From Right Field: Going Batty — The Orzhov Preconstructed Deconstruction, Part Last

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Chris rounds off his series on the Orzhov preconstructed deck by taking a spin in the Tournament Practice room on Magic Online. After posting 6-0 in the Casual Room, can the Black and White Beatsticks rumble with the big boys?

{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 Wildfire, Llanowar Wastes, or Birds of Paradise. 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.}

Isn’t it funny how things work sometimes? You expect one thing, and another happens. Classic example: you spend a good chunk of your college time chasing some totally hot chick because you know things are going to be just awesome because, well, she’s hot. Turns out that things aren’t that great with her. Sure, you got that hotness to look at but nothing beyond that. Meanwhile, your friend, your wingman who “settled” for her average-looking friend, is having the time of his life. (I’d be more explicit, but I think you know what I’m talking about.)

Trying my darnedest to relate this to Magic, I know that Wizards tries to make the colors equally good and powerful. They do try to do that, don’t they? Why wouldn’t they? The game has five colors. Purposely hosing one isn’t good for the game, and, therefore, isn’t good for sales. Ergo, they must be trying to balance things. Right?

However, over the last month, I’ve found that the Gruul Guild is much weaker than the Orzhov Guild, at least as far as the commons and uncommons go. Up in the rare slots, though, Gruul is just two tons of fun better than the Orzhov. (Or so it seems to this Scrubby McScrubberson.) Fortunately, for this column, we’re looking at going inexpensive. Orzhov’s been doing quite well in that respect. I left things two weeks ago with this version:

This version had gone 6-0 in the Casual Decks room. Sure, any record you get in that room is suspect, whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent. Your opponents are wielding a crazy quilt of decks, and who knows what their skill levels are.

Of course, people probably think that when they sit down across from me.

The fact of the matter is, though, that the particular six-game winning streak appeared solid. Solid enough that I wanted to get a well-thought-out sideboard together before heading into the Tournament Practice room.

Dr. Romeo’s Thoughts on MTGO’s Tournament Practice Room

Many folks seem to think that the Tournament Practice room is barely a step above the Casual Decks room in terms of useful testing partners. I completely disagree. There are many random decks in the Casual Decks room which, while great in game 1, would fall apart should an opponent be allowed to go to their sideboard. A lot of folks in the Casual Decks room seem to enjoy that rogue ability to win one game and get the heck out of Dodge. Guerilla Magic, if you will.

I don’t get that vibe in the Tourney Practice room. The people in there seem to truly want to hone decks and, well, practice for tourneys. You don’t even need to play a game to tell a difference in the rooms. All you have to do is look at the chat window. You don’t get Chuck Norris jokes or complaints about concessions in the Tourney Practice room. You get people advertising for matches.

That match thing is key, too. A lot of folks who populate the Casual Decks room practice that Guerilla Magic I mentioned above. They’d never think to play in the Tournament Practice room because they couldn’t just beat everybody 1-0.

Don’t misinterpret me here. I love love love the Casual Decks room. I spend most of my time there. With my Casual Decks. Once a deck starts winning like something that I might take to a tournament, though, I won’t play it in there anymore. It just doesn’t feel proper. Case in point: Magnivicent, the Magnivore/Wildfire deck. Even though both of those rares are in the Red Ninth Edition preconstructed deck (i.e. you can build the deck for around forty bucks), it just doesn’t feel casual. Really, think about it. Does Wildfire ever feel casual?

Besides, drop into the Tournament Practice room sometime, and watch some matches. People are playing real Pro Tour-level decks, or working on ones that you’ll soon see there. In other words, I’m quite comfortable with the results I get in that room. I may not be happy with said results, but I feel that they’re legitimate.

Back in the Real World

I left this two weeks ago because I wanted some good discussion and input on the sideboard. I’m not very good at sideboarding, or even choosing sideboard cards. I don’t know why. I think I’m smart. My wife says I am. Presuming that smart and smart-ass are close enough. I just seem to punk out on sideboards a lot. I didn’t want to screw this one up, though. That extra week away gave me time to read the forum discussion on the sideboard cards and how I should sideboard. In the end, I went with this deck:

Huh? Where are the Hideous Laughters?

