From Right Field: Outstanding in Your Field

There is nothing like the thrill of discovery. That “a-HA!” moment when you finally understand a concept is the buzz that drives scientists, songwriters, and even Magic deckbuilders. A couple of weeks ago, the Magic community had a collective “a-HA!” moment when it was confirmed that, yes, because of the way that Genju of the Fields’ activated ability is written, a player can gain life multiple times during one combat. The question is… can we build a deck around this?

{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.}

There is nothing like the thrill of discovery. That “a-HA!” moment when you finally understand a concept is the buzz that drives scientists, songwriters, and even Magic deckbuilders. A couple of weeks ago, the Magic community had a collective “a-HA!” moment when it was confirmed that, yes, because of the way that Genju of the Fields’ activated ability is written, a player can gain life multiple times during one combat. In case you missed it, here’s the blow by blow.

Genju of the Fields has an activated ability that costs two mana. That ability does two things. First, it turns the enchanted Plains into a 2/5 lean, mean, fighting machine. Second, the land-creature gets “Whenever this creature deals damage, you gain that much life.”

There is nothing on any of the Genjus that restricts how many times per turn that ability can be played. Normally, that wouldn’t matter. For example, giving a creature flying when it already has flying doesn’t mean that it has double flying or that it takes two fliers to block it. It just has flying. However, sometimes, an ability isn’t redundant, especially when it’s a triggered ability.

See those quotation marks two paragraphs ago? Whenever you see an ability that gives a permanent an ability in quotation marks, it means that it’s as if the stuff written in the quotation marks was actually written on the card. So, activate the Genju’s ability once, and the Plains-creature would have:

Whenever this creature deals damage, you gain that much life.

Do it twice, and it would have:

Whenever this creature deals damage, you gain that much life.

Whenever this creature deals damage, you gain that much life.

Activate the thing six times, and you’d get:

Whenever this creature deals damage, you gain that much life.

Whenever this creature deals damage, you gain that much life.

Whenever this creature deals damage, you gain that much life.

Whenever this creature deals damage, you gain that much life.

Whenever this creature deals damage, you gain that much life.

Whenever this creature deals damage, you gain that much life.

Activate the ability once, and (if its power hasn’t been modified) you’d gain two life. Do it six times, and you gain twelve.

“Wow. Just . . . wow.”

Some people were as blown away by this as if they’d found out that Fergie was dating Ed Grimley. Then, reality set in. To activate this six times in any meaningful fashion, you need twelve or thirteen mana (twelve if you’re on defense since, after the first activation and being declared as a blocker, the land can be tapped to make mana to use on its ability, thirteen on the attack since the land has to be animated and then tapped to attack).

“Don’t you have something better to do with thirteen mana? I mean other than dealing a whopping two damage and gaining twelve life?”

Hmmmmm . . . kinda makes you wonder . . . .

I wonder . . .

I wonder . . .

I wonder what if the answer to that question is “No, actually, I don’t have anything better to do with thirteen mana”?

In other words, could this “eternal” enchantment work itself into some sort of mono-White or Blue/White Control deck?

Of course, it could. What are you gonna do? Put it in a beatdown deck when it ties up three mana per turn?

{In “the biz,” we call these last few questions “rhetorical questions.” It means, “you don’t need to answer them.”}

A Little Background (Get It? “Fields”? “Ground”?)

I’m a sucker for uncommons. Good rares end up being fifteen- or twenty-dollar cards right off the bat. (This is where Ted will put a link to Kokusho or Cranial Extraction.) Really outrageous uncommons, like Eternal Witness, go for seven bucks. Below that paper thin stratum of expensive uncommons, you have the very good ones like Aether Vial that go for about $4.50 each, which is still a bargain for what it does. After that, they’re cheap, cheap, cheap. Even some really killer ones like Shrapnel Blast can be had for less than two clams. For even less, you can get some very strong cards by digging through the uncommons. Heck, sometimes, you even get a top tier deck out of nothing but commons and uncommons. Blue/Green Madness, anyone?

