From Right Field: Glass Jaws and Lead Bellies

Today Romeo takes a peek at some interesting new Blue cards from Betrayers of Kamigawa and tries to add it all up to make a competitive new Mono-Blue Standard deck that is a bit off the beaten path. To help enhance Romeo’s swell verbiage and cheesecake links, we’ve also included some of Yawgatog’s outstanding photoshoppery to give you a sample of what is normally only available to Premium members. Enjoy!

{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.}

Before I get into this week’s piece, I’d like to address something that has been addressed to death by other folks in the last two weeks but on which I have yet to say anything. (Never let it be said that I won’t beat a dead horse.) I want to talk about my worries concerning StarCityGames.com Premium.

You see, like many of you, I was worried about Star City adding a premium service. Unlike many of you, it wasn’t because I thought that readers would stay away in droves or that the quality of writing would go down. Come on, folks. Think for a half a second. Do you really think that the quality of writing would go down when Star City went premium? The quality of writing is on the shoulders of us writers and Ted, Our Esteemed Editor ™. To think that “going premium” would equal “lower quality writing” means that you thought that Pete sent out something like this:

Dear StarCity Writer,

We will be going premium. When that happens, please, write worse stuff.

Thanks for your cooperation,


There’s simply no other leap of logic that gets you from “they’re going premium” to “the quality of writing will suffer.” By the way, that letter from Pete? Didn’t happen. In fact, if any of the other writers were like me (Shaddup!), they felt even more pressure to write well after the announcement was made. All of a sudden, people would be paying to read this stuff. *gulp*

I was worried even more than most, I’m sure. I was already writing for a site that had people like Mike Flores, Dan Paskins, and Osyp Lebedowicz in the current stable as well as Jim Ferraiolo, and Ted Knutson. Heaven forbid Rizzo, Jay M-S, and Adrian Sullivan came back, I’d be sunk. Why would Star City need me? I was already the wounded wildebeest of the bunch. If anyone was going to get culled from the pack, it was me.

Next thing I knew, Pete and Ted were promising even more and better writers, like Zvi. I figured I wasn’t going to be writing for Star City anymore. So, I wrote to Ted:

Dear Ted,

Premium, huh? Wow. More and better talent. Gee. I see Zvi’s coming aboard, too. I presume you won’t be needing my humor-laden, strategy-barren pieces anymore, huh? So, thanks for the chance to write for you guys. Be seein’ you.


P.S. Here’s a pic of Fergie for old times’ sake.

Later that day, Ted responded:

Dear Chris,

Have no fear, my mammal. We still need writers on the free side. I can promise that you most definitely will not be squeezed out by the premium writers. You have a, um, special gift that we feel should not be cheapened by putting a price on it. Your writing is worthless. I mean, priceless, it’s priceless.

Your Esteemed Editor ™,

Teddy Cardgame

[author name=

*whew* So, I hadn’t lost the only reason that I had to live other than my wife Luanne, music, my family, God, The Red Sox, sunsets, The Titans, sunrises, tennis, Sofia Vergara, puppies, jambalaya, Hot Pockets, Everwood, ice cream sandwiches, Star Wars, Chinese food, Monk, gummy bears, Sarah Ponce, Desperate Housewives, and the Hubble Space Telescope.

I could continue to write about cheap, standard decks. Good for me. Too bad for you.

Of Glass Jaws and Lead Bellies

I like Blue. I really do. (Man, that came out like lyrics to a bad ’80’s pop song.) Blue does fun things. Blue draws cards, bounces permanents, and counters spells. If there’s one thing better than killing a creature after it hits, it’s preventing it from ever hitting in the first place.

Blue’s had a problem since July of 2003 when Eighth Edition (hereinafter “8E”) saw both Force Spike and Counterspell dropped from Standard. When 7E was still Standard legal, Blue could prevent things from happening at pretty much any stage of the game:

Turn 1

“Careful Study?”

“Force Spike that.”

Turn 2

“Wild Mongrel?”