Funny thing about the Hideous Laughters. I had a rather long conversation online with Talen Lee. He convinced me that H-Laughter wasn’t good in this deck, Mmmkay? First, it wipes out everything I have except for the Vampire. Second, without help, it won’t kill anything with toughness three or greater. Third, he wanted to know, “why are you so freakin’ worried about Paladin en-Vec and Hand of Honor?” He pointed out that I had a couple of ways to deal with those guys. I could drop Faith’s Fetters on them. I could also just ignore them. They’re a couple of points of damage, three or four with a Glorious Anthem or two, and I had eight maindeck ways to kill the Anthems. The life swings allowed by the Blind Hunter, the Orzhov Guildmage, and the Church of Deals could deal with unfettered (heh) Paladins and Honor Hands.

He’s so cute and cuddly that he convinced me. I knew I needed some sort of other removal for speedy beatdown decks, but what? “Last Gasp,” he said. It was more important to deal with the X/3 guys that Gruul Beats and Zoo could drop than the X/2 White guys. (He was right. More later on that.)

Meanwhile, people screamed about my inclusion of Yoko Ono on the “cards to think about for the sideboard” list. “How much enchantment kill do you need? Geez, man, you have eight main deck pieces of removal. Twelve, if you count how Fetters works on Greater Good and Glare of Subdual. Put in something else.” They were right. I needed some artifact removal, just in case. While Fetters deals with Umezawa’s Jitte, I want to double on my chances to kill that thing. Also, I’d love to nail a Bottled Cloisters. So, Terashi’s Grasp made the cut.

I was all ready to add Shred Memory to hose decks that use their graveyards. I used to be all about Nezumi Graverobber. Then, my friend Bill Bryant used logic on me. Graverobber is a great maindeck card, the kind of card that, if it’s really needed for hosing the other guy’s ‘yard, you probably need to supplement in games 2 and 3. Why? People who need their ‘yard will wait until they can kill the Graverobber and then do their thing unfettered. Shred Memory or Cremate hurt them with Instant timing, and they can’t do anything about it short of countering the Shred or Cremate.

I knew, then, that I’d be using a spell in that slot and not a creature. That’s when the ubiquitous Talen Lee showed up again. He nearly convinced me that the only tourney-level decks right now that truly use their graveyards are Gifts Ungiven-based decks. Instead of taking cards out of their ‘yards, why not stop them from searching their decks altogether? In other words, why not use Shadow of Doubt? In that way, you keep both cards out of the ‘yard and the extra two cards out of their hand. Just to add spice to the mixture, SoD also stops Cranial Extractions, and it only costs two bucks (as I write this) on StarCityGames.com. What a bargain!

Again, I couldn’t argue, other than to say that I thought other decks used their graveyards, too. Sadly — or maybe gladly — I couldn’t really find any.

Last, and certainly not least, I wondered often and out loud about Sacred Ground. How else does a deck like this combat land destruction? As Mr. Lee again pointed out (he seemed to be the only one in this for the long haul), most LD right now is combining with Blue. They’ll just bounce the S-Ground and then cast Wildfire. It was best to have a guy with Protection from Red or toughness greater than four. The first one means using Paladin en-Vec, way out of our league price-wise. The second is, well, nigh impossible to cast when the other guy is popping your lands.

My other option was hand destruction. I ran a couple of test games with Nightmare Void coming in against LD decks. Guess what? With Stone Rain on turn 3 and maybe even Demolish thanks to a Signet, I never got to the four lands that N-Void needs. The conclusion? Fight the LD the best you can, but don’t worry about it. This deck can’t beat it.

Now, of course, I don’t like that strategy. If LD decks show up in big numbers, you’re gonna lose a lot. My best final conclusion then is this: if you think LD decks of any type will be a big problem, use Distress or some other cheap discard spell, not Nightmare Void. Me, I’m going on the presumption that LD decks will not comprise a large percentage of the field. If I’m wrong, we’ll know that we need Sacred Ground.

Match 1: I kept a three-land hand with no creatures. It has nothing but two Pillories and two Faith’s Fetters. I was worried about that decision. Turns out I did a good thing. My opponent dropped Stomping Grounds and Kird Ape. By turn 4, he had a Rumbling Slum. I Pilloried it, just as I had the Kird Ape. When Burning-Tree Shaman hit, I dropped one of the Fetters on it. That put me ahead enough on life that I could have simply ridden the Slum and the Pillories to a game 1 victory. I decided not to rest on those spells and cast a Blind Hunter. I guess I was worried about a maindeck Naturalize. With him at six and nothing to block fliers, that was game no matter what he did. He’d be at four on his upkeep thanks to the Pillories. If he Charred the Hunter, he died. If he didn’t, the Hunter swung for the win. He Charred the Hunter. Better to die on your own clock.

