From Right Field: Ley-tely, I Haven’t Been Feeling Myself, Part 2

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Romeo continues his exploration of the viability of his mono-Red Leyline deck. After tearing up the Casual Room, can it replicate the results in the Tournament Practice arena?

{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.}

“Really? A Leyline deck? And not the Blue Leyline? You’re kidding, right?”

“You didn’t do that well with Leyline of Lightning. I don’t believe it. Even in the Casual Room, you weren’t 14-6 in your last twenty games.”

“That is the coolest deck you’ve ever written about. I can’t wait to see the sideboard. I’m gonna play it this weekend.”

In case you missed last week, these folks are talking about a deck I started looking into as a possible contestant for my entry into Regionals on May 20th. It’s a nearly creatureless deck built around Leyline of Lightning. Yes, really. And it really did go 14-6 over its last twenty games in the Casual Decks room on MTGO.

I was incredulous, too. I can’t remember the last time I came up with a deck that was that solid that quickly. Of course, part of the success of the deck is surely because it’s wacky enough that the opposing decks just weren’t ready for it. For example, if they weren’t running maindeck Enchantment kill, Leyline of Lightning was probably going to be bad news for them.

Or would it? I mean, Leyline of Lightning only hits players. That’s not supposed to be very good. Is it? I dunno. If I was that smart, I’d be qualified for the Pro Tour. Maybe. I dunno. See? I’m not even good enough to tell how good I’d have to be to qualify as a Pro Tour Playa. The only way that I could tell if the deck was good enough for me to waste my time on… if the deck was good enough for me on which to waste my time… on which it was time enough for me to waste good… crud. Let me start over. The only was I could tell if I should waste thirteen hours at Regionals playing this deck was to test it with a sideboard. So, I added one.

I know that I’m going to need to justify some of those choices, especially since it takes the deck up to eleven rares total. Eleven rares?! What was I thinking?!

Naturalize – Red can’t deal with Enchantments. Period. Ivory Mask stops the Leyline. Worship keeps them alive. Hondens… *shudder*. Zur’s Weirding… *double shudder*.

Shattering Spree – “But you already have Naturalize.” While those can indeed be used on Artifacts, they’re in here for Enchantments. Shattering Spree is for use against decks like Owling Mine that load up on those pesky Artifacts. For RRR, the Spree allows you to kill two Ebony Owl Netsukes and a Howling Mine, for example. And because each copy is on the stack independently, your opponent would need three counterspells to counter all three. Boo-ya!

Boiling Seas – For the (duh) Island-based decks. It hits Steam Vents, too. Hopefully, I can tempt the Wildfire decks into tapping out early, say for Compulsive Research, so that I can cast this. I have to remind myself, though, that these don’t come in against Owling Mine even though OM decks run Islands. Shattering Spree is for Owling Mine. Boiling Seas is for the rest.

Flowstone Slide – This deck cannot do anything about Paladin en-Vec. Nothing. Except that it can side in Flowstone Slide. Yes, kids, the Slide can kill the Paladin. The Paladin has Protection from Red. That means Red sources don’t damage it, and it can’t be targeted by Red spells or abilities. Flowstone Slide is neither damage nor targeted. It can also wipe out hordes of other weenies, too.

I had mentioned last week that I was probably going to put a fourth Flames of the Blood Hand in the sideboard to combat the Loxodon Hierarchs, Faith’s Fetters, and Kokushos of the world. I probably should, but I can’t seem to find a sideboard slot that I’m willing to cut down before I test this. As I said, the deck has zero defense for Enchantments, so the Naturalize is a natural four-of. Owling Mine decks are a disaster, so the Spree stays at four. Blue decks do actually run countermagic. Thus, Boiling Seas must be at four in an effort to sneak one through the counterspells. Finally, the mass removal of the Slide is the kind of thing that you really, really want to get. Dropping it to two copies with no way to fetch it means that you have only one-in-thirty cards that can kill Paladin en-Vec. Where would the FotBH go?