“Memory Lapse that.”

Turn 3

“Wild Mongrel again?”

“Exclude that.”

Turn 16

“Hard cast Arrogant Wurm?”

“Counterspell that.”

Yes, Blue could just sit behind a wall of countermagic (aided by card drawing) until it could drop a fairly nice creature into play while also being able to protect it.

However, along with losing the one-two punch of Force Spike and Counterspell, Blue has also lost the ability to make the big, bad, scary monsters. Five or so years ago, Morphling ruled the roost. He was the baddest badazz of all because he could protect himself. All the Blue mage had to do was be able to wait long enough to get him into play that there would be some Blue mana open after it was done. If that happened, it usually meant game over. It was fairly easily done because the countermagic was efficient and Morphling could protect himself. The Blue mage could hold the Counterspell for the untargeted stuff like Wrath of God. We don’t get to play with Morphling in Standard anymore.

Sure, Mahamoti Djinn has been reprinted, and the Bringer of the Blue Dawn (“Hello, Wizards R&D? Do you need help coming up with names?”) is nasty. The problem with both is that it’s a long, long time before you can actually make them useful. “Turn six isn’t that long….” Yes, the Fat Djinn costs 4UU, but I’m smarter than I look. (I’d pretty much have to be, wouldn’t I?) If I tap out to play him, he gets Dark Banished, triple-Shocked, or Wing Snared out of existence before I can say “Susan Ward‘s a hottie.” [Susan Ward’s a … damn. – Knut, just testing] At a minimum, I have to leave up two mana to Mana Leak a spell or to Echoing Truth him. That means turn 8 is the earliest you really wanna cast this guy.

Turn 8? Are you serious? By turn 8, Affinity’s beat you twice and is stealing your girlfriend.

But what if we could set the Way-Back Machine to party like it was 1999 and use creatures that protect themselves? Could mono-Blue make a comeback?

Okay, probably not if I’m the only one working on it. However, Wizards has given us the tools we need to make this work. I’m sure of it. I just need your help. You’re my only hope.

Enter the Glasskites

Jetting Glasskite, Shimmering Glasskite, and Kira, Great Glass-Spinner all have the ability to counter the first spell or ability that targets them during a turn.

Think about that for a minute.

No, really think about it. Don’t just read the next sentence.

What did I just say?

You’re not listening, are you?

Well, forget it, then. I’ll think for both of us.

I obviously don’t have the skill of any of the guys I mentioned in the prologue up there. I do understand that Magic is a game of resource management. The person who best manages the resources s/he has – his library, graveyard, cards in hand, permanents, and life – wins.

By playing Glasskites, you have just made any of the targeted removal in your opponent’s hand half as valuable as it was before.

For a limited time only, HALF OFF on all targeted removal.


Imagine starting the game at ten life with four cards in hand, a 30 card deck, and only drawing a card every other turn.


Instead of one Shock, it takes two to kill Kira. Instead of one Dark Banishing, it takes two to kill a Shimmering Glasskite. Instead of one Arrest, it takes two to hold off a Jetting Glasskite. Oh, by the by, they all fly, too.

How hot is that? This hot.

When I decided to build a deck around these guys, I knew that the next and trickiest part would be the proper choice and mix of support spells and other creatures, if any. In my many years of playing Magic, the toughest part of deckbuilding has always been finding the right mix of support spells for mono-Blue. Other colors are more forgiving. If a creature slips through the cracks against Black, you can always draw Dark Banishing. Against White, you actually want them to over-commit thanks to Wrath of God. Blue is delicate and fragile, like, well, a glass kite.


Hey! I get it now!

Romeo, Romeo, Where are My Ninjas?!?

At this point, a lot of you are asking, “Why is he writing about the Glasskites?!? If he wants to talk about Blue and Betrayers, he should be talking about Ninjas.” I like the Ninjas. They’re stealthy. They’re cool. They make me think of Uma Thurman in a skin-tight, yellow, vinyl suit. But everybody and his personal trainer is gonna jump on the Ninja bandwagon in these first few weeks of Betrayers. As usual, I root for the underdog. I champion the unappreciated. I subtly reveal my personal issues. I will let others work the Ninjas over. For me, for now, Glasskites it is.

