From Right Field – Living on a Prayer: The First Xth Edition Precon-Decon

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Aside from the fact that I have to spend more money that I don’t really have, I love it when a new set comes out. That’s true even if, like Tenth Edition (a.k.a. Xth), it’s mostly comprised of cards that I already have, thanks to years of hoarding the ones that I’ve purchased. That’s because the fun isn’t necessarily in getting new cards but in using old cards in new ways. At a minimum, it’s the chance to use old cards in combinations and in formats in which I’ve never gotten to use them.

{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.}

Because if you can’t start your column with a Bon Jovi reference, you’re not really trying.

Aside from the fact that I have to spend more money that I don’t really have, I love it when a new set comes out. That’s true even if, like Tenth Edition (a.k.a. Xth), it’s mostly comprised of cards that I already have, thanks to years of hoarding the ones that I’ve purchased. That’s because the fun isn’t necessarily in getting new cards but in using old cards in new ways. At a minimum, it’s the chance to use old cards in combinations and in formats in which I’ve never gotten to use them.

For example, I’ve never been able to play with Incinerate in a Standard deck. I have several of them, thanks to the way I used to rifle through common and uncommon dumping boxes in stores. I could have played them in Extended or Legacy if I’d wanted, but I don’t play those formats much. Now, Incinerate is back.

You know what else? There are two copies in the Red Xth reconstructed deck, Kamahl’s Temper. In other words, if you buy two copies of the Red precon, you get a whole playset. Obviously, I’m not advocating spending eighteen dollars on two precons just to get four commons. I just point out the fact that Incinerate is in the precon to show you how good this deck is. How good is it? Incinerate may not even be the best spell in the deck.

That distinction probably goes to Beacon of Destruction. Some other guy who likes Red previewed this here card here on this here site here, but let me Reiterate some reasons that Beacon of Destruction is so freakin’ awesome. First of all, it’s Red, and, as we all know by now, Red Deck Wins. Second, it deals five damage for five mana. That’s pretty darn efficient. Third, it deals that damage with Instant timing. Fourth, it can deal that damage to a creature or player. Finally, if the spell resolves, it goes back into your library, giving you a chance to draw it again. If you buy two copies of Kamahl’s Temper, you get two Beacon of Destruction.

Wait a second. Maybe Spitting Earth is the best spell in the deck. You wanna talk about efficient? The Beacon deals five damage for five mana. I’ve dealt twelve with Spitting Earth for only two mana. Whoa. Granted, it’s a Sorcery, and it can only hit creatures. Man, does it hit them hard, though.

Those are just three of the spells in this precon that weren’t in Ninth Edition. This deck is just chock full of new-to-Xth goodness. (Yeah, I know that Incinerate and Spitting Earth were in other Core sets before. Incinerate was in way back in Fifth Edition, and Spitting Earth hasn’t been in since Seventh. For the rest of this column or any like this, when I say “it’s new to Tenth Edition,” I mean it wasn’t in Ninth Edition. Capiche?) You also get one or more copies of Bogardan Firefiend, Bloodrock Cyclops, Furnace Whelp, Phyrexian Vault, Prodigal Pyromancer, Thundering Giant, Viashino Sandscout, and, of course, the deck’s namesake, Kamahl, Pit Fighter. There’s also a couple of pretty hot (I’m so freakin’ funny!) returning stars like Blaze, Shock, and, one of my all-time faves, Threaten.

You might be asking why I picked the Red Xth precon instead of one of the others. The fact of the matter is simply that I looked at the decks, and this one made me grin. A couple of the others are pretty good, but, to me, this one stuck out far above the rest. The only thing about it that I didn’t like was the lack of decent first- and second-turn creatures. The deck appears to be a fast Sligh-type deck, but that would require something better than a single Raging Goblin and a lone Viashino Sandscout. In fact, those are the only one- and two-mana creatures in the deck. Obviously, then, to modify a couple of these, I’d need to look at it more as a mid-range deck with some pretty good early control.

If you follow my Precon-Decons, you’ll know that I usually start by playing the unadulterated deck a few times just to get a feel for it. Clearly, I can’t do that with the Core Set precon decks because they’ve only got forty cards in them. So, I jumped straight to the part where I smooshed two of them together.

