From Right Field: Lickety Split’s A Series of Unfortunate Decks

This week Chris takes a crack at a reader request to make a competitive Standard deck for an upcoming all-commons tournament at a local store. Chirs found himself so inspired by the limitations that he created a bevy of decks for those of you on a budget to work with.

{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 Wrath of God, City of Brass, or Birds of Paradise. The decks are also tested by the author, who isn’t very good at playing Magic. His playtest partners, however, are excellent. 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.}

A couple of weeks ago, I got this e-mail. (I’ve cleaned up the spelling and grammar, but that’s it. I hate when people print stuff “as is” to display some sort of “journalistic integrity.” The real reason they do that is to show how badly the other person spells and punctuates while simultaneously making themselves feel superior. That’s simply disrespectful.)

Dear Mr. Romeo,

I know you probably get a lot of requests like this. If you don’t answer, I’ll understand. My local card shop is having a special tournament next Saturday morning before the big afternoon tournament. It’s not sanctioned, but there will be prizes. I’ve never been able to win any prizes before because I don’t have much money to buy cards and don’t have anything that anyone wants to trade for. The reason that I’m excited about this tournament is that we can’t use anything but commons, and the shop owner said that, if a lot of folks show up, they’ll do more like it.

There aren’t many restrictions except that the cards have to be commons from the same card sets that are legal in Standard. I don’t want to play Affinity unless I have to. I figured that this would be right up your alley. Can you help?

[Name withheld by request]

My first reaction was to send back an e-mail that said, yes, I do get a lot of requests to help with decks, although, given my sub-1700 rating, I don’t know why anyone would want my help. Due to my workload and writing responsibilities, since I can’t help everyone, I’ve started a policy of not helping anyone. In fact, I did send that e-mail. Problem was the fire had been kindled, lit, and stoked. I knew I’d be thinking about all-common decks. If I didn’t feed that muse, I was going to have another fit of insomnia. I sent second e-mail that said, essentially, I’d see what I could do.* However, given the short amount of time (this was Tuesday; the tourney was a week from that Saturday), I’d only be able to give some ideas, none of which I’d be able to test. (I turned out to be a liar here. I tested a bunch of decks many times.) S/he said that was okay. So, I said that I’d work up some stuff and send it on. S/he could decide what s/he wanted to play based on how the decks looked.

I knew I was going to have fun doing this. More fun even than doing a Victoria’s Secret swimsuit shoot. (Not really.) Normally, my card pool is restricted by budget. I could always squeeze a few rares into them, though. (“Sometimes, you even used good ones!” Ha ha. Very funny.) There was always room for plenty of uncommons, too. These new restrictions were very tight, and that was inspiring. It seems counterintuitive, but often restrictions actually get a writer’s creative juices flowing even more. I’m sure that Ted, being an editor, can vouch for the fact that sometimes he can’t get people to write articles when they have to come up with ideas all on their own. But if he says, “I want a piece on this subject from this angle,” that person will have 7500 words in Ted’s inbox in three days. With my mind racing, I dug in.

My next reaction was “s/he should play Affinity.” Why? It’s nearly all commons anyway. It loses some mana smoothing in the Aether Vial and Glimmervoid and a way to combo out the opponent with Ravager. Of course, other decks lose even more. (Some, like Tooth and Nail, get completely neutered.) Take a look at a random Affinity deck that did well at States/Champs. This is Jia Wu’s 2004 Alaska Champs winning deck. I “randomly” picked it by taking the first Affinity deck that showed up in StarCityGames.com list of States decks. If you take all of the uncommons and rares out of Jia’s maindeck, you’re left with:

14 Lands

2 Great Furnace

4 Seat of the Synod

4 Tree of Tales

4 Vault of Whispers

15 Creatures

4 Disciple of the Vault

4 Arcbound Worker

4 Frogmite

3 Myr Enforcer

13 Spells

4 Thoughtcast

2 Welding Jar

4 Chromatic Sphere

3 Cranial Plating

That’s forty-two cards. In other words, taking out the uncommons and rares leaves this deck only eighteen cards short of a full sixty. What should we add for the other eighteen? First, we need to get back up to twenty lands. That’s easily solved by adding the other two Great Furnaces and four Darksteel Citadels. Second, we have to go up to four Myr Enforcers and add four Somber Hoverguards. It’s nice to bash face, but simply evading the blockers is even better. That leaves us seven spells short. If two Welding Jars are good, then four are, like, um, two better. In addition, with no Ravager, it’s nice to have some artifacts like the Jar and the Sphere that can simply be sacrificed on their own. Also, there’s no need to stop at three Cranial Platings. Let’s make it four.

