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

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Regionals are just around the corner… and Chris has a new deck for you! Do you enjoy sending burn to the face? Would you like to drop permanents into play before the game begins? Are you a fan of the flame? Then look no further.

{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.}

Sorry, folks. The phone lines are closed and the web voting is shut down. Stop calling. Stop texting. Stop clicking on that icon. The final votes are in on Leyline Loveline. You had a choice of five Leylines around which I had to build a deck. Here’s how America (and Europe and Asia and Australia and Africa and the Arctic) voted:

Leyline of Lightning – 38.2%
Leyline of the Void – 31.4%
Leyline of Singularity – 12.9%
Leyline of the Meek – 9.1%
Leyline of Lifeforce – 8.4%
“Lay, Lady, Lay” – Bob Dylan
“Lay Down, Sally” – Eric Clapton
“Lay Your Hands on Me” – Peter Gabriel

I’ll be totally honest with you. Well, not totally. No one really wants anyone to be totally honest with them. Just try being totally honest with someone next time they ask you “Does this make me look fat?”

“No, Sally. You make it look fat.” If you give me your room number at the hospital, I’ll send chocolates.

On this, though, I will be totally honest: there was no vote. That’s right. You didn’t miss anything. I was just having fun. That’s what this game is about, right? We’re having fun right now, aren’t we? Of course, many of you aren’t. It’s only three and a half weeks to Regionals. You’re sweating over decks, trying to figure out how Dissension changes everything, and here I am talking about Leylines.

Look, Barbara, I am my own man. I’ve played a G/W Wave of Reckoning deck called Ants in the Pants at Regionals. I’ve played R/G/b Zombie Infestation/Madness deck. I’ve played a U/W Soulcatcher (Birds) deck at States. I gave a twenty-five-dollar award to someone who played G/W Centaur Glade at Regionals. I might very well play Leyline of Lightning this year. I won’t know until I test it.

First off, though, what is this Leyline of which I speak? From the Top of the Pops, you need to know that the thing can be free. If it’s in your opening hand (like any of the Leylines), you can start the game with it in play. That’s powerful stuff. I don’t know how better to can say it. It’s just raw power, like Brad Pitt in Fight Club. Starting with an extra permanent in play simply rocks and/or rolls, like Prince and Yellowcard doing a two-disc collaboration with all of the proceeds going to me. It’s so out there, it’s coming back around again.

What Leyline of Lightning does is allow you to pay an extra mana to “ping” a player anytime you play a spell. It’s not anytime you play a sorcery, or anytime you play a creature spell. Any spell. Any time. “All day and all of the night,” as my good friend Ray Davies of The Kinks might say. Spend one more mana, deal one damage to that fine, upstanding citizen sitting across from you. Or to yourself. I’m not into dealing damage to myself, although I’m sure that someone has come up with a killer deck that wins that way. I’m going to stick to the traditional “I want to damage the other guy/girl” strategy. Sorry. That’s just me. Romeo is one button-down, tow-the-line, don’t-rock-the-boat, think-inside-the-box guy. Ask anyone who knows me. They’ll tell ya “Yup, Romeo is one gray kinda guy.”

And, if you believe that, I know where you can get some dot-com stock worth millions that an exiled Nigerian king will sell you for pennies on the dollar if only you’re willing to stuff envelopes while watching TV from the comfort of your own home three hours a day twice a week after you send him your Social Security number and bank account information. It must be real! I read it on the interweb!

If you believe everything you read, better not read. – Japanese Proverb

Seriously, though, you win the game (almost always) by dealing lethal damage to your opponent before it’s dealt to you. (I know that you can deck someone for the win, but, if you were to look at how people typically win games, the vast majority are won via damage. I’d even be willing to say that the games won via decking are so few and far between as to be statistically negligible. Then, of course, someone would accuse me of showing off that I knew words like “statistically” and “negligible.” That would make me sad. So, I won’t say it.)