The Eleven Rares Conundrum

I had no problems suggesting the rares for this deck, even though the total number of rares ended up being right up against my limit. Why? Because the ones the deck is using are cheap cheap cheap. As of this writing, Leyline of Lightning is $1.50 each on this here site here, Ninth Edition Shard Phoenixes are $3.50 each, and the Slide is a buck. That’s only $23 for rares. What a bargain! To put in another way, that’s about fitty cent mo’ than buying two precons, like the two I used in the Orzhov and Gruul experiments. You can’t beat that deal with a stick!

Of course, Pyroclasm and Boiling Seas are pretty expensive uncommons. In fact, the B.S. costs as much as the Flowstone Slide, while Pyroclasm is between two and three bucks each, depending on which version you buy from this here site here.

Do you want my advice? (I’m gonna presume “Yes” since you’re spending a small part of what’s left of your life reading this.) My advice is this: if you like playing Red, you should have four Pyroclasms in your collection. Even if you never play this particular deck, you should have four Pyroclasms. (Of course, I think that you should have four copies of each common and uncommon for Ninth Edition, just in case. That’s just how I am.)

In fact, maybe we can get Pete to put some of those one hundred-plus Eighth Edition Pyroclasms that he has in stock on one of those new SCG Deal of the Day thingies. (You have been noticing those, haven’t you?) Can’t hurt to ask him.


(Funny story about these last few paragraphs. My word processing program doesn’t recognize “Pyroclasms,” but it does recognize “Pyroclams.” Don’t ask me why. I don’t know. Good thing I don’t simply rely on spellcheck, though, or you’d be left wondering about some new Un-card featuring bivalve arsonists.)

All right, enough chitchat. You want to know if this is good enough to entice me to play it at Regionals. Let’s see.

Matches 1 through 4: I know what you’re thinking. “Romeo’s back on the pancakes, isn’t he? What’s with bunching all of this stuff up like the tightie whities in an atomic wedgie?”

You’re not going to believe this. I know that I didn’t. I mean, I was truly stunned, dumbfounded, astonished, surprised, and whatever other words my thesaurus could find. Every one of the first four decks that I faced in the Tournament Practice room was some sort of Blue-Red Land Destruction/Wildfire/Magnivore/Bounce-Your-Land deck. Every. Single. One.

I went 0-4 in the matches, 1-8 in games. (One opponent missed his/her fourth land drop in game 2, and I was able to resolve a Boiling Seas to wipe out his/her two Islands and one Steam Vents.)

This left me in a bit of a pickle. Do I presume this is a fluke and fight through whatever decks come my way, or do I change the deck? I really didn’t want to advertise for Standard – Testing a Potential Tournament Dec, but Don’t Bring Land Destruction. If LD was going to be that prevalent in the real world, I needed to know that.

But the first four in a row? Well, maybe. So, I did some reading on this here site here. A lot of folks seem to think that the U/R LD decks won’t hang around in a tournament setting. I don’t fully understand the reasoning. It seems that they expect three-toughness, two-mana creatures to rule, and those creatures hit before the first land destruction spells can hit. I haven’t found that to be true, though. The U/R decks can bounce lands on turn 2. That means they can prevent any creature from hitting. Moreover, Wildfire will wipe out even X/3 guys.

Other folks decided that U/R LD was here to stay thanks to a couple of things. First, the color wigginess of Blue and Red is no longer a problem. You can run four Steam Vents, four Shivan Reef, even a couple Izzet Boilerworks and Signets. Colors won’t be a problem. Moreover, by mixing Blue with Red, the LD decks have solved the “Good land destruction doesn’t start until turn 3” problem. With Boomerang and Eye of Nowhere, the LD decks have morphed from “Land Destruction” to “Land Denial.”

Given what I’d been through in the first four matches and what I’d read, I was of the mind that the U/R LD decks will indeed show up in force at tournaments, virtual and real. What should I do? The first thing that crossed my mind was to run some Signets. Then, I ran back through those first four matches. I was without any land way too much for the Signets to be useful. I needed mana that didn’t require mana. That meant adding Fellwar Stone. What to take out, though?