For game 2, I dropped the four Kami of Ancient Law for the Last Gasps. I didn’t think he’d have any enchantments to kill, and I needed to get rid of X/3’s more easily. I presumed he’d bring in Naturalize, meaning that I couldn’t just count on Pillories.

He dropped a Kird Ape with just a Mountain. I dropped a Rusalka. He dropped a Forest and swung with the 2/3 Ape. I let it through, and he got a 3/3 Scab-Clan Mauler. On my turn, I dropped another land and passed. He swung with both guys. I blocked the Ape and Gasped the Mauler. No Bloodthirst this turn. He played a Stomping Grounds tapped. Yes! On my third turn, I played a Pillory on his Ape. He was not pleased. Again, there’d be no Blood thirst for him. Instead, he cast another Rumbling Slum. You’ll never guess what happened, so I’ll tell you: Faith’s Fetters. Is that a curve or what? I don’t know what he had or didn’t because he did nothing on his next turn. How could he have nothing to play? He had four lands. Chars, maybe? So, I played a Shrieking Grotesque (Enhanced, as my computer likes to tell me). He Charred it in response to its ability hitting the stack. Then, he discarded a Char. S-Grot took two Chars with him! “Best. Grotesque. Ever.” After that, he kept getting his weenies, but so did I. Mine, however, flew, took cards, and/or caused, like, loss. (1-0, 2-0)

Match 2: Blue-Red Wildfire. No Sacred Ground in the sideboard. At least the games took a total of twenty-three turns.

Too short of a match recap? There’s not really much to say. I never got more than three lands in play. I did quite a bit of damage in both games, but it didn’t matter. In game 2, I dropped the Vampires and Belfry Spirits for the four Nightmare Voids and two Shadow of Doubt (more for the card drawing than to stop anything). Since I never got to four mana, I never cast a Void. (1-1, 2-2)

Match 3: This was the first time in all of my Tournament Practice Room testing that I faced off against an actual Wizards employee. I relished the chance because (a) those guys are usually pretty good and (b) they have access to four of every card. That means that they can build even the most expensive deck. This one was no exception. He (I know it was a he because his name was on there) had one of those B/U/G Control decks.

Game 1 was interesting. A Plagued Rusalka, a Guildmage, and a Shrieking Grotesque pecked away at his life before Plague Boiler blew them all away. In the meantime, though, he killed three Kami of Ancient Law that showed up. I was perplexed. What Enchantments did his deck have that he worried more about protecting them by killing the Kami than about the flying damage from the Grotesque? He got a couple of beefy threats out, but Faith’s Fetters and the Pillory neutered them. After that, the Guildmage’s ability did him in.

Sideboarding for game 2 was tricky. I knew that the four Nightmare Voids would come in. Having seen no Enchantments in game 1, I was tempted to drop the Kamis. It kept nagging me, though, that he had killed three out of three as soon as he could. So, I dropped one Rusalka (the ability was nearly useless), one Blind Hunter (something had to go), one Belfry Spirit (ditto), and one Fetters (there was plenty else to deal with the few creatures in his deck) for the Voids. It turned out that I could have safely dropped the Kamis. I never saw an Enchantment the entire match. Nice bluff, I must say. He countered and killed as much as he could, and then N-Void came online. I kept stripping his hand with that and the Shrieking Grotesque. Finally, when it was safe, the Skeletal Vampire came down. Soon after, another Plague Boiler hit, but the Vampire can regenerate. Remember, the P-Boiler doesn’t say “They can’t be regenerated.” I had a Church to *tee-hee* seal the deal. (2-1, 4-2)

Match 4: In game 1, I saw nothing from my opponent but card drawing, land fetching, Forests, and Islands. Partly, that was because I got Shrieking Grotesques (Enhanced!) on turns 3, 4, and 6, with a Blind Hunter on turn 5. I had no idea what deck I was facing. Greater Good popped to mind. Of course, if I’d been a good player, I probably would have looked at what my opponent dumped to those three Grotesques.

Instead, I went to game 2 not knowing what I was facing and presuming it was Greater Good. That made Pillory of the Sleepless the easy drop. In came the four Nightmare Voids. I also debated bringing in the Terashi’s Grasps, but I thought that the four Kamis and the four Mortifies were plenty. In game 2, I found out what the deck was: Heartbeat. He didn’t do anything until he could drop a Heartbeat and go to town. That turn took several minutes. I don’t know if the deck just petered out or if he made a mistake (I didn’t see any mistakes, but I’m not very good), but the turn ended after a second Heartbeat came into play and he’d drawn about twenty-five or thirty cards. The final thing he did was tap a single Island to Transmute a Drift of Phantasms to grab Invoke the Firemind. On my turn, I cast Nightmare Void, taking the ItF. That drew a concession.