This leaves us at fifty-six, only four cards short. We were going on the theory is that, in a tournament like this, the most common deck will be Affinity. I thought about four Electrostatic Bolts or Naturalizes – other possibilities like Echoing Ruin, Override, Echoing Truth, or Rend Flesh might be good sideboard options, but the maindeck screams for E-Bolts. E-Bolt kills some non-artifact creatures; Naturalize won’t. Another idea for those last four slots or even sideboard mirror-match tech would be Scale of Chiss-Goria. With the Scale on board, your Frogmites would beat theirs while your Enforcers would beat theirs. Plus, it can be dropped with instant timing. Still, this is an aggressive deck. I’d rather just blow blockers away. The final version would be:

All-Common Affinity

20 Lands

4 Great Furnace

4 Seat of the Synod

4 Tree of Tales

4 Vault of Whispers

4 Darksteel Citadel

20 Creatures

4 Disciple of the Vault

4 Arcbound Worker

4 Frogmite

4 Myr Enforcer

4 Somber Hoverguard

20 Spells

4 Thoughtcast

4 Welding Jar

4 Chromatic Sphere

4 Cranial Plating

4 Electrostatic Bolt

Of course, s/he said that s/he didn’t want to play Affinity. The reason for this exercise was to figure out what s/he’d be up against for testing purposes. No need to test against “real” Affinity if “real” Affinity wouldn’t be allowed. We also needed to ask what other championship decks could be “ported” to a commons-only format? Obviously, Tooth and Nail couldn’t even come close. Nearly all of the big finishers – Platinum Angel, Darksteel Colossus, Sundering Titan, Kiki-Jiki, Triskelion, Mephidross Vampire, et al – are rares. In addition, Eternal Witness, Solemn Speedbump, and Viridian Shaman are all uncommons or rares.

Oh, yeah, by the way, almost forgot, the card that the friggin’ deck’s named for is a rare. No way, does this deck get reconfigured for an all-common tourney.

How about Green/Black Control? Even though some changes could be made, since the deck utilizes Kokusho, Death Cloud, and Rude Awakening as win conditions, it’s unlikely that this deck could be ported, either. However, a different G/B Control deck could be made, couldn’t it?

Mono-Red Control would be an interesting animal. While the versions that did well at Champs featured at a minimum Arc-Slogger and often added Slith Firewalker, Solemn Speedbump, and Kumano, Master Yamabushi, Red has plenty of common burn and beef that could possibly fill in the blanks. Speaking of Red, Red/Green Land destruction could also show up. What the heck, I had to figure out an all-common White Skies deck, too.

Where to Begin . . . Where to Begin . . .: Mono-Black

What this all meant was that I had to start with a mono-Blue deck. Why do I do this to myself? I know that a mono-Blue deck has to stink. Maybe it’s my innate masochism. Part of me rationalized it this way. If Affinity would be dominant, a deck that could stop a second-turn Ravager with Annul had be good.

I actually built this deck and played it some online. I’m not going to bore you with the details because it failed miserably. No matter what I did, nothing seemed to help. The biggest problem was the lack of good, common creatures with which to win. When I found myself adding Coastal Hornclaw, I knew I was sunk.

I thought about adding Black. The first deck with which I ever won a tourney was Blue and Black. So, I have a soft spot in my heart for those colors. This is when it struck me that there was no reliable way for an all-common, non-Green Standard deck to run two colors unless it also used Pentad Prism and Darksteel Ingot. I quickly gave up on Blue and Black, too.

Mono-Black, however, that was a different story.