I’m sure most of you are saying, “Just get rid of Rain of Embers. That card’s only good in Limited, and even then, it’s iffy.” Wrong. Game after game that I’ve played with this deck shows how good RoE is. It wipes out all of those Evangel-generated Saproling tokens and Meloku-spawned Illusion tokens. It also combines with Pyroclasm to kill a bunch of X/3 stuff. No, it can’t go; it’s been too useful in testing.

Pyroclasm? Nuh-uh. Volcanic Hammer? No way, Josie. Leyline of Lightning? Oh, come on.

As I ran through the list, the only good place to start was to cut the Glacial Rays, and I really didn’t like that too much. The G-Ray is an instant and deals as much damage as it costs, even when Spliced. The thing was something had to go to fit in the Stone for testing. The Glacial Rays, as much as I liked them, were the best choice. This was no time for thinking with my heart. This was Head-Thinking Time ™.

Matches 5 through 8: One thing I’ve always thought to be cool about the United States is how we’re filled with conspiracy theorists, mostly because we’ve got a heritage of it. Heck, we were founded by conspiracy theorists. The Founding Fathers were a bunch of rich, landed White guys who were just sure that the big bad King of England was going to tax them without representation, throw them in jail without due process, take their land and personal property without recompense. I mean, real paranoid types.

So, when I went 0-4 (1-8) in these four matches and they were all against Heartbeat of Spring decks – yes, really – I started wondering: was there a conspiracy against me? Did the folks in the Tournament Practice room who know each other send around IMs that said “Just played against RightField. He’s got a crummy Leyling of Lightning deck. Jump on his table if you want an easy win with your Heartbeat deck.”

Now, that’s a tad paranoid, even for me. More likely what happened was this: people are testing the two toughest decks in Standard so that they can learn how they work for upcoming tournaments, be they in real life or online.

The real problem that it caused me was trying to figure out what to do about this for Regionals. On the one hand, I like the deck. It’s fun. It’s interesting. People are often at a loss as to what to do against it. It tends to beat the pudding out of creature-based decks. Regionals is typically about beatdown, too.

Yeah, I know that combo and control decks have had great Top 8 showings at Regionals in the past. I, of course, have no Delusions of Grandeur. I don’t expect to be playing in the Top 8, even if I take The Format’s Best Deck. I’m just not good enough. And there will be tons of folks just like me at Regionals. Joe Scrub doesn’t want to play a deck that takes a long time to win or lose. That leaves no time between rounds, and it makes for a long day. Add in the fact that the Heartbeat deck can be tricky to play, and the vast majority will say “Nay,” opting instead to swing with the likes of Watchwolf, Keiga, and Nezumi Graverobber. Those are the folks that I’d likely be playing against most of my day.

Since that’s most likely the case, I’m fine with the way that the deck is currently running. If I lose outright to U/R Wildfire and Heartbeat, so be it. I can just hope I won’t see it much.

That’s not really fair to you guys, though. What if you wanted to play this deck in a local tourney, or even Regionals, but in a place where you’ll face those two decks a lot? I owed it to you – the folks who make it possible for me to do this – to work on making this strong against U/R Wildfire and Heartbeat of Spring.

Drop It like It’s Hot

I kinda got it to work. I say “kinda” because I had to step way outside of From Right Field’s budget and rare restrictions. You see, the best way to be able to beat both U/R Wildfire and Heartbeat is to splash Blue for countermagic. That means Steam Vents and Shivan Reefs, and those are pretty expensive. As I’ve said before, I think everyone who plays this game should budget first and foremost for any of the multi-lands that they can. (I recently got my fourth Overgrown Tomb followed a couple of weeks later by my fourth Sacred Foundry!) I know that it’s tough to do. Often, you have to forgo buying other cards first. Remember this, though: for every two packs of cards that you skip buying at the local Mal-Wart (“Your Home for Cheap Crap Made Overseas!”), you can buy a Karplusan Forest from StarCityGames.com. It’s only about three and a half packs to get a Shivan Reef. I know that you have to set aside considerably more for Stomping Grounds and Steam Vents. You know what? If you want your two-color decks to be consistent, you do it.