Smooshification: The Process of Smooshing

When I get to this part, I’ve normally played the deck a few times. As I said, I couldn’t do that with this one because the Core Set precons have only forty cards. In this case, then, I had to decide right off the bat the cards that simply had to be in the first version of the deck. Those cards were:

2 Beacon of Destruction
2 Furnace Whelp
4 Incinerate
2 Kamahl, Pit Fighter
2 Phyrexian Vault
2 Shock
4 Spitting Earth
2 Threaten
4 Thundering Giant

I’ve gone over most of the non-creature spells. One that I haven’t is Phyrexian Vault. Lemme discuss that card. When I found that this was being reprinted, well, let’s just say that another card new to the Core Set came to mind: Wall of Wood. As you know, the other artifact in this precon was Dragon’s Claw, the one that gains you a life when anyone plays a Red spell. The difference in how good each of these cards is in this deck is so great that I couldn’t even find a proper analogy. I was going to compare the perceived IQs of two famous politicians, but that gap wasn’t great enough. I was going to compare the relative hotness of Kathy Bates with some lingerie model, but I couldn’t find one hot enough to express the width of the gap. All I can do at this point is to tell you never to use Dragon’s Claw when you can use Phyrexian Vault. Even if your deck only has one creature in it… well, that’s probably an extreme example, but even if you’re playing a creatureless mono-Red deck, you have to have something better than Dragon’s Claw. Meanwhile, Phyrexian Vault is one of the best non-rare artifacts to come along in the history of the game. It offsets the card disadvantage you might experience when losing creatures. Face facts: your creatures will die. Why not turn the dying ones into another card instead of just losing them?

It can also turn losing your creatures into a big advantage. For example, this deck really can’t deal with Stuffy Doll. (Just an example. I faced it several times while testing this deck. So it sticks in my mind.) When that guy hits, you have to hope that your opponent is close enough to dead that you can just throw burn at his head.

Unless you have Phyrexian Vault on board, and you draw a Threaten.

Yeah, that’s sweet. Steal the Stuffy Doll, taking it out of the way of your attacking horde, and then sacrifice it to the Vault to draw a card. You get card advantage because you’re not down any cards while your opponent has lost a very important creature. Plus, you have one less blocker to deal with.

Wall of Wood. Be right back.

Annnnnnd, I’m back. Basically, then, use Phyrexian Vault if you don’t have a better way to turn creatures into cards, and never use Dragon’s Claw. (If you can find a good use for Dragon’s Claw outside of a Searing Meditation deck, tell the world in the forum. We are definitely interested.)

What about the three creatures that I just had to have in the deck? Why? And why weren’t the others must-haves? Let’s start with Furnace Whelp. A mini-Shivan Dragon for four mana means that you can swing for seven with her when you attack the next turn. That’s in addition to whatever else you have on board. It also flies. So, while the ground is all clogged up, you’re flying through the air with the greatest of ease. Sure, it dies if the wind blows hard. As a friend once pointed out regarding Grim Lavamancer, it might be easy to deal with, but opponents absolutely have to deal with it, don’t they?

Kamahl is the namesake of the deck, but I didn’t feel any obligation to have him in here. In fact, I almost didn’t use him. He’s twice as fragile as the Furnace Whelp, and he doesn’t fly. If they can deal with him the turn he hits, you’re only getting three damage for six mana.

However, if they can’t deal with him right away, he is a big, hairy, Red problem.

Dr. Romeo’s Stance on Reusable Sources of Damage

Wall of Wood.

In addition, two is probably the right number of Kamahl’s even if you had access to four. Six mana is a lot to spend on a Legend like him. So, it’s probably a good thing that you only get two out of two Kamahl’s Temper precons.

Finally, Thundering Giant. When I started playing the game, the first precon I got was the White Sleeper deck from Urza’s Saga. The second was the Red/Green precon called Special Delivery. Thundering Giant was a big part of that deck. Five mana for a 4/3 with Haste is pretty good. Well, it is now, anyway. Back then, you were probably dead by the time you cast him.

I guess what I’m saying is that Thundering Giant made it in on nostalgia’s back, but he’s still very solid. Unlike Lightning Elemental, for example, Thundering Giant doesn’t die in combat to any 1/1 Saproling token that’s laying around. If the Giant dies in combat, he’s usually taking something significant with him, or he’s taking two guys. Either way, it’s worth the extra mana over the Lightning Elemental.

Of course, those were only twenty-four of the deck’s sixty cards. I’d most likely be using twenty-four Mountains. (I did.) So, that left twelve cards to fill in the deck.

As you can see, neither Blaze nor Prodigal Pyromancer made the initial must-be-included list. However, in the first draft of the deck, the Pyromancer was in. I thought that I needed the creatures. Blaze was too mana intensive. Or so I thought. As I’ve said many times before and even in this very column today, reusable damage sources are awesome. Therefore, Prodigal Pyromancer beat out Blaze.

That was a bad decision. The deck had too many three-mana creatures and not enough early plays. Not that most people would consider Blaze to be an early play, but it can kill a one-toughness creature on turn 2. With three mana, it can kill a two-toughness creature. Prodigal Pyromancer can’t kill a two-toughness creature by itself. At the same time, it’s only a one-toughness guy itself. In another deck, he might have been great. He wasn’t in this deck.

