From Right Field – Learning from Hour Misteaks

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I have failed you. Remember a few weeks ago how we had a vote on which card I should use in my next deck? No Rest for the Wicked won. However, Shivan Wumpus and Lord of the Pit tied for second, missing the top slot by only one vote. I promised to do decks on the two runners-up too. I’ve done a Shivan Wumpus deck. I was going to do Lord of the Pit this week. I even had a great name for the deck: Pit Boss. But I chickened out and went for an Elf deck instead.

{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. The author tries to limit the number of non-land rares as a way to limit the cost of the decks. 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 Sulfurous Springs, 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.}

I have failed you.

Remember a few weeks ago how we had a vote on which card I should use in my next deck? No Rest for the Wicked won. However, Shivan Wumpus and Lord of the Pit tied for second, missing the top slot by only one vote. I promised to do decks on the two runners-up too. I’ve done a Shivan Wumpus deck. I was going to do Lord of the Pit this week. I even had a great name for the deck: Pit Boss.

It’s not Lord of the Pit isn’t a good creature. Come on. For seven mana, you get a 7/7 flying Trampler. The problem is that I couldn’t get the deck to work well at all. You see, while Lord of the Pit is a seven-mana, flying, Trampling 7/7 Horror, he’s a seven-mana, flying, Trampling 7/7 Horror. If that was all, of course, a little mana acceleration would work wonders. Lord of the Pit has another drawback, though. He absolutely must have other creatures on his side to be any good.

Actually, that’s not precise enough. It isn’t just that he isn’t any good without other creatures on your side of the board; he’s downright horrendous. Without other critters, he takes more than a third of your life during each of your upkeeps. Giving away a third of any resource in a game of resource management is A Very Bad Thing ┢.

I tried to make him work. I really did. I even had a version of the deck that had nothing but creatures and lands. One of two things happened during each and every game I tested any version of the deck. First and least common was that I would get the Lord out with other creatures around. Each time this happened, the Lord just didn’t matter. If I had enough creatures to facilitate the Lord, I had hammered on the other guy enough with them that the Lord of the Pit was simply a “win more” condition. That is I could have won those games without the Lord. Second and most common was that I couldn’t get enough mana to get the Lord out before I lost.

Of course, there was another option. I could have tried a Reanimator deck. I had two issues with that approach. For one, Reanimator decks tend not to have many creatures in play. They like to use the Zombifies, Vigor Mortises, and Makeshift Mannequins to get that one disgustingly huge monstrosity from the graveyard into play. As I established above, losing more than a third of your life during your upkeep is not a happy-good-times-love-bunker. The other issues I had was that I just didn’t want to do it. Reanimator decks are tired to me. Besides, why would they rather reanimate Lord of the Pit than, say, Akroma, Angel of Wrath, or, really, any other monstrosity without a drawback? Anyway, *yawn*

So, I’m punting. I throw this to you folks in the forums. I want to see some actual work on this thing. I don’t want to see simple conjecture. If your sentence uses the phrase “I think,” stop. Let’s actually get some real testing. As a starting place, I’ll give you my final version of the deck:

Pit Boss, v.6

1 Auntie’s Hovel
4 Graven Cairns
1 Keldon Megaliths
1 Kher Keep
4 Mountain
7 Swamp
3 Terramorphic Expanse
2 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
2 Urza’s Factory

3 Bogardan Firefiend
3 Festering Goblin
4 Lord of the Pit
4 Nekrataal
3 Changeling Berserker
4 Firemaw Kavu
4 Mogg War Marshal
2 Mudbutton Torchrunner
4 Pit Keeper

4 Coldsteel Heart

I’m not going to waste our time/bandwidth/word count explaining how I got to those numbers. After all, that is how entire articles are written, and I’ve already told you I’m not doing this article on that deck. Suffice it to say, this is the sixth version.

I thought about making it Black and Green since Green has so many Elf-token makers right now. Then, as I started thinking more, I decided that I wanted to make my own Elf deck.

The Part on the Show Where You Moan and Groan

Yes, everyone’s done their own Elf deck now that Lorwyn’s out. Everyone except me, that is. Why would I want to, though? It’s not like Elves haven’t already made waves. Heck, Conrad Jackson won the Florida State Championship with an Elf deck. The answer is simple. I can do it cheaper. There are rares all over most Elf decks. Wren’s Run Packmaster. Masked Admirers. Garuuk Freakin’ Wildspeaker. Me, I’m gonna do it with only one slot of main deck rares, and even that is a real cheap-o from the Timeshifted subset. Before I get to the “final” version of the deck, let me tell about some stumbles and bumbles I had along the way.