As far as I’m concerned, Leyline of Lightning is pointing us in one of two directions. We might want to play a lot of small creatures (a.k.a. “weenies”) with some inexpensive burn spells for backup, so as to maximize the number of times we trigger the Leyline. A second possibility – and here’s where I get to think outside the bun (We miss you, Jay!) – is to play a nearly creatureless deck with lotsa targeted burn spells, mass burn spells, and other removal that also triggers the Leyline.

(By the by, people still ask why I’m so enamored of creatureless decks when I say that I love combat. The idea of my opponents packing completely useless cards tickles me. In the case of Shard Phoenix, there’s almost nothing they can do to kill it. I can simply sacrifice it in response. They gain no life from Faith’s Fetters. They can’t steal it with Confiscate. The best they can hope to do is to remove it from the game out of my graveyard or hand.)

Before I get into designing this deck, though, let’s look at what Leyline of Lightning does and doesn’t do.

Dos and Don’ts of What the Red Leyline Does and Doesn’t Do

Leyline of Lightning does trigger whenever you cast a spell. Whatever kind of spell you play, the Leyline gives you a chance to pay one mana to do one damage to someone. (From now on, we’re going to presume it’s your opponent.) Even if the spell is countered, you do get to pay the one mana to do the damage. So, if you cast a Skeletal Vampire and it’s countered, you do get the option of paying one mana to deal one damage to your opponent. If you cast Galvanic Arc hoping to enchant your Belltower Sphinx and the Sphinx gets Dark Banished in response, casting the Arc still triggers the Leyline even though the Arc doesn’t deal its three damage because its target is gone.

The Red Leyline doesn’t target creatures. You can’t point its damage at Birds of Paradise or Frenzied Goblins in hopes of picking them off. You can only ping players. The Leyline doesn’t allow you to pay as much mana as you want in order to deal as much damage as you can to your opponent. For example, if you have nine mana available and you cast Shock, you don’t get to use the other eight mana to hit your opponent eight times. The Leyline triggers once for each spell you play giving you a chance to pay one mana one time to do one damage to your opponent.

Oh, hey, by the way, did I mention that you can have more than one in play at a time?

As my man Homer Simpson would say “Mmmmmmm… donuts…”

No, wait. He’d say “Woo hoo!” He might also say “Mmmmmmm… donuts…” apropos of nothing. He’s just that crazy.

Now, let’s say that you have all four Leylines of Lightning in play when you cast that Shock with eight mana available. Each of those Leylines trigger. Boom. Boom. Boom. Boom. You’d have four triggered abilities on the stack, one from each Leyline. As each resolves, you could pay one mana to deal one damage to your opponent.

Shock you for six.” I like the sound of that. “Wrote a song about it. Like to hear it? Here it goes.”

Mildred: What’re you rebelling against, Johnny?
Johnny: Whaddya got?
– Peggy Maley and Marlon Brando in The Wild One

Pro-Tour caliber players tend not to like damage spells that, like the Red Leyline, can only target players. They’d rather have damage sources that can target either creatures or players. Sure, Mark Herberholz ran Flames of the Blood Hand in the deck he used to win Pro Tour Honolulu. The reason he ran it, though, was that Flames of the Blood Hand is the only spell in Standard right now that prevents people from gaining life. With all of the Faith’s Fetters and Loxodon Hierarchs running around, that’s a huge swing in life totals. Eight, to be exact. Instead of your opponent going up four life from the Fetters or Hierarch, he goes down four from the FotBH. Yummy. (I’m sure that Homer would say “Mmmmmmm… donuts…” at this point.)

The thing about the Leyline of Lightning that makes it a great card is that, unlike other cards that deal damage only to a player, this one is reusable. Lava Axe may deal five damage to a player, but that’s all one Lava Axe will ever deal. How much damage can a single Leyline of Lightning deal over the course of the game. To quote Marlon Brando’s character Johnny in The Wild One, “Whaddya got?”