Given the fact that none of the decks in this tourney would have uncommons or rares, there wouldn’t be any fear of combo-type decks (e.g., no March of the Machines). No one would be attacking with lands a la Rude Awakening or Natural Affinity. It was going to be death by combat damage (from actual creatures) and direct damage. Of course, one of the biggest problems that mono-Black decks often face is “stupid” enchantments like Circle of Protection: Black and Ivory Mask. Nothing stops a twenty-point Consume Spirit like either of those. Guess what, though? Wizards, in their wisdom – hmmmm . . . I wonder if those words are related . . . – made the COP’s uncommon in Eighth Edition. As Jessica Simpson’s wiser, older brother Homer might say, “Woo-hoo!” [There was cheesecake in there that I sooo can’t link to on this site, but thanks for the view, Chris. – Knut, ipplenay essicajay, you know what I aysay?] In other words, mono-Black need not fear COP: Black.

All-Common Mono-Black

25 Lands

21 Swamp

4 Darksteel Citadel

8 Creatures

4 Ravenous Rats

4 Gravedigger / Drudge Skeletons / Grimclaw Bats / Wicked Akuba / Man I Wish Twisted Abomination Was Still Standard-Legal

27 Other Spells

4 Distress

4 Lose Hope

4 Echoing Decay

4 Dark Banishing

4 Rend Flesh

4 Consume Spirit

3 Darksteel Pendant

Given that this deck was going to have Consume Spirit, it had to have more than the usual number of lands. Why are there four Darksteel Citadels? In addition to Affinity, I expected that there would be a bunch of land destruction decks floating around this tournament. (More on those later.) Best to have something that can’t be killed. Besides, it didn’t hurt the deck’s ability to cast anything unless I got that awful two-Citadel, one-Swamp hand with no more Swamps in the next few draws.

For decks like this, I love the Darksteel Pendant. There’s not a decent common way for Black to draw cards. However, the Pendant helps make the quality of your draws better. I considered Arcane Spyglass, but there’s a-gonna be a whole lotta artifact hate at this thing. No need to walk into Splash Damage ™. That makes the Pendant better since it’s indestructible.

Instead of making all of the other support spells creature kill, I wanted some discard. All good mono-Black decks seem to have some of that. Ravenous Rats was a given. The sorcery slot was a bit more difficult. Wrench Mind gets two cards . . . if they don’t have a lot of artifacts in hand. Whether they have a lot of artifacts in hand or not, it’s their choice. Thus, Wrench Mind gets either one card of their choice or two cards of their choice. Distress only gets one, but it’s my choice. The presumption for this tourney is that Affinity would be the most prevalent deck. Chances are Wrench Mind will only get me one card. If I’m only gonna get one card, I’m gonna make it my choice. Distress it was.

The only other tough decision was the other creature slot. As you can see, I sent the deck on without making a firm decision on that front. Gravedigger has excellent synergy with the Rats. The Rats blocks and dies. Later it comes back to yank the only card they have left in their hand. Ravenous Rats tends to be better later in the game. Drudge Skeletons is the eternal blocker. Grimclaw Bats has evasion and can deal massive amounts of damage, at a cost to you, of course. Wicked Akuba can deal massive amounts of damage without the drawback, but it has no evasion. If s/he picked the Akuba, using the removal well would be key. S/he would have to make sure there were no blockers to get the in Akuba’s way. (Man, Twisted Abomination would have been huge. . . .)

Even though I said I wouldn’t be able to test these, I was intrigued. Having tested the mono-Blue, I thought it was only fair to try this one, too. Mono-Black was much, much more solid than the mono-Blue. I ran the version with Drudge Skeletons first. Those guys were golden on defense. Only Echoing Decay (and the Death Cloud from the one person who didn’t see the “commons only” note) kept them off the board. Between the Skeletons and the creature removal (as well as judicious use of the Pendant), I was able to stay alive long enough to get some fairly big Consume Spirits off for wins. Very few times, though it did happen, they were able to get that one creature out that I couldn’t get rid of for lack of removal. All in all, I was impressed with the Skeletons.

I wasn’t as impressed with the other creatures. Too often they had to play defense, not their specialties. When they didn’t have to stay home, the Akuba and Bats were, as expected, the MVP’s. Gravedigger never seemed to be as good as I wanted it to be, even though recurring Rats was nice. I suggested s/he go with the Skeletons.

