From Right Field: How To Commit Flattery

I think that I finally (fingers crossed) figured out a solid mono-white Birds deck. I say this because I started 5-0 at this weekend’s tourney, not losing until I faced David Dyer and his RWg Astral Slide deck. That, and I debate with the pros, find a home for a poor lost wizard, and discuss the R/G Anger deck that everyone’s been asking about!

Elvis Costello, talking about songwriters, once told Pete Townsend that”we’re all magpies and thieves.” What he meant was that nothing is completely original. Even the most original song may have elements of another song in it. And, as They say (and you know how smart They are) imitation is the greatest form of flattery. As long as you don’t cross the long into blatant thievery (see Steve Winwood’s”Roll with It” versus Jr. Walker and The All-Star’s”Roadrunner”), it’s all good.

At least, I hope that Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar feels that way – ‘Cause, for the next few columns, I’m hoping to steal his schtick. That is I’m going to try to focus on one card per week. Actually, it was kinda Mr. M-S’ suggestion; he told me that I didn’t include enough decks in my articles, so he has to deal with me being, um, inspired by his column.

First off, though, I want to address some stuff that people have said about recent ideas that I’ve thrown up in this space over the past few weeks. [I should probably start each column with a prologue, shouldn’t I?]


I called my last column”How to Start an Argument,” and, boy, oh, boy, did it.

Many people pointed out that the GW Phantoms deck (Phantom Living) is slow. It is indeed. All the talk of blocking with Phantoms and using Harsh Mercy should have been a tip that I knew that. Several people made the leap from”slow” to”loses quickly.” The deck really does want to protect itself early (so, you probably want to use Devoted Caretaker, if you have them) and then hit with fliers and Nishobas or even a very pumped-up Phantom Nantuko.

I can tell you, however, that I did indeed do some testing, and this deck does not just”roll over” to anything. The deck most often cited as being Phantom Living’s”Daddy,” as it were, was MBC.”MBC will roll you with creature kill since Mutilate does kill Phantom Centaurs. And Haunting Echoes will end it.” This isn’t necessarily so.

I’m not saying that the deck beats up on MBC; it doesn’t. It’s a very tough matchup, but Phantom Living doesn’t lose 80% of the time or anything. Sure, Phantom Centaur doesn’t have”Protection from Sacrificing,” so it’s very vulnerable to Chainer’s Edict and Innocent Blood if you don’t have another creature on board. But, you can play around these things.

(Note to self: Hold the Centaur until you can cast it and something else in the same turn.)

And Haunting Echoes is not as bad as it seems; remember, you have Living Wish. If you can keep one in your hand – which is, admittedly, hard to do against MBC – you can survive Haunting Echoes. How? Because, Living Wish doesn’t say that you have to get a creature from your sideboard. It says that you get any creature (or land) card that you own from outside the game. That includes cards removed by Haunting Echoes.

I was also told that Astral Slide decks would beat up on this. Not if I get Glory into the graveyard, it doesn’t. Oh, sure, they can gain life with the Exalted Angel. I’ll gain more with the Nishoba. Again, this is not to say that it’s a great matchup, but it’s not an auto loss. By the way, don’t most decks have problems with Slide decks?

(By the way, should decks with white in them start siding in Astral Slide even when they don’t have their own cycling cards?)

Finally, several folks pointed out that, if U/G Madness got a god draw of Careful Study, two Basking Rootwallas, Wonder, and Wild Mongrel, it would roll the Phantoms. I’m sure it would. It would probably roll most decks with that kind of draw.

The problem with these God Draw Scenarios is that they always assume (1) the best draw on one deck’s part and (2) absolutely no action on the other deck’s part. This I promise: It doesn’t matter how bad a deck is, it will win a great majority of games in which the other deck sits around doing nothing.

In other words, try decks out. Don’t just say,”It won’t work.” Hey, maybe it won’t work. But… What if it does?

Oh, one last thing on that column. Apparently, a couple of pros were insulted by it. One even thought I was saying that they were stupid for not playing Spellbane Centaur. Of course that’s not what I said! What I said was that I was surprised that not one person at the Masters ran Spellbane Centaur, even though they knew how prevalent blue would be. I said that they know an awful lot, but that they don’t know everything – which is a far cry from saying you’re stupid. In fact, it’s stupid to think I said such a thing.

(There. Now I called someone stupid.)

If you’re playing green and you know blue will show up a lot in the form of Aether Burst and Opposition, I can’t understand why you wouldn’t play Spellbane Centaur. I’m sure that there’s a good reason, and I’m just not a good-enough player to figure it out. So, anyone who can give me a good, rational analysis of why you’d leave Spellbane Centaur out of a green deck when you know a lot of Aether Bursts and Oppositions will show up, please, drop me a line. Also, I also can’t understand why the red/green decks didn’t include Anger.