To be honest, even though I won that one 2-0, I didn’t feel good about it. What I know about the Heartbeat deck tells me that the good players don’t go off until they can go off completely. On the flip side, had he not started doing what he did on that turn, I would have taken the Heartbeat of Spring with my Nightmare Void. It’s a toss-up as to whether this is a true victory, but since I was 2-0 it counts as one. (3-1, 6-2)

Interlude: It’s interesting — to me, anyway — to note that the only games that this deck has lost so far are the two to the U/R Wildfire deck. The three match wins were all 2-0, while the one match loss was 0-2. Velly intelesting. (Of course, I don’t believe in luck, so I do not believe that I just jinxed the deck. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.)

Match 5: Sooner or later, I knew I’d run into Owling Mine.  This was the match.  Game 1 was actually a lot tighter than I thought.  I was able to keep my hand from being less than full for a while.  Then, a Howling Mine joined the Kami of the Crescent Moon.  Had I found a Mortify anywhere, I’m pretty sure I could have won it.  ‘Twas not to be.  I went through more than half my deck and came up with no Mortifies.


For game 2 – and you can argue amongst yourselves – I dropped the most expensive creatures.  Out went the four Belfry Spirits and the Skeletal Vampires.  I needed cheap stuff that I could dump that turn.  For those six, I brought in four Nightmare Voids and two Terashi’s Grasps.  I wanted the other Grasp and some Instant-timed removal, too.  Last Gasp would not only kill the Kami of Howling Mine, but it would also, in a pinch, allow me to kill one of my guys if I needed to keep my hand under seven.  For those last four, I dropped Faith’s Fetters.  That may have been the wrong call, but I saw no need for an Enchantment that cost four mana and did nothing to stop anything that the other deck did.  Essentially, Fetters would only gain me life, exactly as much life as I’d lose once to an Ebony Owl Netsuke.

It seemed to work in game 2.  I dropped a Rusalka followed by a Guildmage before he could bounce a land.  (Ah, the wonder of going first.)  After that, I kept playing out what I had.  He Remanded a couple of things, played Exhaustion, and dropped a Kami (Gasped), an Owl (Grasped), and a Howling Mine (thank you so very much).  Nightmare Void did its job, taking a Sudden Impact and an Exhaustion.  It was on to game 3…

… In which my deck completely punked out.  I had to mulligan to five, which is actually not such a bad thing against Owling Mine.  The problem was that I kept getting all of my expensive spells.  Where was the Guildmage?  Where was the Kami of Ancient Law?  Last Gasp?  The first spell I played was Terashi’s Grasp, and it was Remanded.  A few turns later, the Owls and a Sudden Impact ended it.  (3-2, 7-4)

Match 6: I’d been waiting for a Glare deck, and here it was. I was worried about the fast beats, but it turned out not to be the problem that I thought it would be. Yes, my early drops like the Rusalka and the Guildmage died horrible, squishy deaths at the hands of the Watchwolves, but Pillory of the Sleepless came through, as did a Mortify. When the first Glare hit, I had a Fetters for it. Good thing, too, because the fliers came online. A Selesnya Evangel hit, but it was too late to take care of the Bats.

I had a dilemma for game 2. As I’ve said many times before, my sideboarding “skills” are what keep me from winning more tournament matches. I was tempted to let the deck ride. After all, it had just beat Glare. The problem was that I lost a Rusalka and a Guildmage to a single Watchwolf. I realized that the Rusalka is almost useless in this matchup. So, the went away, replaced by Last Gasps in the hopes of getting a one-for-one trade rather than the three-for-one I’d had in the last game.