Since I was on Black, I thought about a Black-Red Land Destruction deck, made possible thanks to the reprinting of Befoul as a common in Champions of Kamigawa. (It was originally a common in Urza’s Saga and then an uncommon in Seventh Edition.) This was another one that I loaded up on MTGO. Again, it failed. Again, it was for lack of a finisher. Unlike mono-Black, this deck couldn’t support Consume Spirit. Burn (E-Bolt, Shock), LD (Stone Rain, Molten Rain, Befoul), and Rend Flesh took up so much space that only eight slots were left for creatures. There’s not a good selection of finishers for these two colors in a dual-colored deck. (Did I mention Twisted Abomination yet?) The two best were Lightning Elemental and Dross Crocodile. The Croc is a very efficient 5/1 for four mana. The downside is the “1” on the backside. When the deck worked, it was great. It would remove any blockers while a 5/1 and/or 4/1 would swing through for damage. In one game, thanks to Pentad Prism, I was able to get a turn six kill, not easy with nothing but commons. Mostly, though, the land destruction was not as useful as I’d hoped because the creatures could be stopped by random 1/1’s. I chucked it.

However, the Black-Red got me thinking about Black-Green. Here’s where the mana fixin’ gets good. In addition, Green has a lot of common beef. Mmmmmm . . . fixin’s . . . greens . . . beef. Aaaaaaahhhhhh . . . . delicious.

All-Common Green-Black Control

Two of the three best color fixers in Magic right now are Green commons: Sakura-Tribe Elder and Kodama’s Reach. (“And this year’s Duh Award for Most Obvious Statement about Magic goes to . . . .”) No need for Pentad Prisms and Darksteel Ingots. This deck was just gonna go get Swamps if it needed ’em. In addition, Green actually has some fairly useful common beef. Craw Wurm clocks in at 6/4 for 4GG while Moss Kami is a 5/5 with trample for 5G. I like Trample. Trample is good. It says “I can kill your blocker, deal you damage, and still keep my creature.” Finally, given that I presumed that Affinity would be everywhere, we needed main deck artifact hate. That started as Naturalize. When I noticed that Rend Flesh is an Arcane spell – yes, Virginia, it really is – I switched to Wear Away.

Green-Black All-Common Control

23 Lands

4 Darksteel Citadel

12 Forest

7 Swamp

16 Creatures

4 Sakura-Tribe Elder

4 Vine Trellis

4 Moss Kami

4 Craw Wurm

21 Other Spells

4 Kodama’s Reach

4 Echoing Decay

3 Wear Away

4 Rend Flesh

4 Predator’s Strike

2 Soulless Revival

At first, Predator’s Strike was Dark Banishing. I got very frustrated at having the Craw Wurm get blocked by crummy 1/1 Snakes and 1/2 Norwood Rangers. In those cases, Predator’s Strike is a much sweeter trick. They think that they’re stopping six damage with their little 1/1. In reality, they’ll be losing the 1/1 and taking eight. Ouch.

The Soulless Revivals do seem kind of random, but I assure you that they’re not. During testing, I found twenty-four lands to be too many, even with the Elders and Reaches. I dropped a Swamp. The best card for that slot ended up being something that could bring back the beef. Besides, for a mere 3BB, you can kill a non-Spirit and bring back a Moss Kami. For 3BG, you can thin the deck of two lands and bring back a Craw Wurm. As the sixtieth card, Soulless Revival was worthy of the slot.

There are a few more all-common decks that I sent, but I’m not going to make this any longer than it already is. If Ted will let me finish up next week (Can I, please? Huh? Huh?), well, you’ll know because you’ll see part two. If not, it’ll be something else. (By the way, if Ted says yes, I’ll pop the Red-Green LD deck, the mono-Red weenie deck, and, of course, the flying White Weenie deck.)

As usual, you’ve been a great audience. Make sure to renew your subscription to Oprah magazine before it runs out next month.

Chris Romeo


Epilogue: Extending the Black Glove of Love

Longtime readers (Hi, Mom!) will know that I typically abhor Extended. The first one I played in was so fraught with Morphlings, Masticores, Rishadan Ports, and other cards that I could not afford and had no way to beat that it soured me on the whole thing. As time has gone on, however, more cards have come out, giving even those of us on a budget a chance to compete. Heck, what is U/G Madness but a budgets deck? The only rares are the four Yavimaya Coasts.