Which brings me to the R/G Anger deck. I’ve mentioned it more than once. Some frustrated readers finally cracked and sent me e-mails saying,”You keep teasing us with this R/G Anger deck. What is that?”

I apologize profusely. As often as the deck shows up around here, I just assumed that other people knew about it and were facing it, too. Basically, like the Fires of Yavimaya decks of old (i.e. 2001), it turns all of your creatures into, essentially, direct damage spells.

And I gotta tell ya, MBC hates this deck. It just can not control the creatures enough with all of that sorcery speed creature kill. R/G Anger backs its critters up with Madness burn, trample – and a great trick of old, Might of Oaks. I used to love Might of Oaks back when I used it to power up li’l ol’ Pygmy Razorback from a 2/1 trampler to a 9/8 trampler, but I was skeptical of it outside of casual play. After losing match after match to The Brothers Owens (Shannon and Matt) because I was getting smacked around with 7/8 Birds of Paradise with haste, I realized its power hadn’t diminished. Here’s the deck as I play it now:

I Am Soooo Angry


4 Wooded Foothills

3 Karplusan Forest

8 Forest

8 Mountain


4 Basking Rootwalla

4 Wild Mongrel

2 Patchwork Gnomes

4 Arrogant Wurm

4 Anger

4 Phantom Centaur

2 Silvos, Rogue Elemental


4 Fiery Temper

4 Violent Eruption

2 Might of Oaks

3 Sylvan Might

Previous versions had used Birds for mana acceleration -and, as I said above, hitting someone with a 7/8 Birds of Paradise can end the game. But mana acceleration isn’t that important with this deck. The best turn 2 play with acceleration would be Patchwork Gnomes or Wild Mongrel and Fiery Temper, but I still prefer a turn 2 of dropping a Mountain, playing Wild Mongrel, pitching two Rootwallas and an Anger, and attacking for seven. You only need two lands for that. Of course, you could make it eleven with an extra red mana available and Fiery Temper in hand (three from the Temper, one for pumping up the Mongrel again). And, mana acceleration can give you a 3 three Phantom Centaur with haste. So, you might want to look at dropping the Silvos and Sylvan Mights (I can’t believe I’m saying you might want to drop Sylvan Might!) for some mana creatures. Use Birds of Paradise if you have ’em; Llanowar Elves will do in a pinch.

The last piece of old business is actually a piece of new bragging. I think that I finally (fingers crossed) figured out a nice (nearly) mono-white Birds deck. I say this because I started 5 – 0 at this weekend’s tourney, not losing until I faced David Dyer and his RWg Astral Slide deck. The Birds deck looked like this:

Birds Again


1 Island

2 Seaside Haven

3 Flooded Strand

4 Secluded Steppe

12 Plains

CREATURES (and spells that make ’em) 23

4 Suntail Hawk

4 Soulcatcher

4 Skyshroud Falcon

4 Mystic Familiar

3 Lieutenant Kirtar

4 Battle Screech


4 Kirtar’s Desire

4 Soulcatcher’s Aerie

3 Shared Triumph

4 Prismatic Strands


2 Disenchant

2 Cleansing Meditation

2 Earnest Fellowship [anti-Slide tech which should have been Astral Slide itself]

2 Circle of Protection: Red

2 Circle of Protection: Black

2 Stern Judge

3 Morningtide

Moving Morningtide to the sideboard for Shared Triumph and switching Wrath of God out for Prismatic Strands made all of the difference. With seven Bird-pumping enchantments, I almost always had one on board. Meanwhile, Prismatic Strands did exactly what it was supposed to do: Nullified my opponent’s attack while allowing me to attack free of worries.

The only other real change was going up to twenty-two lands. The Flooded Strands were thinning out the deck too quickly at twenty-one lands. At twenty-two lands and with only three Flooded Strands, I made sure to get the right mana (like an Island for the Seaside Haven) without hosing myself out of lands.

The MVP, though, continues to be Kirtar’s Desire. It’s a much better post-Upheaval one-drop than Suntail Hawk. It kept Guiltfeeder from ruining my day. And if you hit Threshold, it’s a 1-cc Pacifism. This is nothing to sneeze at when you can Pacify a flying Wurm and still have the mana to cast Lt. Kirtar on turn 4.

Wow. Fifteen hundred words into this thing, and it’s still all prologue. I’ll bet Jay’s wondering where I start ripping him off – I mean, where I start being inspired. Here we go.

Where There’s A Willbender, There’s A Way

When the new sets comes out, people start fawning over the power cards. I start looking for hidden gems. It’s easy to see the power in cards like Basking Rootwalla, Chainer’s Edict, or Blistering Firecat. Legions gives us some of those power cards, too.