Adoring FRF Reading Public: So, what kinda deck ya gonna build, Romeo?
Romeo: Whadda we got?

As I said above, I figure we can go with a ton of weenie creatures or a near-creatureless control-type deck when using the Leyline of Lightning. Honestly, the weenie version doesn’t intrigue me that much right now. Next week, maybe. Just not right now. I’m kinda burned out on swinging with critters. (“Burned out.” *tee hee*)

Right now, I want to build a deck that’s just chock-full o’ burn. You know the kind I’m talking about. Everyone does it when they first start playing the game. Well, maybe not Zvi and Mike F., but everyone else. We start thinking “If the idea is to get my opponent from twenty life to zero, I’ll just build a deck with forty burn spells and twenty lands!” Then, we find out that the deck fails because we run out of burn before they run out of creatures or life. Yes, that’s the kind of deck I’m talking about. With a couple of twists. First, Leyline of Lightning is going to give us that reusable damage source that we want.

Second, I’m going to add a second reusable source of damage: Shard Phoenix. I’m actually shocked – well, you’d probably say Lava Spiked, actually – that the Shard Phoenix hasn’t made more of an impact in Standard now that it’s back in Ninth Edition.

By the way, to the folks who came up with Ninth Edition, as Comic Book Guy might say, “Best. Core Set. Ever!” Bang up job, gang. I don’t know how you’re gonna make Tenth Edition better, but I can’t wait even thought it’s still a year and a half away.

Shard Phoenix was a Pro-Tour-level card back in the olden days. (For you young whippersnappers, that’s back when gas was only $1.50 a gallon and Jessica Simpson was still, like, a virgin.) It wiped out weenie hordes just by being sacrificed. It rose from the dead like a good Phoenix should. It could even swing through the air for damage.

It still does all three. Funny how that works. Not funny “ha ha,” but funny “strange.” Of course, it’s not really strange, either, since that’s the whole point of reprinting cards in the Core Set: they do exactly what they did before. Unless the rules get changed.

The Phoenix will give us a way to make sure we have a spell to cast when our hand is empty. Red decks often run out of steam. Being able to recast something is tasty and nutritious.

At this point, you’re probably asking “Why isn’t he using Skarrgan Firebird? For one more mana, he could have a 6/6 flier for one more mana that he could return any time (as long as his opponent was dealt damage), not just during his upkeep. I don’t get it.”

The Skarrgan Firebird is indeed, as my boys in the field say, a house. However, “all” he does is fly. That’s for another version of this deck. For this version, we need the Shard Phoenix, the one who will wipe out all of those Vitu-Ghazi-spawned Saproling tokens, all of those Guildmages, all of those weenie Spirits and Goblins and Elves.

Really Neat Skarrgan FirebirdLeyline of Lightning Trick: Being the smart, good-lookin’ player you are, you probably already know this, but I’m gonna say it for the less fortunate folks out there. If you have a Leyline on the table, the Firebird will create its own Bloodthirst. Picture this. You have seven mana. You cast the Firebird using six of that mana. The Leyline triggers. Now, that triggered ability goes on the stack on top of the Firebird spell. You choose to pay the one mana when the Leyline’s ability resolves. Then, the Firebird resolves. Its Bloodthirst ability checks to see if an opponent was damaged this turn. Yup. Sure was. The Firebird comes in as a 6/6. Is a 6/6 flier for seven mana A Good Thing?

The Part in Which Craig Stevenson Asks if We’ll Get to a Decklist This Week


The Part in Which Craig Stevenson Actually Gets a Decklist

Ley Down and Die, V.1.0

20 Mountain
3 Gruul Turf
1 Forest

4 Shard Phoenix

4 Shock
4 Volcanic Hammer
4 Glacial Ray
4 Pyroclasm
4 Rain of Embers
4 Yamabushi’s Flame
4 Flames of the Blood Hand
4 Leyline of Lightning
2 Cleansing Beam
2 Blaze

Normally, when I start a deck out, I’m throwing in four of each card. Tweaks down to three, two, one, or none come later. I mean, how can I really test the effectiveness of a spell if there’s only one to start with? I may never draw it.