Stumbling Block #1 – Elvish Champion calls like a Siren: If you’re playing Elves, you gotta use the Champion, right? That’s what I thought, too. I kept running into a lot of spells that took him out at the most inopportune times. Here I was, swinging for what I thought was an unblockable (thanks to the Forestwalking) amount of lethal damage, and there would go my Champion. Along with it, of course, went my ability to just walk through the enemy’s defenses. There was also the attendant loss of the +1/+1 bonus to all of the other Elves. Ugh. So, the Champion was out. That didn’t mean he wouldn’t be good coming in from the sideboard against certain decks. I just found Imperious Perfect to be much better. You don’t get the Forestwalking, but you get an ability that gives you more warm bodies instead. I like that much more.

Stumbling Block #2 – Removal? What removal?: Elves are notoriously lacking in any sort of removal for the other guy’s creatures, unless those creatures are fliers. This is often why you see Green teamed with Red and Black. Or, in Mr. Jackson’s case, White (for Oblivion Ring). I became quite fond of Moonglove Extract. It could be that it won me a ton of draft games. It could be that it’s colorless and can hit players, too. It could be that my shoes were too tight. Whatever it was, I went with that sweet, little, common artifact, and I haven’t changed it out in any version.

Stumbling Block #3 – Elf decks like mana acceleration, too: I resisted adding Llanowar Elves or Boreal Druid for several versions. Why would a deck running mostly two-mana spells want or need mana acceleration? Turns out they like to cast two spells a turn sometimes. Or cast a spell and have mana for an ability. Or cast a spell and leave mana up for some sort of trick.

Stumbling Block #4 – Elvish Harbinger is actually too slow: When you look at Lorwyn for Elves, the Harbinger sticks out like a drag queen’s Adam’s Apple. If you’re anything like me – heaven forbid – you threw four Harbingers in like you were on autopilot. I hated her. She’d come down on turn 3 (or two in later versions), taunting me with the card I’d get on the next turn. Meanwhile, my opponents would spend three mana to do things like cast Keldon Marauders and Tarfire, or they’d cast Nameless Inversion and Knucklebone Witch. You know, silly things like that. (For a Green Harbinger, Treefolk Harbinger is much better. It holds the ground for a couple of turns, gets a Treefolk quickly, and can attack. It needs help, but it can attack.)

I went through eight versions of a Lorwyn-based Elf deck before settling on this:

We Are Nothing but the Choices We Make

Avoid Fate and Fistful of Force essentially serve the same purpose in the deck: to stave off spells that kill your creatures. Of course, they don’t do exactly the same thing. Both can save one of your creatures from, say, Nameless Inversion. Only Avoid Fate can stop Gelid Shackles or Pacifism. Fistful of Force is the only one that can save your guys from Rift Bolt. Neither does anything against Oblivion Ring or Damnation. Don’t count on the Clash bonus on the Fistful of Force. If it happens, great. If not, your creature is still bigger, and you get to decide what to do with that card that came off of the top of your deck. Don’t kid yourself, though. You will win quite a few Clashes. First off, you’re not nearly as likely to hit a land as most other decks. This deck also seven four-mana cards. That’s gonna win you more than a couple of Clashed.

Yes, I know that five of the lands in the deck come into play tapped. It was only a problem in one game. That opening hand didn’t have a Forest to go with my mana Elf. Other than that, I’ve been fine with it. If you want, though, you can go with eighteen Forests and the two Treetop Villages or even twenty Forests. Try it out for yourself.

The surprise MVP of the deck has been Briarhorn. This was, like Moonglove Extract, a card that grabbed me because of what it did in drafts. It’s shown its worth in Constructed, too. No one expects to see a 6/6 blocker come down Instantly when an opponent has four mana open, and rightfully so. As far as I can tell, this is the only creature in Standard that can do such a thing. It can also be a surprise Giant Growth plus Hill Giant if your opponent does something unusual to your attacker. Finally, for a simple 1G, you can also Evoke the guy and get the +3/+3 benefit. The only thing I’ve got against the guy is that he isn’t an Elf. Oh well. There is not a thing wrong with him as he is.

Essence Warden could easily have been more mana bugs. I didn’t need more mana bugs. What I wanted was a way to stay just enough ahead of the other guy to be a bit reckless. As with the Knight of Meadowgrain, about which I wrote a couple of weeks ago, the Essence Warden is either going to gain you enough life to give you that cushion, or it’s going to draw a kill spell that you don’t want pointed at another creature (or at you, in the case of a burn spell).

Wren’s Run Vanquisher needs no justification for being in here.