Then there are the lesser lights. These are the poor guys who would get picked in the middle rounds if this was a kickball game at recess. They’re not the ones who are quicker to mature, but they aren’t the runts who get picked last, either. I think Willbender is one of those guys.

Willbender - Legions NM/M

You can’t deny the power of being able to redirect a spell. What if you get hit by Haunting Echoes? For 1U and flipping this buy over, you can target your opponent instead. (Just don’t tell him that he doesn’t have to find anything. If he wants to rip his deck up, please, let him.) Is Fiery Temper headed directly for your Birds of Paradise? Send it back at your opponent.

While these are all fine and dandy uses for Willbender’s ability, it’s not why he gets my battery cranked. No, the reason that I think that this guy is an MVP is the word after”or.” This guy can redirect targeted abilities! Well, kiss my Astral Slide! Here’s a list of some of the most common abilities that I can’t wait to redirect with this guy:

I figure that there are two ways to go with Willbender. We can go aggressive and use him simply to protect some permanents or spells, or we can do more of a control thing and use Willbender only to deflect the most damaging spells and abilities.

First up, the aggressive version. I call this:

Force of Willbender


20 Island

1 Cephalid Coliseum

1 Lonely Sandbar


4 Merfolk Looter

4 Coral Merfolk

4 Lord of Atlantis

4 Willbender

4 Glacial Wall

2 Thieving Magpie


3 Equilibrium

4 Chain of Vapor

4 Boomerang

4 Counterspell

1 Deep Analysis

This deck is a very modified version of the Merfolk deck that I wrote about a few weeks ago. Aether Burst is gone (“Boo!”) in favor of more creatures, like Glacial Wall, with bigger butts (“Yeah!”).

One thing I really liked when I started looking at other cards to interact with Willbender were cards like Equilibrium, which allowed me to bounce him back to my hand so that I could reuse his ability. Then it hit me (before I saw Jay’s column last week; great minds think alike, I guess) when I was looking at Chain of Vapor how offensive that card could be. Imagine this scenario: You have a Willbender of the table, face down. You also have a nice 3/2 Islandwalking Coral Merfolk, thanks to your Lord of Atlantis. You have three mana up at the end of your opponent’s turn. You cast Chain of Vapor to send back a Wurm token, thus killing it. Your opponent sacrifices a land to copy the Chain, trying to send back your Coral Merfolk. You flip up the Willbender, sending back a Wild Mongrel instead. For an investment of one card and three mana, you have killed a Wurm and a land and sent a Mongrel packing for a turn.

Let’s take a quiz:

I think that:

A) This is A Good Thing

B) This is A Bad Thing

C) J-Lo and Ben-Aff will last forever

Also, don’t forget, Equilibrium’s ability is triggered. So, more than one (would that be Equilibria or Equilibriums?) would allow you to send back multiple creatures. Thus, you could cast a Lord of Atlantis and send back a Wurm (yes, I love bouncing Wurms) and your face-up Willbender to be reused. Then, when you cast the face-down Willbender later, he allows you to bounce multiple creatures. Boo-yah!

Here’s the second way to go: Control and protect until you get your big ol’ fat win condition down. Me, I’m going back to Cognivore. I’m calling this one:

Willbender and Grace


21 Island

2 Lonely Sandbar

2 Cephalid Coliseum


4 Willbender

4 Glacial Wall

2 Cognivore


3 Force Spike

4 Counterspell

4 Boomerang

4 Chain of Vapor

4 AEther Burst

2 Syncopate

2 Deep Analysis

2 Compulsion

Why, oh, why, have we forgotten about Force Spike’s bigger brother, Syncopate? It’s so nice to Sync a Call of the Herd. Or anything, really.

Anyway, the point of this deck is simple: Survive until Cognivore shows up. Then, protect it for the one turn it will take to kill your opponent.

By the way, didja notice that I put Aether Burst back in? I knew you’d like that.

Now, these two decks could suck rotten goose eggs, for all I know – but I like the idea of being able to redirect a spell or ability and being able to do it over and over. Even if I don’t win, if I can Smother one ‘Tog or put an Elephant Guide on one Glacial Wall, I’ll be happy.

As usual, you’ve been a great audience. So good, in fact, that I’m going to tell you a wonderful television secret: Ren and Stimpy are returning to TV under the watchful eye of creator John K! Happy happy joy joy!

Chris Romeo

[email protected]

P.S. Someone, please, tell Ken McElhaney that I’m really, really sorry. Also, he’s really, really funny. (Oh, just click on the link already.) And, since I know you’re wondering, no, I don’t reimburse people for tournament fees if they play with one of my decks and don’t win. If I never win with my decks, you shouldn’t expect to win, either.