Having said that, I need to explain the three Gruul Turf, the lone Forest, the two Cleansing Beams, and the two Blazes. Regarding Gruul Turf, I’ve been working with the Guild lands for a while now. I never want four in a deck. Too many times, I’ve started a game with two lands in my opening hand – not a bad place to be, normally – and they’ve both been Guild lands. As the bald kid Charles “Charlie” Brown might say “Aaarrrrrggggghhhhh!” So, I know from experience that three Guild lands are plenty.

Why even have the Guild lands, though? Because we might need some Green mana down the road. Like for sideboard cards. You know, like Naturalize. In other words, for the kinds of spells that Red normally doesn’t do well. Also, the extra mana is nice in a deck like this. Leyline of Lightning screams “Feed me!”

I split the Cleansing Beam and the Blaze because I want to see how each of them feels. Both are essentially the most expensive spells in the deck. Oh, sure, you could cast the Blaze for two mana and do one damage if you really need to. Hopefully, you’ll never need to. Blaze is an X spell. You want to be able to load that thing up and throw it like Jet Li throwing punches at the bad guys.

Card on Which We’ll Keep an Eye

There are certain spells that didn’t make the cut that I’m keeping in the back of my mind for this deck. Flame Wave is top of the list. Flame Wave is an excellent piece of mass removal. Unlike other mass Red damage spells, it doesn’t hit you or your creatures. In addition, Flame Wave hits flying creatures. Normally, Red mass damage spells like Earthquake and Tremor only hit ground-dwellers. From a flavor perspective, that makes perfect sense. The earth rarely moves in such a way that birds flying overhead get hurt. Sure, sometimes you get a huge Volcanic Eruption or some other such disaster that hits them, too. Mostly, though, moving earth only hurts those of us stuck in the mud.

So, why didn’t Flame Wave make the first cut? Solely based on that casting cost. Seven mana is a lot without any acceleration, card drawing, or deck manipulation. A twenty-four-land deck should consistently get four lands by turn 4 or 5, but we shouldn’t expect to get seven by turn 7 very often. Of course, the deck could change. I could envision adding four Gruul Signets and the Flame Waves. Just not right now.

Speaking of deck manipulation, Sensei’s Divining Top is sittin’ on the bench screaming “Put me in, coach!” It’s a great way to both stack your deck (legally) and to get another spell to cast and trigger the Leyline. Just cast the Top, activate it to draw a card, cast the card, and then recast the Top when you draw it next turn. If it’s that good, it oughta be in the deck, right? Sadly, no. Without any shuffle effects, the Top’s ability to rearrange the top three cards of your library often does nothing. “Gee, three Mountains. Let me just put the Ravnica Mountain on top, then the Champions one next, and then the Seventh Ed… no, wait. I think I want the Champions one first…” If Red had a Sakura-Tribe Elder of its own, then it and the Top would definitely be in here. Sadly, it doesn’t.

Finally, I’ve got my beautiful brown eyes on Anarchist. While it does give my opponent something to target with all of that creature removal he’d be hoarding, it can bring back Volcanic Hammer, Pyroclasm, Rain of Embers, or Blaze. That gives us another spell to cast and – say it with me – trigger the Leyline of Lightning.

Over the River and Through the Woods

I fired up the old Tandy-Radio Shack TRS-80 and loaded up Magic Online. In case you’re new to my methods, I play ten games in the Casual Decks room. We tweak. We play ten more. We keep doing this until (a) the deck feels about as good as it’s going to get, (b) it’s obviously punked out, or (c) Craig says “Who do you think you are? Rizzo and his eighty-six thousand words of wisdom?!? Trim it!” If the tweaked versions do well enough in the Casual Decks room, we flesh out a sideboard and take it to the Tournament Practice room to see if it might work at a local Saturday tournament.