Playing the Deck

For those of you who’ve been around for a while, there’s nothing tricky to playing the deck. This part is really for the newest players. The biggest pitfall that you’re going to face is overextending. That happens when you play out creatures that you don’t need to play. Your opponent then follows up with some board-clearing spell like Wrath of God or Molten Disaster, and you can’t recover because you have no creatures in hand. Try to resist the urge to show how many dudes you can get out on the board. You get no extra points for style, and it doesn’t matter if your opponent’s final life total is zero or negative sixteen.

Still, you want to hit as hard and as fast as you can. A nice first couple of turns looks like this. On your first turn, you drop a Forest and a mana Elf. On your second turn, you drop a second Forest and then cast Wren’s Run Vanquisher and another one-mana Elf. You should be swinging for serious damage on the third turn with your opponent on their heels.

Oh, by the way, since it seems like every deck it squeezing in Green for that Tarmogoyf guy, don’t forget that both the Vanquisher and the Thornweald Archer have Deathtouch. If either one damages the T-Goyf, it dies. That’s nice.

The best piece of advice I can give you is to use Fistful of Force over Avoid Fate whenever you can. Avoid Fate can save a 2/1 or 3/2 from Lightning Axe; Fistful of Force can’t (unless you win the Clash). Moreover, Avoid Fate keeps those pesky Pacifism-type Auras away. Save Avoid Fate unless you have no choice. You’ll be glad you did.

Basically, you are going to pound your opponent into submission. You have enough tricks to pretty much attack each and every turn. Hammer time, as it were.

As for sideboarding, a couple of slots seem pretty self-explanatory. Krosan Grip is for the Artifacts and Enchantments that you need to get rid of, while Riftsweeper is for those decks that rely on Suspend cards. I bring in the Elvish Champion against other Green decks, not so much for the +1/+1 but for the Forestwalking. The fourth Essence Warden comes in against Red decks to gain that crucial life. Hail Storm is for those weenies decks that might be as fast as this one. Sometimes, it even comes in against Red decks along with the other Warden. Be careful with the Hail Storm, though. It can wipe out a bunch of your guys, too. It helps to hold a Fistful of Force or Briarhorn to save that one guy that you really need to keep around if Hail Storm would kill it.

That’s pretty much it for the cheap Elves deck. I can’t tell you exactly what’s coming next week because I have options.

As usual, you’ve been a great audience. So great, in fact, that I have a nice postscript for you.

Chris Romeo

P.S. Why didn’t I know about this layout of Christina Aguilera in GQ? Oh, well. I do now, and that’s what counts.

P.P.S. As you might know if you’ve read my pieces around this time of the year, I love my Christmas music. You can find my previous recommendations for aural holiday cheer here and here. This year, I’d like to add:

Michael Buble – Let It Snow: They used to call Harry Connick, Jr., the next Frank Sinatra. I never agreed. Connick is definitely awesome, but, vocally, was closer to Dean Martin than Sinatra. Buble is heir to the Sinatra mantle. If you like energetic jazzy vocals, this guy is for you.

Chris Isaak – Christmas: If you only know Isaak from his lone Top 40 hit “Wicked Game,” you’ve deprived yourself of one of America’s best songwriters and most unusual vocal talents. Why not start with an album that’s almost all songs that you already know? Once those grab you, you’ll enjoy the five new ones by Isaak.

Ella Fitzgerald – Ella Wishes You a Merry Christmas: For me, soulful female vocals start with Ella. I don’t think I’m taking anything away from Aretha Franklin to say that, if there was no Ella, there might not be any Aretha. Sadly, too many people think Ella is only for those long-haired jazz weirdos. Trust me when I say that she’s for anyone who like soul and passion.

Johnny Mathis – The Christmas Music of Johnny Mathis: A Personal Collection: Mathis always reminded me of Hank Aaron in that each did what he did so well and so (apparently) effortlessly that they seemed to be overshadowed by flashier contemporaries. If you like Tony Bennett, Harry Connick, and James Taylor, you owe it to yourself to check this one out.

Dean Martin – Christmas with Dino: This is a new one for me this year, and I’m so very glad I got it. Dean Martin became a parody of himself. By the end of his career, he was better known as a drunk (“I shook hands with Pat Boone once, and my whole right side sobered up.”) or as Jerry Lewis’ straight man. That’s sad because he was a fantastic vocalist. He could be smooth as glass or tough as gravel. If you like Sinatra or Tony Bennett, get this one.

That’s it for now. Hopefully, since it’s not even December yet, I gave you plenty of time to pick up at least one of these. — Chris