It worked. I did take an extra hit from a Watchwolf, but I killed it on my second turn. Last Gasp also killed an Evangel, freeing up the Mortifies to kill the Glare. (I got two that way in the game.) Again, the Bats and the Skeletal Vampire finished things off. I was feeling good. I knew it had to end. (4-2, 9-4)

Match 7: Another U/R deck, this one being of the Magnivore/Wildfire variety.  Again, no Sacred Ground ended up meaning no way to win.  In fact, it was so bad that, in game 2, I only actually cast two spells.  Please, don’t take this to mean that I don’t agree with Talen’s assessment of the cards for the sideboard.  It’s just that land destruction is obviously going to be more common that we expected. The deck needs either Sacred Ground in the sideboard, or discard that costs less than four mana.  (4-3, 9-6)

Match 8: I guess it’s only fair that I faced a Heartbeat deck piloted by someone who played it well. Also, my deck punked out. I kept what I thought was a good hand in game 1: two Swamps, a Plains, a Plagued Rusalka, a Shrieking Grotesque, a Fetters, and a Pillory. Then I drew land after land after land. I cast only two spells the entire first game (the Rusalka and the Grotesque). I could have cast Fetters on something to gain life, but it was pointless.

In fact, the Fetters and the Pillories were essentially useless. The only creatures to target were either Sakura-Tribe Elder (on which neither will hit) or Maga (on which I’d never even get the chance to cast it). So, I dropped them for the Nightmare Voids and the Shadow of Doubts, the theory being that I could keep him/her from searching via Transmute.

It didn’t work. The deck stalled on three lands until it was too late. When I finally could use the SoD, it was Remanded. Mana tricks ensued followed by a really big Maga. (4-4, 9-8)

Match 9: Facing a U/B Rat-Ninja deck is kind of like facing a Gruul Beats deck.  You fear letting anything through because of what may pop up on the other end.  With Ninjas, it’s Ninja of the Deep Hours, Higure, or Ink-Eyes during combat; with Gruul Beats it’s a 3/3 Scab-Clan Mauler during the second main phase.  So, I blocked everything I could.  Apparently, that was the right thing to do, because the game lasted long enough for one Belfry Spirit, and then a second to do their things while the ground crew did the heavy lifting.  It must have worked because he conceded the entire match after game 1.  I don’t like counting concessions in the final total, but I also don’t want to just ignore it.  After all, it was a win.  Besides, I’m pretty sure I would have won the second or third game.  Instead of discounting it, then, I’ll simply play an extra match.  (5-4, 11-8)

Match 10: Finally, a deck with Umezawa’s Jitte; one of those Godo, Bandit Warlord, decks.  Godo brought his goodies, and Faith’s Fetters did its job on the Jitte.  (I love alliteration.)  In fact, my opponent conceded again.  This time, I’m gonna take it because I know Going Batty has the tools to take this deck.  (6-4, 13-8)

Match 11: For the final match of this experiment, I got a G/W/b Good Stuff deck.  It had Faith’s Fetters, the Divining Top, Kokusho, Loxodon Hierarch, and oodles of other goodies.  Even with all of that, Going Batty ate it up.  Two Shrieking Grotesques ate cards.  Pillory of the Sleepless stopped a Kokusho from doing anything, while Faith’s Fetters stopped the Hierarch.  He had Fetter’s too, but Mortify got rid of it.  The 2/X beats continued until the Orzhov Guildmage could end it.

For game 2, I thought about bringing in Nightmare Void.  Going Batty had run so well without it, though, that I went with the same deck in game 2.  The result was the same.  (7-4, 15-8)

There you have it: a cheap B/W deck that you can take to a tournament and stand your ground.  If I could do anything different, I’d find a place for Sacred Grounds in the sideboard.  Only do that, though, if you have a significant chance of seeing land destruction.

As per the Barenaked Ladies, If I Had a Million Dollars…

The problem for me with the whole “what would you do to the deck if money were no obstacle” is that the deck might completely change direction. First things first, though.

Right off the bat, I’d get four Godless Shrines and four Caves of Koilos. While I know I didn’t mention it much in the match synopses, color was sometimes a problem. So was the tempo loss from putting a Basilica into play, especially when it got Stone Rained. Ugh. The way the deck plays, though, wouldn’t change simply with the addition of those rare lands.

Staying in theme, I’d probably get another Skeletal Vampire. I know that they aren’t that expensive, and I probably could have done that already, but I wanted to use as many cards from the precons as I could. If I got a third Vampire, I’d drop a Belfry Spirit. I’m not sure what I’d do with a fourth Vampire.

Beyond any mana or Vampire changes, you’re probably looking at things like Ghost Council of the Orzhova and the Shoal Brothers, Sickening and Shining. If you do that, you’re really just making a Ghost Dad-type deck. In that case, just jump here, and copy the deck.

As usual, you’ve been a great audience.  Come back next week when I look at the first deck that I might take to Regionals.  Tantalized?

Chris Romeo