Game 1: Well, I guess it doesn’t get much better for this deck.  I started with a Leyline of Lightning in hand.  That meant that I started with it in play.  My opponent was playing a Boros deck.  So, everything was weenies.  I played Glacial Ray on turn three, killing his Boros Swiftblade and dealing one to him with the Leyline.  I did the same on turn 4.  On turn 5, I cast a Shard Phoenix. Since everything he had was a weenie ground-pounder, it was essentially Wrath of God when I sacrificed it.  When I cast another the next turn, he conceded.  (1-0)

Game 2: Ah, another good reason to have a couple of two-ofs: Circu, Dimir Lobotomist.  I didn’t get to start the game with a Leyline in play.  *Frowny face* However, I killed creature after creature: Dimir Guildmage; Lurking Informant; Dimir Cutpurse.  Circu, though, has three toughness.  I kept waiting for Volcanic Hammer.  Or Shock and Glacial Ray.  Or Glacial Ray and Rain of Embers.  The problem was that, the longer I waited, the more of my stuff got removed from the game.  I finally got rid of Circu when I could cast a Shard Phoenix and Rain of Embers in the same turn.  (Yes, the game went on quite a while.)  He followed that with, you guessed it, Circu, Dimir Lobotomist.  I brought back the Phoenix and drew another Rain of Embers.  He played Dimir Guildmage on his turn.  Guess what he removed from the game?  Go ahead.  Yup.  Shard Phoenix and Rain of Embers.  Bull’s eye!  (1-1)

Game 3: I usually take something like this as a sign that a deck is very good.  I had two Leylines in my opening hand.  Gooooooaaaaaal!  I kept it.  It wasn’t until after I kept it that I noticed I had only one land.  Uh oh.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, my opponent was playing a Black-White deck whose first two plays were Castigate (taking a Shard Phoenix) and Castigate (taking a Pyroclasm).  I saw my second land on turn 4.  However, through judicious use of burn, I climbed back into the game.  When my opponent was at fourteen (having gone up from ten thanks to a Faith’s Fetters), he cast Storm Herd.  Remember Cleansing Beam?  This is one of those situations that I had in mind when I put it in here.  With instant timing at the end of his turn, I cleared the board and had enough mana to use the Leylines to deal two damage to him.  On my next turn, thanks to my eighth land – it was another really long game – I cast a Shard Phoenix and left three mana up. That is, I chose not to use the triggered abilities on the Leylines.  Good thing, too, because he tried to cast a second Faith’s Fetters on a Leyline.  Okay, so, it got cast and stayed in play.  It didn’t do anything, though, because I cast Flames of the Blood Hand in response.  After that, he was out of cards, so I kept swinging with the Phoenix and casting spells, using the two Leylines to deal more damage to him.  The game ended when, with him at six, I cast Flames of the Blood Hand and used the two Leylines.  (2-1)

Game 4: Persecute is very, very bad for this deck.  Naming "Red," it takes everything but lands.  That happened this game. Yet, I still got this close to winning. The problem was a Wicked Akuba, for which I didn’t draw the answer.  It hit me for two and then sucked the final seven life off me.  One observer of this game pointed out that Sensei’s Divining Top might have been a good call. If it fetched me Shock or Pyroclasm, it definitely would have been. (2-2)

Game 5: Not much to say here.  I had a Leyline in my opening hand, land, and cheap burn spells.  My opponent was playing White Weenie.  Pyroclasm wiped everybody out the first time.  After Glorious Anthem hit, it took Shard Phoenix and Rain of Embers to do the trick.  Meanwhile, the Leyline was pecking away at his/her life.  Once we were both in topdeck mode, I brought back the Phoenix.  A few turns later, it was over. (3-2)

Game 6: Talk about interesting… my opponent this time had a Leyline of Lightning deck. The twist was that this one splashed Blue for card drawing. Cards like Telling Time and Electrolyze (especially Electrolyze) are excellent with this deck. Still, mono-Red is more consistent, and I won thanks to having more cheap spells, and thanks to reusable spells like Shard Phoenix. (4-2)