Lately, our local tourneys have been Extended in honor of the qualifying format. (Like any of us are going to be on The Tour. Feh.) A few weeks ago, I told you about the Merfolk deck (people don’t like me calling it a Fish deck for some reason). This week, I’ll give you the low-down on the mono-Black tweak I made. I call it:

The Black Glove of Love

25 Lands

2 Blinkmoth Nexus

2 Cabal Coffers

21 Swamps

3 Creatures

3 Nether Spirits

32 Other Spells

4 Innocent Blood

4 Diabolic Edict

4 Chainer’s Edict

3 Barter in Blood

3 Mutilate

3 Consume Spirit

4 Duress

3 Distress

4 Scrabbling Claws

The sideboard was a mishmash of stuff to handle what the main deck couldn’t handle. (“That’s what sideboards are for, Barbie!”) But it wasn’t all the typical stuff. I did bring in Massacre for White Weenie (and Goblins; against Goblins, Massacre is infinitely better than Barter in Blood) since the Scrabbling Claws were pretty much useless. But, I also brought in Yawgmoth’s Edict, taking out Consume Spirit. I figured White decks would bring in Circle of Protection: Black. So, I’d have to win through loss of life, decking, or the Nexus beatdown. I also had Bereavement for the Green decks. Bereavement is almost the anti-Compost except that Compost triggers on any Black card hitting the ‘yard while Bereavement only triggers on Green creatures hitting. What I didn’t have was a good card against Scepter-Chant. Luckily, I didn’t hit any of those decks. (Afterwards, someone pointed out that I could use Relic Barrier, mulligan until I hit it, and make sure that the Scepters were always tapped down. Whether or not that works, I don’t know. Seems suspect, but it’s better than doing nothing.)

“Ooooo, look, Marge. Only eight rares!”

I went 3-1, beating U/G Madness, that U/W Control deck with the little Rebel chain and Meddling Mage, and a rogue mono-Green deck. The only two games I lost all night were in the lone match that I lost to Affinity. Had I not gotten cocky against the Affinity deck and cast Diabolic Edict when I didn’t need to – instead of saving it for his animated Blinkmoth Nexus – I’d have been 4-0 with only one game loss.

I know that it’s not that much different from other MBC decks. That’s why I didn’t want to feature it in its own column. Well, that and the fact that it’s not a Standard deck. However, this does do three things different from most MBC decks. First, there’s no targeted creature kill. (I don’t count Consume Spirit since that’s supposed to be a finisher aimed at the opponent’s pointy head.) I was looking for something that would allow me to kill off Spiritmongers and things like Morphling and Pristine Angel which often can’t be targeted. So, I loaded up on nothing but sacrifice spells. The idea was to clear the board, use the Nether Spirits to hold the line, and load up a Big, Black Blaze. Funny thing, though. I actually won two games with Nether Spirit beatdown. Go figure.

Second, no Corrupts. I like the Nether Spirit because it can play defense. That took up my Corrupt slot. Some folks suggested that the Consume Spirits should go away for Corrupts. To that I say “You’re nucking futs!” Let’s say that I have a Cabal Coffers and four Swamps out. In that case, both Corrupt and Consume take all of my mana to do four points of damage. Now, make it six Swamps. The Corrupt will only do six damage. Consume can do eight if I need it to. Finally, let’s get crazy and figure it with seven Swamps and two Coffers (as I had out in one game when I drew the finishing Consume). The Corrupt does seven. Consume Spirit can do fifteen.

Third, the Scrabbling Claws. People were surprised to see them maindeck, but they were so good that I named them co-MVPs with the Nether Spirits. Against U/G Madness, thanks to the Claws, Circular Logic becomes useless, Wurms rarely get made via flashback, and nothing flies. Eternal Dragons are pretty mortal. You know what they do to Reanimator. The Claws also let me recur a Nether Spirit if I accidentally got two in the graveyard at the same time. (That happened once. Had to be done.) At worst, they cycle.

If you’re looking for a fun, cheap Extended MBC-type deck, you might wanna give this a whirl.

* Wow, only my second one ever of these. Anyway, remember, I only made an exception because I’m writing a column about it. I still won’t help with decks. Unless I can get a column out of it, that is. Or if you’re as hot as Cori Nadine.