From Right Field: More ‘Vore

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Fresh off the back of his defeat at the hands of Richard Feldman in the first round of the StarCityGames Battle Royale, Chris takes a budget look at a hardy perennial of Standard: Magnivore. Undercosted and hasty fat monsters for four mana are quite the value… does Chris’s deck have what it takes to compete aginst the Big Dogs?

{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.}

Regardless of what you think of Mark Rosewater Magic writing, or the fact that he wrote for a hugely successful sitcom, I wholeheartedly agree with him on one thing. Sometimes, creative types are best served by being given a few boundaries or guidelines. (Before the flames begin, please, note the use of the word “sometimes.”) To be honest, I think that there are very few people who, when given completely free reign, can create anything worthwhile. Think about the most basic, earliest creative assignment we often get: a school essay. Most of us would simply freeze up if someone just told us “Write an essay.” Our first reaction would typically be “On what?” Complete creative freedom is often too much freedom. With nothing to catalyze the process, in the absence of inspiration, the process doesn’t grind to a halt; it never gets started. (Of course, the artists who can create great works out of whole cloth with no guidance at all are geniuses. I’m not talking about them.)

Writers are no different. Ground rules can even be inspirational. Did you know that Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein pretty much as a dare? She and the boys got into a philosophical discussion about this new genre of writing (gothic horror). She argued that true literary works could be created in such a genre. Percy and Byron dared her to write such a literary horror novel. She did. (They were supposed to do the same but never did. Lazy bums.) Even the smallest bit of guidance can help. Write on Magic. It must be at least this many words long. Be funny. Give us cheesecake. This is part of the reason that I was so stoked about the SCG Writers MTGO Battle Royale. We had guidelines on the decks. The uncommons and rares could not cost more than twenty-five tickets. Now, there’s a restriction I can get my mind around.

Before I settled on the mono-Black deck for the Showdown with Feldman ™, I had actually been working on a Red-Black deck. You see, Magnivore is kinda cheap since he’s one of the rares in the Red Ninth Edition preconstructed deck. You can find them easily for three tickets each. As we all know from the Regionals results (and before that, too, if you were paying any attention), Red has some smokin’ (sorry) Sorceries. Pyroclasm is an uncommon and a staple for sweeping the board. This explains why it’s still four tickets for a set of four of them. Volcanic Hammer is some sweet efficiency, delivering three damage to a creature or player for only two mana.

What can Black add to this while still keeping the deck cheap? Well, I picked up four Cruel Edicts for two tickets. Persecute is an awesome piece of discard. It does cost four tickets each, though, so I knew I’d only be able to fit two in here. Still, coupled with Coercion, that’s one heck of a discard suite. On turn 3, I can take any card I want, even a land, hosing their ability to play something on their next turn. Then, I can follow up with Persecute, naming the color of which I saw the most.

The hardest part of this was trying to make the mana work. There was no way that the twenty-five-ticket limit would support Sulfurous Springs or Blood Crypts. I knew that I’d have to resort to Lantern-Lit Graveyards, Rakdos Signets, and Rakdos Carnaria. Fortunately, I was able to find someone selling sixteen uncommons for one ticket who included the Lantern-Lit Graveyards in the 16-for-1 category. I also picked up four Phyrexian Gargantua and four Swallowing Plagues. (The last four were older uncommons that I though I might use in some silly/fun Legacy/Classic deck someday. I probably should have looked for something in the Standard-legal category, but I was seduced.)

Dis-Vore, V.1.0

4 Rakdos Carnarium
4 Lantern-Lit Graveyard
7 Mountain
9 Swamp

3 Magnivore
3 Dimir House Guard
4 Phyrexian Gargantua

4 Cruel Edict
4 Pyroclasm
4 Rakdos Signet
4 Volcanic Hammer
4 Coercion
4 Swallowing Plague
2 Persecute

The two most unusual inclusions are the Gargantua and the Swallowing Plague. I detailed their use in last week’s column, but I simply adore repeating myself. Just ask anyone. The Gargantua is becoming a bit of a surprise hit with me. Think of it this way. Would you like a 4/4 Black creature with no drawbacks for four mana? Sure. Why not? And, back when Night’s Whisper was legal, didn’t you like playing that card, paying two life for two cards? The Gargantua is both of those rolled into one. (In all of the testing I did with the final version of Killing Richard Feldman, I only lost two games in which I resolved a Gargantua. Both times it was the same scenario. A Red-based deck had gotten me very low on life. It was either cast the Gargantua and hope to draw an answer, or I could just, you know, die the next turn. I cast the Gargantua, and they burned me out after I lost two life.) Meanwhile, Swallowing Plague is a nifty bit of removal. It’s a Black X spell that gains you life without that silly drawback that Black X spells typically have: “Spend only Black mana on X.” For Swallowing Plague, you can spend any color mana on X! The “drawback” with Swallowing Plague is that it only hits creatures. Wah! I’ve actually used the thing on my own creature just to gain the life. It’s true!