"A simple misunderstanding gets a lot less simple when you add S.W.A.T. teams and choppers." – Jason Lee as Earl, My Name is Earl

Game 7: Great. Owling Mine in the Casual Decks room. Oh, well. Ley Down and Die has to be able to beat it sometime. Why not now? Guess what. We did. Turns out you probably don’t want to be giving a deck with Leyline of Lightning extra cards. The key to winning was that I didn’t play out my hand on my turn. So, I’d have to discard down to seven at the end of my turn. At the end of his turn, I’d cast a couple of instants. Even if they were countered, I didn’t have seven cards in hand during my upkeep. I only took damage from the Ebony Owl Netsuke once. (5-2)

Game 8: You know what’s unfair? Two Leyline of Lightnings in my opening hand, along with two Mountains, two Shocks, and a Volcanic Hammer. (6-2)

Game 9: Well, here’s a nice lesson learned. The Leyline deck can indeed win without the Leyline. That’s good news. The key play in this one was to cast Flames of the Blood Hand in response to a Consume Spirit for eight. I did go down to seven, but my opponent didn’t gain eight, leaving him/her at seven also. The next turn, I ended the game with two Shocks and a Volcanic Hammer. (7-2)

Game 10: In which we learn that Evan Erwin Mono-White UrzaTron deck is a problem. That five toughness on the Genju-Plains is bad news. I killed one by sacrificing a Shard Phoenix and then casting Glacial Ray Spliced onto Glacial Ray. It was only one, though. When it was over, he was at 45 life. This is one of the reasons that the Gruul Turfs and the Forest are in here. Naturalize must come in from the sideboard. (7-3)

Okay, I think you gotta admit that 7-3 is a darn good record. Moreover, I can honestly say that those seven wins were startlingly strong. Not once in those games did I feel as if I was in danger of losing control of the game. And yet…

And yet, I’m still going to make some changes. Cleansing Beam wasn’t all that great. You probably knew it from the first time you saw it. I wasn’t so sure. Instant-timed mass damage is a pretty tasty cookie. It’s just that the deck already has lots of mass removal for weenies. Besides, Shard Phoenix is a five-mana spell that can instantly deal two damage to everything. The deck needs more that can go to the opponent’s dome. So, the Cleansing Beams and one Flames of the Blood Hand are taking a powder in favor of three Yamabushi’s Flame. (The fourth FotBH will be in the sideboard, I’m sure. There are just too many Jittes, Fetters, and Hierarchs running around like college girls on Spring Break with Girls Gone Wild cameras rolling.) That means the next version looked like this:

Ley Down and Die, V.2.0

20 Mountain
3 Gruul Turf
1 Forest

4 Shard Phoenix

4 Shock
4 Volcanic Hammer
4 Rain of Embers
4 Pyroclasm
4 Glacial Ray
4 Leyline of Lightning
3 Flames of the Blood Hand
3 Yamabushi’s Flame
2 Blaze

I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the games I played with this version. In fact, almost none. Version 2.0 was also 7-3. The most important thing I took away from this version was that Blaze wasn’t all that great. I often used it to kill some big critter. What if I just took that creature, instead, and used it myself? The games would have ended much faster. I didn’t want to run just two Threatens, though. So, I also dropped a single Rain of Embers. That turned into this version:

As you can see, no Flame Wave, no Divining Top, and no Anarchist. They just don’t seem to be needed so far. I could be wrong. We’ll see.

I can see Craig giving me the "cut" sign. So, this week, we end here. Come back next week, please, and see if Ley Down and Die crashes and burns against tourney level decks, or if it rocks the hizouse. Oh, yeah, also think about the how you’d make the sideboard. I know what I’ll be running. Let’s see if we think alike.

As usual, you’ve been a great audience. Please, welcome my closing act, Britney Spears!

Chris Romeo