At this point, I had twelve creatures and that was it. As usual, when dealing with mono-Blue, I knew that four cards would be Mana Leak and four would be Echoing Truth. I’ve also become a big, big fan of Hinder. What a great three-mana counterspell. Chances are that anything countered with Hinder is not coming back.

I also needed some card drawing. As David Dyer, my friend with the 1800+ rating, points out, it doesn’t matter if you run artifacts or not, Thirst for Knowledge digs you three cards deeper into your library and helps with card quality. If you do run artifacts, it can become card advantage, too. Luckily, we have access to both Seat of the Synod and Darksteel Citadel. Running artifacts won’t be a problem, or, at least, it won’t be a big problem.

Presumably, I had to have twenty-four lands, possibly even twenty-five. I would start at twenty-four, though. Along with the cards already chosen, this mean there were eight cards left to add. The choices were countermagic (probably Condescend), cheap card drawing (like Serum Visions), and/or a creature. I went with the card drawing and the countermagic. Thus was born:

Lake Glimmerglass, V.1.0

24 Lands

4 Seat of the Synod

2 Darksteel Citadel

18 Islands

12 Creatures

4 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner

4 Shimmering Glasskite

4 Jetting Glasskite

24 Other Spells

4 Serum Visions

4 Mana Leak

4 Echoing Truth

4 Hinder

4 Thirst for Knowledge

4 Condescend

I decided not to premiere this deck against Affinity. As Zvi pointed out a couple of weeks ago, Affinity is just wrong. I didn’t want to make it all depressed by having it lose its first ten games in a row. So, I pitted it against a G/B Control deck to start with. It wasn’t just any G/B Control deck, though. It was Josh Claytor’s 2004 Kentucky Champs First-Place deck. I picked this for two reasons. First, Josh used to write for 7Towers.net where I got my start writing about Magic. If I haven’t said so before, Josh – and I don’t think I have – way to go. Between, Josh, Karl Allen, and me, three of the old 7Towers writers have won two State Championships. Second, this deck has a nice mix of targeted removal and non-targeted removal. In other words, Lake Glimmerglass wouldn’t be able to just sit behind the fact that the critters carried their own Intervenes. It would have to hold the countermagic for when it was needed most (and hope that Boseiju, Who Shelters All wasn’t online).

The initial tests were a bit disheartening. The G/B Control deck won seven of the first ten. The games that Lake Glimmerglass did win were your typical mono-Blue wins. Control the game. Drop a creature. Protect it. Swing, swing, swing. Of the ones that the G/B Control deck won, well, it wasn’t because of the removal, actually. Believe it or not, it was the swinging of the Eternal Witness. Kira doesn’t really want to block her. So, the Witness would come through for four or six or eight damage before either of the actual Glasskites could hit. And this is just not a sentence that you want to hear your opponent say to his friends after a match:

“Dude, I won with the Eternal Witness beatdown.”


I tried dropping Serum Visions for another creature. I tried dropping a Hinder and a Mana Leak for more card drawing. I tried any number of combinations of more card drawing or more countermagic. I ran ten test games each against mono-Red and R/G. Same results. Lake Glimmerglass was winning only about a third of the time. While this was encouraging, it was also frustrating. On the one hand, the deck could stop Entwined Tooth and Nail. On the other hand, it was losing because Viridian Shaman can swing for two and there’s not a whole lot this deck can do about it if it also wants to attack.

I was talking about this with my friend Joe who also runs our local tourneys. When I presented my problem he asked “You’re running Vedalken Shackles, right?”



You see, here’s the thing . . . I’ve been really busy what with the weather and all . . . .

Dear Mr. Kotter,

Please excuse Chris from his brain f@rt. He has been under great stress what with training for the Olympics and all.