That’s how I thought it would end, anyway. After some additional testing and tweaking, the final version (so far…) looked like this.

The differences in design are small, but, in performance, they’re huge.

I used to ask other people, “why such weird numbers for your cards,” much as people ask me now. (Why people want my help, I don’t really know. I guess they figure that I’m desperate for attention and approval. So, they stand a better chance of getting free help from me than they do from Mike “I’m Writing Yet Another Article As We Speak” Flores or John “I Broke Another Format Today; What Did You Do, Bee-atch?” Rizzo.) Your hope, of course, is to get some deeper understanding of why a deck isn’t just twenty-four lands and nine slots of four copies of other cards. That’s our job when we write. We should do more than the guy at the next table at the card store. We should give you more than “it only needs two” or “four was too many.” Why was that number picked?

Sometimes, the reason the number was picked is obvious. Why does this deck run four copies of Pyroclasm? Because it wipes out weenie hordes. If I could run five or six copies, I would, but the rules don’t allow it. How about the three Magnivore and two Persecute? They’re only at those numbers because this is a budget deck, and that’s all the budget would support.

The differences in these two versions are in the mana and a bit of discard. As you can see, the original “finished” version of this had twenty-four lands, four of which were Lantern-Lit Graveyards. Given the manabase (lotsa Black and Red needed, much of it in doubles), it was a great place to start. There’s nothing like having a great deck design and getting beat by your manabase.

The thing was, I was getting too much mana. It didn’t seem like it at first. This is one reason that I believe you should take notes on your games. The reason that it didn’t seem at first like I was getting too much mana was simple: Swallowing Plague. When you kill a Kokusho by dealing it twelve points of damage and gaining twelve life, it doesn’t seem like you have too much mana. So, I went back and looked at the deck’s performance minus any silly Plague action. There was too much mana and not enough business. In the twenty-two test games I played, only once was color an issue. (I somehow grabbed nothing but Mountains and a single Lantern-Lit Graveyard in that entire game. Still, it took the guy sixteen turns to beat me thanks to Pyroclasm, Volcanic Hammer, Coercion, and Magnivore.)

Since neither color – thank you, Rakdos Carnarium! – nor amount of mana was an issue, I felt comfortable dropping one land and one Rakdos Signet. The only question was what to bring in for them. In a less budgetarily-restricted deck, I most surely would have gone to four Persecutes. Even in today’s Benetton-like environment where three-color decks are the norm and you’re only pushing the envelope if you run five colors or no colors, Persecute can act like Nicol Bolas on meth. “Gimme yo’ hand, Cracker! I need card advantage!” In one game, against a person playing B/W/g Aggro-Control-Combo-Whatever-I-Don’t-Care-‘Cause-I’m-Gonna-Beat-You-Anyway-Sucka, I called Green with my Persecute. It got me Putrefy, two Loxodon Hierarch, Glare of Subdual, and, for good measure, Supply / Demand.

“I thought you’d name Black. Most people name Black or White, hoping to hit a Dragon.”

“I can deal with Dragons. I want your spells.”

I couldn’t add the other Persecutes, though, because they cost too much for this deck. My second, though, then, was to go to a fourth Dimir House Guard. Hey, I couldn’t afford the tickets for another ‘Vore or Persecute, but I could Transmute for them.

The Section in Which Romeo Tries to Deflect Criticism

Now, please, don’t get me wrong. I love Transmute. Finally, someone like me can afford a Tutor. A fourth House Guard, though, just didn’t wet my willie. The House Guard/’Vore or House Guard/Persecute trick either takes two turns to pull off or seven mana on one turn. With three copies of the House Guard, I was doing this pretty regularly anyway. With a fourth copy, I too often had to either lay out a less-than-useful creature (the Dimir House Guard itself) or spend a turn Transmuting when I felt I could be doing something else. To reiterate, though, I’m not saying that it’s bad or that I don’t like it. Au contraire. I love it, love it, love it. And three copies of Dimir House Guard is plenty in this deck, thank you so very much.