Viashino Sandscout had to be in the final deck. He had to be because the deck needed a two-mana spell that wasn’t just a burn spell. Along with the two Blazes, that left eight slots. Those were taken up by three each of Bloodrock Cyclops and Lightning Elemental and two Bogardan Firefiend. The final deck, then, looked like this:

I don’t know who designed the deck, but I wish s/he had put more decent cheap creatures in here. What that lack of early creatures means is that you have to play this like a mid-range deck. Use Shock, Spitting Earth, and Incinerate early and often so that your Sandscouts, Cyclopses, Firefiends, and Giants can get through. Save your mana, and use the Phyrexian Vault well. I’ve often left the Firefiend back to block so that I could use it with the Vault to take out two opposing creatures or one really big one (two damage from combat and two from when the Firefiend gets sacrificed).

I’ve been quite impressed with the deck. Even Spectral Force doesn’t faze this thing because of Spitting Earth. Of course, being a mono-Red deck, it does have a huge hole in it: Enchantments. Now, I can hear some of the “experts” out there saying that you don’t need to worry about Enchantments. I haven’t found that to be true. You still never know what you’re going to face in a tournament. People will bring anything. Moreover, some of the cards that the “experts” brush off are still quite good. The three that I found cause this deck the biggest problems are Searing Meditation, Debtors’ Knell, and Glare of Subdual. Mono-Red can actually deal with the last two. For Glare, you simply need to wipe out all of their guys. Often, those are 1/1 Saproling tokens, so be prepared to have Subterranean Shambler in the sideboard. Yeah, you’re going outside of the precon. You’ll have to. It’s a common, though. For the Knell, though, you will have to find some artifacts like Tormod’s Crypt that takes stuff out of the graveyard.

Searing Meditation is the biggest problem for mono-Red. If they’re playing it, they can gain life. Worse, they almost surely have Firemane Angel. Kamahl can keep taking care of her, but they will find an answer for Kamahl. After all, they have Red in their deck. My suggestion, then, is to use Terramorphic Expanse and Forests (plus whatever Karplusan Forests, Fungal Reaches, Grove of the Burnwillows you have) to add Seal of Primordium, Naturalize, and/or Indrik Stomphowler to the sideboard. You know that I, of course, would choose the Stomphowler, at least for the next two months. A creature that does what a non-creature spell does is tops on my chart. Plus, he can be sacrificed to the Phyrexian Vault. That’s some card advantage: takes out an Enchantment when he comes into play; takes out another creature in combat (or deals four to the opponent); and draw a card on his way out.

I know that this column is significantly shorter than my last couple. I have to be honest, this balance/wobbliness/inner-ear/brain issue isn’t getting better for me. In fact, it’s gotten worse. Reading is tough for me, and getting tougher since it makes me nauseated. Of course, when I initially write these, I’m not looking at the screen. So, the first draft isn’t tough to write. It’s the self-editing and rewriting that’s hard, and it’s getting harder.

Last week, they finally got a decent picture of my brain. Good news: no big tumors. Bad news: they can’t rule out mini- or micro-strokes. It turns out that, in situations like this, there is a lot of punting back and forth between the ENTs, who look at the issue strictly as an ear problem, and neurologists, who look at it strictly as a brain problem. When the ENTs get stumped, they punt to the neurologist. “We can’t find an inner ear problem. Must be the brain.” When the neurologist gets stumped, they say “the ENT must have missed something because it’s not in the brain.” Apparently, this happens because, as with the eyes, the ears are hardwired directly into the brain. The nerve that comes out of the inner ear goes right into the brain, not the spine. (Or so the doctors have told me.) That does present a problem in terms of deciding where one specialty ends and the other begins.

The good news is that tomorrow I go to see a super-specialist (my term, not theirs), a neurologist who specializes in these kinds of inner-ear-related issues. Hopefully, by looking at the entire picture, he can figure out what the problem is before I go stir crazy or, worse, before I finally lose my balance in a place where I can really hurt myself. In the meantime, I sit here at home, unable to drive, unable to watch television or movies with any sort of action or frenetic camera movement, and unable to read more than about a paragraph without getting nauseated. And how was your Summer?

As usual, you’ve been a great audience. Please, join me in a big round of applause for this here site here’s own Evan Erwin, the 2007 Magic Invitational‘s Storyteller of the Year. I can’t explain it, but I felt proud like a father watching his kid graduate when I found out. No, I don‘t know why. I just did. Anyway, come back next week when I Grampa will say, “My, oh my, that Mayra Veronica’s hot enough to pop corn that’s still on the cob.”

Chris Romeo