Epstein’s mother

How could I forget the Shackles? In a mono-Blue deck, it’s insane. Some creatures, it’s better to let them hit and then use them against their controller. Also, a Shackles on the board sometimes looks like a Remove Soul. “Hmmmm . . . I don’t want to cast this,” your opponent thinks. “Don’t want him to take it. Or this or this or this.”

On the down side, it’s an artifact. If you’ve played Magic in the last year or so, you know that you can often walk into hate that was meant for other decks (i.e. Affinity). In the rest of the world, this is one of the effects of the Law of Unintended Consequences. In Magic, we now know it as Splash Damage ™.

“So, that means that playing with the Shackles is bad?”

No, that means you need to protect it with countermagic or Echoing Truth if it’s going to help you win the game. Counter the Viridian Shamans, Oxidizes, and Eternal Witnesses that bring them back. Oh, yeah, and, if it looks like Tooth and Nail might be coming (hint: Green = it probably is), hold Hinder since it doesn’t matter how much mana they have when you cast it.

What? Oh, yeah, the deck. I took out one each of Serum Visions, Echoing Truth, and Condescend for three copies of the Shackles. In other words:

Lake Glimmerglass, V.2.0

24 Lands

4 Seat of the Synod

2 Darksteel Citadel

2 Stalking Stones

16 Islands

12 Creatures

4 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner

4 Shimmering Glasskite

4 Jetting Glasskite

24 Other Spells

3 Serum Visions

4 Mana Leak

3 Echoing Truth

4 Hinder

4 Thirst for Knowledge

3 Condescend

3 Vedalken Shackles

As you can see, we also added two more non-Island lands in the Stalking Stones. They didn’t cause any problems (except in rares cases where I had to mulligan the two Citadel/Stones opening hand) and ended up being very useful. After all, they can attack! Sometimes. Again, there’s a lot of artifact hate out there. So, be careful. You don’t want to activate him simply because you can only to have a Viridian Shaman come down on the next turn and kill him. I used it only for last ditch defense or to end the game on offense.

Still, it was getting hammered by Affinity. Of course, you can’t give up on a deck just because Affinity beats it. If you did that, then, you’d never try anything other than the Tier One decks that beat Affinity. On the flip side, I don’t like auto-losses. So, I did what I always do in these cases. I call on someone who knows more than me: Karl Allen. I let him know what the deck and problems were.

“Romeo, you’re not doing anything until turn 3.”

“Yes, I am. There’s Serum Visions, Mana Leak, Echoing Truth . . . .”

“So, you’re reacting until turn three. And not well, I might add.”

“Gee, thanks.”

“Seriously, doesn’t Affinity sometimes just have too much to deal with by turn 3?”

“Yeah . . . .”

“You need more creatures. Leave the Hinders in because they’re hard counters against nasty stuff. Take out the Serum Visions and the Condescends for creatures.”

“Okey dokey!”

Of course, I didn’t tell him which creatures I was looking at. It would have made him mad.

I wasn’t impressed with any of the Blue one-drops except for Genju of the Falls. The problem with that card, though, is that using it to block would cause some serious mana issues. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a stunning turn 1 play, and I’m sure it would go great in some U/W Control deck (hint hint). It’s just not right for this deck. Think about what happens if it dies blocking, say, a Frogmite. That two mana that was used to animate it can’t be used the rest of the turn for, say, Mana Leak. Plus, it killed an Island. Then, you need to recast it the next turn. Ugh.

No, the one-drops I looked at came from artifacts. The two best were Steel Wall and Clockwork Beetle. The Wall can block most stuff all day long, but it doesn’t really do anything about it. The Beetle can swing if need be and can drop a Frogmite or Slith Firewalker. Also, the Beetle can be pitched to a Thirst for Knowledge.