What I wanted was – as I think we all do – a little more control over my life. I mean, the game. Yeah, that’s what I mean. So, the land and Signet became two copies of Last Gasp, which isn’t a Sorcery. I tried Macabre Waltz, which wasn’t bad but often suffered from the fact that I didn’t always have two creature cards in the ‘yard. Then, I hit on an oldie (relatively speaking, of course) but goodie: Kiku’s Shadow. It was working great. Except that I couldn’t fit it into the deck’s budget while still having enough for a sideboard.

Hmmmm… a Black Sorcery that costs BB, you say? Why, I’m Distressed!

Yes, I went back to Distress. Two copies just wasn’t enough, though. What’s one more than two? Three! Of course, that meant dropping something. The logical choice was a copy of Coercion. And it worked. Very, very well.

(You’ve probably also noticed a minor change in the manabase, dropping a Mountain for an extra Swamp. The Black requirements are more demanding than the Red ones. You also need double-Black earlier than double-Red.)

As usual, I ran this first through the Casual Decks room on MTGO.

Game 1: I faced a Simic deck with a very cool trick: Mark of Eviction. Talk about a card doing double duty. It could be defensive when used on my guys (though I think he could have done better than putting it on a Gargantua) or offensive when used on his own. Get a Graft dude down to its last +1/+1 counter, then bounce it. Yummy. The bad thing for him was my discard. I was able to Pyroclasm the small Graft guys while grabbing the more costly ones with Coercion and then Persecute. (1-0)

Game 2: My opponent was playing U/R Izzet with a bit of land destruction thrown in. For some reason, even though he was playing LD, countermagic, and bounce spells, he seemed offended when I cast Magnivore. “Sorry, I can’t afford Magnivore.” Dude, they’re three tickets each. They come in the Ninth Edition preconstructed deck with Wild-Friggin’-Fire. It’s not like I have a Gifts deck and I just tapped my Yavimaya Coast, Temple Garden, Steam Vents, and Overgrown Tomb to go get Kokusho, Yosei, Keiga, and Jitte. I cast a Magnivore. (2-0)

Game 3: This guy had another great idea. Use the Seals and Moldervine Cloak with Verduran Enchantress. Talk about card advantage. Problem was I kept killing the Enchantresses. A couple of swings from a Gargantua and a Magnivore, and that was that. (3-0)

Game 4: Dis-Vore hammers beatdown decks. Pyroclasm can wipe away the weenies allowing Cruel Edict to handle that big guy, whatever he is. Against this G/R deck, that’s exactly what happened. Once I’d cleared the board and emptied his hand, it was only two turns before a Phyrexian Gargantua and a Magnivore (rooted out by the Dimir House Guard) ended the game. (4-0)

Game 5: Normally, I don’t play the same folks twice in one night when testing a deck. I’ve explained that before, but it bears repeating. Typically, they come back with a deck specifically designed to beat the deck that I’m testing. That’s not very random. This guy seemed sincere in wanting to play the same deck he had in game 4. So, I let him. I won again. (5-0)

I figured after starting 5-0 in the Casual Decks room, it was time to move on. I was getting tired of MTGO. I needed actual human or human-ish interaction. I called Joe.

“Hey, Joe. Are you guys testing on Friday night? I’d really love to get some hand-to-hand in with this new R/B Discard-Magnivore deck.”

“I’ll go one better,” Joe said. “How’d you like to play it in an actual tournament on Friday night?”

“You know that I can’t make the Friday Night Magic at the Mall. It starts at 6pm. I get off work at six.”

“No, I think we found a new place. The tourney starts at seven.”

“I’m soooooooo there.” First, though, I needed a sideboard. I knew that, in the online world, Rain of Gore would push this deck over twenty-five tickets, but I wanted to use them very badly. I got four at Regionals, and got great deals on them. They are a fantastic way to deal with all of the lifegain cards out there, especially when you think about the fact that so many are mandatory (“gain that much life”) versus permissive (“you may gain that much life”). In other words, if they cast the spell, they have no choice but to take the hit. Without Enchantment removal (other than discard), this was the way to go for Faith’s Fetters, not to mention the Hierarch and that Silly Samurai.