At first, I tried to stick with the G/R version, but it just wouldn’t work. Sure, I could add a couple of Karplusan Forests and maindeck the Naturalizes. Those kinda helped against the Heartbeat deck. I specifically went looking for those two decks, and had no trouble finding people who had them. Naturalize wasn’t great against either one. Sure, I surprised one Heartbeat deck with it. He tapped out to play a Heartbeat, and I killed it. Game three, s/he was ready for it with Muddle the Mixture. Against U/R Wildfire, though, it did nothing except get countered when it targeted a Signet.

That’s when I looked at adding Bottled Cloister. Hey, I could get more cards. That had to help against U/R especially, right? Wrong. I didn’t get enough mana to cast the Cloister.

I played scores more games against those two decks. I tried B/R for discard. That seemed better. It often clogged my hand with dead cards, but at least I could cast them, knowing I’d get nothing, and trigger a Leyline or two. Still, those two decks were tearing up my little Leyline deck. I didn’t see White being any better against those two, other than being able to drop Sacred Ground against U/R Wildfire. That’s what led me to Blue.

Warning: Too Many Rares to Be in This Column!

FYI, Remand will become Spell Snare once Dissension is Constructed legal. As great as Remand’s been these past few months, Spell Snare will be better. Spell Snare is, obviously, very narrow, but it hits a ton of what’s been plaguing us lately. Remand draws a card, but it only delays the inevitable. The trade-off, then, comes later in the game. When someone casts a big spell, Spell Snare can’t even target it while Remand can. Smaller spells, though, sneak back through against Remand. Unless the Remand draws you a Hinder, your opponent knows that you got nothing. It’s quite disheartening to see Umezawa’s Jitte cast by someone who has six more mana open. You know that they’re just gonna drop it again, and you both know that it’s gonna hit. Ugh.

On the flip side, Remand gives you more time to deal with bigger spells. A Yosei on turn nine or ten goes back to sit out until the next turn. That gives you two more cards that might deal with it (whatever’s drawn off of Remand and your next draw). Spell Snare can’t even target Yosei.

With all that in my Pro and Con baskets, I decided that Spell Snare should be in the deck come May 20th.

For the time being, though, we have Remand, and that’s still pretty darn good.

As I suspected, Sensei’s Divining Top is just humongous in this deck. When there’s nothing but land to draw, the Top ensures that I actually draw a spell (the Top itself) to cast, instead. It may not seem like much, but that one point of damage per turn after the opponent’s offense has been wiped out can end the game.

Volcanic Hammer made the cut over Shock simply because so many creatures with a toughness of three populate the scene now. To paraphrase the “in” slogan for aging Gen X-ers, three is the new two.

“Are You a Good Witch or a Bad Witch?” – Glinda, The Wizard of Oz

I wish I had better news for you. I truly hoped beyond reason, it turns out, that the mono-Red (cheap) Leyline deck would work out as one to take on the entire field. It didn’t. That, of course, may not be a bad thing after all. The Standard field right now has tons of viable decks. When that’s not true, like when Goblins or Affinity rule the day, tournaments become very boring.

My fear, though, is that this will turn out to be true. U/R Wildfire and Heartbeat are almost impossible to beat without creating a deck that is simply tuned to beat those two. A deck like that, though, historically loses to all the other decks. Which means people won’t play it unless they’re sure that the vast majority of decks at their tournament will be one of the two top decks. That’s easier to predict on the Pro Tour Level. Check out Zvi’s The Solution from a few years ago. He knew that pretty much everyone would be running Red. By knowing that, he knew that an anti-Red deck would ruin the field… but only if the field did what it was “supposed to do.” Since the pros acted predictably, Zvi’s deck was, indeed, The Solution.

You and I don’t have that luxury at Regionals. Everyone’s invited. Who knows what they’ll bring… Chances are that it will be a creature-based deck. If so, you should feel pretty good about running the R/g Leyline deck. Obviously, if you can afford it, you want to put Karplusan Forests and Stomping Grounds in here. If not, no big deal. It was running fine the way it was listed.

Thanks for sticking with me on this. Next week, an another fun mono-colored deck. This time, with lotsa creatures!

Chris Romeo