On the flip side, the two-drop Blue creatures looked better than the artifacts. Blue has the efficient Coral Eel (2/1 for 1U), Storm Crow (a 2/1 flier for 1U), and Lumengrid Warden (1/3 for 1U). I quickly dismissed the Warden (“Yeah!”) because he was boring even if he did fight off several creatures. The Storm Crow was an interesting little bird. Early in the game, it was a decent blocker but nothing special since it usually died. If it was later in the game, that meant that Lake Glimmerglass had survived, and the flying damage was nice. Still, the point of turn one and turn two plays was now defense. He wasn’t getting it done. Coral Eel, of course, was better. Like the Beetle, it took down Frogmites and even Slith Firewalkers. And then it died.

There was one creature left to try. Floating-Dream Zubera. It replaced itself, and that was what the deck needed.

Lake Glimmerglass, V.2.1

24 Lands

4 Seat of the Synod

2 Darksteel Citadel

2 Stalking Stones

16 Islands

18 Creatures

3 Clockwork Beetle

3 Floating-Dream Zubera

4 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner

4 Shimmering Glasskite

4 Jetting Glasskite

18 Other Spells

4 Mana Leak

3 Echoing Truth

4 Hinder

4 Thirst for Knowledge

3 Vedalken Shackles


Before I discuss matchups, I want to address an issue that’s comes up from time to time all over the ‘net: overstating matchups. Some people think that some writers – me among them – overstate the matchups our decks have. I can’t speak for the others, but I know that I don’t do it with mine. If anything, I will understate the matchups. I don’t want someone walking into a tourney with one of my decks thinking “I’m king of the world!” followed by going 0-5. Unlike the pros, I still don’t have the time to play a hundred or two hundred games a week. If I get in forty or fifty games, it’s been a truly excellent week. Always read these things knowing that I err on the side of caution. As always, you should at least get a few test games in with a deck before running of to compete with the big boys.

How to Play . . . Against Affinity

I’m not gonna yank your chain with Affinity. Game one’s bad. Surprise, huh? The best deck in Standard, and a rogue creation by Dr. Romeo here has a tough time with it. Look, I’ve finally decided that I can’t design every deck to beat Affinity in game one. After a while, they all become R/G decks. Sometimes, you just have to bite the bullet and hope you have sideboard help. Luckily, you do.

All is not lost in game one, though. You have to try to control the board. First and foremost, that means countering Disciple of the Vault. That guy can not be allowed to hit. If he does, you’ll get combo-ed out even if you can stabilize the board. Of course, that’s not easy to do. If it was easy, Affinity wouldn’t be the best deck in Standard, now, would it? While you’re waiting to counter the Disciple, the other creatures come across for major damage. Use your Shackles wisely. Still, be prepared to lose two-thirds or more of game one.

Games two and three, you have a better matchup. Bring in March of the Machines, Relic Barrier, and Annul. I found the best spells to take out are the card drawing spells, Serum Visions and Thirst for Knowledge, for the March and Barrier. That’s counterintuitive, but the deck has to get the control in there. Meanwhile Mana Leak makes way for the Annul. [I think that’s incorrect – You need both as early counterspells to make it until you March and should probably take out some creatures instead. – Knut, very experienced with mono-U against Affinity.]

Against G/B Control

What’s the numero uno spell to counter? Sylvan Scrying. Yes, really. You see, if the G/B player gets Boseiju, Who Shelters All, you won’t be able to counter Barter in Blood, Plow Under, or Death Cloud. That’s some seriously bad news for this deck. Of course, they can still draw Boseiju, but that’s one (or two cards after sideboarding) out of sixty. If they draw it, well, then they do. You can’t stop that.

Kokusho’s not that bad with the Shackles out. If you take one and they cast a second, the net result is neutral. For the sideboard, I suggest Quash. I fell in love with that card when I won my first ever prizes using it in a proto-Blue Skies deck at the beginning of 2000. I would bring it in against Yawgmoth’s Bargain and Replenish decks. Quash will yank all of the Death Clouds or Plow Unders . . . if they don’t use Boseiju to cast them.