Graveyard and Artifact removal were also must-haves. So, in went my buddies Nezumi Graverobber and Shattering Spree. Finally, I went trolling for votes on the final slot. Flashfires won since there were just so many more decks that it hosed than Boiling Seas would.

4 Rain of Gore
4 Shattering Spree
3 Nezumi Graverobber
4 Flashfires

Round 1 versus Kerri with R/W Aggro (not Boros)

Kerri is Joe’s wife. She’s taken a lot of time off from Magic for World of Warcraft. She’s fun to play against and quick as a whip. If she practiced more, she’d be one of the best players I know. In this tourney, for example, after having not played in God knows how long, she made the finals. (She and the other finalist, Jordan, split, but I think she could have beat him.) First, she had to go through me, though, and I had the upper hand. Pyroclasm could wipe out everything she had except the Paladin en-Vec, but that’s what Cruel Edict is for. After a lot of discard and mass removal, it came down to Magnivore versus whatever she could muster. Magnivore won.

For game 2, I dropped the Volcanic Hammers for Flashfires. It was completely unfair. I didn’t miss a land drop and uncorked a fourth-turn Flashfires. She had a Plains and a Sacred Foundry at the time. It was the only lands she ever played. (1-0)

Round 2 versus E.J. with G/W Aggro

I knew it wasn’t going to be my match when I unleashed a Persecute that grabbed me two Yoseis and a Hokori, but I still lost. He was topdecking like a fiend, grabbing two Hierarchs in three turns after that. Meanwhile, I could not draw anything better that Pyroclasm.

I figured he’d be wise to the Flashfires trick. That’s why I brought in Rain of Gore instead. He took four once from a Hierarch, a Hierarch for whom I could find no answer… again. Hard to believe, but true. Oh, yeah, and it was also wearing the Jitte. (1-1)

StarCityGames.com Writer Feature Match: Round 3 versus Our Own Evan Erwin with R/B Aggro!

Yes, I got to play StarCityGames.com Sexxxy Beast himself, Evan Erwin. Game 1 went to me thanks to perfectly curved Distress, Coercion, Persecute, some mass removal, and a huge honkin’ Magnivore. Game 2 was Evan’s. I dropped a Coercion, a House Guard, and a Swallowing Plague because he was losing his hand quickly and his creatures were small. In their places, in came Nezumi Graverobber. Whoops. He had the Jitte, too. And Phyrexian Arena. Bad news.

So, I took the Graverobbers and a Volcanic Hammer out for the Shattering Sprees in game 3. This game went quite long. I wiped away his hand killed his creatures, but he found the Arena. I knew only had a few turns left before Kokusho, et al, were unleashed upon my head, but he apparently drew four consecutive turns of land. With Phyrexian Arena out that means eight straight lands. That’s right: eight. Lands. In a row. Clearly, eight is enough. Now, of course, I was holding gas. So I’m not sure he could have pulled out of it, but eight lands in a row did not help him one bit. When I finally drew a Gargantua and then a Magnivore, that was game. (2-1)

I’d made Top 4. So had Kerri.

Semi-Finals versus Jordan with U/W Aggro

I am a bad player. That’s all there is to it. Let’s put it this way, folks. When you’re playing Black and Red and your opponent is playing White, the color of Paladin en-Vec, a creature that has Protection from Your Deck, you don’t take out Cruel Edict. You just don’t do it. Even if you didn’t see it in game 1, you have to know that he’s going to bring it in from the sideboard. You’re Black and Red. The Paladin has protection from everything in your deck except for lands and the Cruel Edict. In other words, I lost 2-0.

I walked away with a pack of Dissension and a Mountain Dew for my efforts, which means I broke (almost) even. Kerri, meanwhile, was beating the aforementioned E.J. in her semi-finals match. Splitting in the finals gave her three times the winnings I got. That is a whole lot of Skittles. (“Taste the Rainbow.”) Thus, I didn’t feel too bad about repeatedly reminding her that I was the only person who beat her, mentioning Flashfires whenever I could.

Okay, so the deck only ran 2-2 in an actual tournament, but look at the pilot. He ain’t that good, especially his sideboarding skills or lack thereof. I actually offered people there to tutor me in sideboarding. I figured an hour a week, I’d pay fifteen bucks. I might learn something.

Next week, I answer the question: why aren’t I playing with more Dissension cards?

Chris Romeo