrong Answer Syndrome™.

Sadly, the best, cheap rogue answer to Cranial Extraction is simply to counter the thing. Ewwww, Blue. Yuck. Blue control decks are the classic example of The Wrong Answer Syndrome™, though. If they don’t have countermagic in hand at the moment that the threat is cast, there’s almost nothing they can do. (This is why Blue often teams up with White. White can usually take out what Blue lets slip through.) Sometimes, Blue is even involved in the Classic Wrong Answer Syndrome™ Scenario. The Blue mage might be holding a Mana Leak and an Annul when Cranial Extraction is cast. If the opponent has three mana available, both Mana Leak and Annul are The Wrong Answers™. This, of course, is why Blue control decks also like card drawing and deck manipulation. They want a fistful of cards in the hopes that one of them will be the right answer.

Starting down the Blue road is a dark path, though. It entices you to play Vedalken Shackles, another twenty-dollar rare. “Come, play with me. You know you want me,” it whispers in that husky, Kathleen Turner-as-Jessica Rabbit voice. You’d probably also want to drop in Bribery so that you can take Darksteel Colossus or some other such nonsense. Well, if you’re gonna go that far down The Road of Evil, just play MUC, and be done with it.

Of course, you don’t have to do that. You could simply run a very nice suite of countermagic and card drawing backed up by some solid threats. There currently exists for exploitation a set of counterspells that has a lovely curve. Mana Leak costs 1U, and you can bring Hisoka’s Defiance (also 1U) in from the sideboard for use against the Spirit Legends and Arcane-heavy decks. The three-cc counter is the solid Hinder. Some folks don’t like Hinder. I love it. Hinder doesn’t leave the card in the ‘yard for the Eternal Witness to get back. At four mana (2UU), you have both Rewind and Minamo’s Meddling.

Aw, come on, now. Why are you making a face like someone let a Taco Bell fart in the car? Minamo’s Meddling is good. Yes, even when your opponent isn’t playing any Splice stuff, it’s good. Look at it this way. Meddling is a hard counter. If it resolves, the spell it’s targeting is gone. In addition, you get to look at your opponent’s hand. That information is powerful stuff for a Blue mage. On the other hand, if they are indeed Splicing stuff, you’re in like Flynn. Last night, for example, my opponent was playing one of those U/R Ire of Kaminari decks. (“Thanks,” Jeff.) At the end of my fifth turn, he cast Reach Through Mists, Splicing two Glacial Rays onto it. I cast Minamo’s Meddling. Not only did I get three-for-one card advantage, I got to see that the rest of his hand reeked like seat of your undies after a cross-country car ride. He conceded not long after that.

The great thing about playing a MUC deck is that it can counter Tooth and Nail, too. That deck doesn’t want to hardcast Darksteel Colossus or Sundering Titan. It’s just not a high percentage path to victory. The bad thing about MUC is that it can just get run over by fast weenie decks. Counter my guy? Sure, let me make two more.

What About Discard?

No. No no no no no. Bad dog. Here’s a scene from playtesting a few nights ago that illustrates why discard is not the answer for T&N or G/B Control.


Well, my hand’s empty. That’ll be game, I guess.




Wow, I drew Eternal Witness. Let me get my Tooth and Nail back. I’ll cast it with Entwine. I’ll get Kiki-Jiki, Ballbreaker, and Sundering Titan, and put them both into play. *whew* Looks like I pulled that one out.


Oh, *expletive deleted*. Well, you still can’t play Pyroclasm during my combat step.


I can’t?

The only way – the only way – that discard is going to work is if you play the Auriok Salvagers deck with Necrogen Spellbomb. If you don’t play that deck, stay away from discard as your answer for the baddest sorceries in Standard.

What’s a Rogue to Do?

Personally, I suggest an aggressive strategy for Regionals. I know that my experience is a little different from many, being in the Southeast. We typically play ten to thirteen rounds. That’s a long, long day. I don’t want every match to take the full time. I need to decompress. I need to regroup. I need to pee. I’m probably going to be playing White Skies with the Jitte. The Jitte on a double-striking Skyhunter Skirmisher is my favorite play right now. Forget about how that can wipe out a horde of weenies, those four counters per turn (two from first strike damage and two from regular strike damage). Imagine this. The first time the Skirmisher swings, he inflicts two damage and adds four counters to the Jitte. The next turn, you can remove the counters to make him a 9/9 double striker. If your opponent was at twenty before that all started, he’s dead after the second combat with no help from any other creatures. Twenty to eighteen to game over. That’s solid.

Another option would be to bring a cobra to the rock / paper / scissors game. Go outside the sandbox. Play Shrines. I may do that. It’s a lot of fun and does a lot of things. Plus, I love drawing three or four or five cards per turn.

Then again, I might work on that R/G deck. I’d probably add a couple of Kodama of the North Tree since MUC can’t take those with the Shackles. Geez, between the KNT and the Ascetic, Shackles is going to be useless, isn’t it? Godo, Bandit Warlord, would probably make an appearance since he gets the Jitte for the other kids to play with.

Or I could just take G/B Control and be done with it.

Nah. I might win if I did that.

For the Love of Gawd, Make It Stop!

The point of this hasn’t been to build you a deck (obviously), although I am gonna try rounding out that R/G Anti-Jitte deck. It’s been to open your eyes to the types of design issues you need to be aware of, especially if you’re planning on taking your own deck to Regionals. Remember, don’t fall prey to:

The Wrong Answer Syndrome™.

As usual, you’ve been a great audience. Please, make way for the hottest new boy band on the planet: The Weapons Inspectors!

Chris Romeo


{The Wrong Answer Syndrome™ and The Princess Bride Conundrum™ are trademarks of The Romeo Group, LTD, and can not be used without the implied oral consent of Dr. Christopher B. Romeo, J.D.}