Against mono-Red

This was a weird one. All of the burn in the mono-Red deck can simply be pointed at your head. That seems to be a losing proposition for them because it runs out. On the flip side, tossing it at your creatures to clear up the blocking lanes isn’t very efficient for them. A sideboard card like Pyroclasm is actually the worst thing against this deck because it isn’t targeted and two of them wipe all the creatures in the deck. Luckily, Pyroclasm can be countered. Quash is also good against this deck. Taking away their toys is nice. The key here is to not let your life get so low that you can be burned out. If Kira has to block a 2/2 Slith Firewalker, then so be it.

Against Tooth and Nail Variants

Don’t let the Tooth and Nail resolve. Brilliant, eh? Often, they have so much mana around that Mana Leak is useless. Hinder does the trick. And bring in Quash from the sideboard. In addition, don’t let Kiki-Jiki, Sundering Titan, or Darksteel Colossus hit.

Variations on a Theme

One idea that I didn’t have time to test was a more aggressive Blue Skies theme. Add in Thieving Magpie – one of my all-time favorite Blue creatures – and, say, Keiga, the Tide Star. The great thing about Kira is that she helps protect all of your creatures. On the other hand, more creatures mean less control and card drawing. In addition, the old Blue Skies decks revolved around good, cheap fliers backed up by control. The good fliers that Blue has right now aren’t all that cheap. Spiketail Hatchling, Sage Owl, and Storm Crow don’t really strike fear into the hearts of men, now, do they? However, it’s an intriguing enough idea that I wanted to mention a deck like that. Besides, I love Thieving Magpie. Have I mentioned that before?

In Conclusion . . .

I know that the four reviews make it sound like Lake Glimmerglass can’t win against those big four deck. Trust me. It can. If you don’t think so, try it. It’s not a cakewalk, but it can win more than you’d think. Mono-Blue hasn’t had it easy in the past couple of years. You need nerves of steel. Sometimes, you have to let a bad spell resolve knowing that a worse one is coming.

Sorry that I’m not more enthusiastic. As I was finishing this, I read Zvi’s Betrayers Blue Review, and he hates the Glasskites. That kinda thing stifles the enthusiasm. When he says opponents “have to target it twice to kill it, but the first effect can be trivial[,]” he seems to mean that the first ability could be, say, getting a boost from Scale of Chiss-Goria. So, they target Kira with a Scale, then hit her with a Shock. The assessment is correct, but the sentiment is misplaced. There aren’t a whole lot of “trivial” effects in Standard right now. As good of a card against Affinity as the Scale is (when used in a Horobi deck), people just aren’t playing with these kinds of things. When people play with targeted spells and abilities, they either want something dead (e.g. Rend Flesh) or they want a big effects (e.g. equipping a guy with Cranial Plating). As far as I can tell from perusing the top Standard decks, countering the first spell or ability each turn that targets your guys is A Very Good Thing.

Then again, I could be wrong. Heck, I’m arguing with Zvi. Of course, I’m wrong. Don’t listen to me. I’m also very stubborn.

My testing shows that Glasskites can do well, but the deck needs . . . I dunno . . . something. It really is about thisclose to being over the top. Do we need more creatures? More creature control? I’m throwing it to you, the budget-loving forum hounds to work on this and post results. I don’t just wanna see “Romeo, have you tried <this>?” I’ll tell you right now that the answer is “No, I haven’t. I’m already working on next week’s column. Why don’t you try it?” Together we’re gonna show Zvi he’s wrong and make a darn good deck featuring the Glasskites. Are you with me?



Bueller? Bueller?

Chris Romeo


P.S. It seems that Virginia is trying to outlaw low-rider jeans. On one hand, I agree. Some of what we see is simply disgusting. Plumber’s crack isn’t attractive. Sometimes, though, low-riders just look soooo good. Isn’t there any way to simply outlaw ugly low-riders? Probably not. There’d by all sorts of discrimination suits. “Fashion police,” indeed.