When I saw the Genjus on the first leaked spoilers, I figured they had to be rares. No way would I – Christopher B. Romeo, J.D. – be fortunate enough to get uncommon cycles of great enchantments in two consecutive sets. I mean, Champions of Kamigawa already had the Shrines. How could the Genjus also be uncommon?

And, yet, they were.

I did a quick scan of the abilities and sized them up, coming to pretty much the same conclusions that everyone else did.

The Pros

As a group, the fact that they can return to your hand puts them heads and tails above other local enchantments. There will not be a typical two-for-one trade when an opponent kills the animated land. They turn one of your most plentiful resources – lands – into creatures. That, of course, is the key. You get one free land per turn. No one can stop that (short of some real trickery that tends to be almost exclusive to older sets). It can’t be Mana Leaked or Darkly Banished or Yamabushily Flamed (until after it’s animated, of course). Being able to turn that “free” resource into a source of continuous damage is A Good Thing. Because the effect only lasts until the end of the turn, the lands are immune from most mass removal (a la Plague Winds and Wrath of God) since those effects are typically sorcery-speed. As long as you don’t activate the creature on your opponent’s turn, you’re not losing a land to Final Judgment.

The Cons

On the flip side, there are some major drawbacks. If they kill the “creature,” they’re killing a land. If you can’t afford to be losing lands, this is A Bad Thing. Moreover, Eradicate will be legal. You don’t want to be on the losing end of this play:

“Attack with my Wicked Akuba.”

“Animate my Forest with Genju of the Cedars on it and block.”

“During my second main phase, Eradicate your animated Forest and remove all Forests in your deck from the game. Oh, and since the Forest-creature was removed from the game and not put into your graveyard, you don’t get the Genju back. Your turn.”


If you were playing mono-Green, things just got very, very bad.

The other drawback is that each Genju ties up three lands per turn: the one it’s on; and the two it takes to activate the ability. (I know that you can use mana bugs or artifacts to activate a Genju. Chances are, however, that the mana – like most in this game – will come from tapping lands.) A deck that wants to be laying out creatures and swinging each turn doesn’t want to tie up its lands in that way.

If “Con” is the Opposite of “Pro,” is “Congress” the Opposite of “Progress”?

Overall, I figured the Genjus as a whole were awesome, a solid B+ or A-. However, in what order was I going to rate them? Hmmmmmmm . . . . Let’s see . . . .

Number Five!

Before the gauzy, lingerie-like film was lifted from out eyes and we realized that we could gain lotsa life from the Genju of the Fields, I had to put this in fifth place out of five even though we all know that I love White. The problem was that it didn’t really do anything fantastic except block a lot of ground pounders. Even now, after the lifegaining revelations, it may not be much better. Still, this is like saying that “Hey, Jude” was only the fifth-best Beatles song. It’s still darn fan-freakin-tastic.

Number Four!

This is where I put Genju of the Spires. I’m gonna catch Helena Handbasket for that one, but follow me here. The creature this creates is a 6/1. That’s not bad considering you can be swinging with it on turn 3. Not bad?!? Heck, it’s awesome. The problem is that while the front says “deal six,” the back says “die to anything but Birds of Paradise.” I know the argument. “That’s what burn is for. Get rid of the blockers. Besides, you wouldn’t attack if you couldn’t get it through.” While this is all true, what it means is that if there’s a blocker and you can’t clear it out, you won’t attack with this. So, it sits there. Or worse, you get it animated and Shock kills it. Or your opponent drops a Frostling into play with Aether Vial and pings it. Or a hundred other scenarios. Heck, Anaba Shaman kills it. In other words, while a 6/1 swinging on turn three is a True Beatstick ™, I think it’s too fragile in a dedicated Red beatdown deck. (I have been testing a mono-Red deck with this guy, and this assessment has played out. I actually get to the point that I’m scared to activate this sometimes.)

Number Three!

I think that I shall never see a 4/4 tree at number three. This one caused me the most problems. On the one hand, it’s a 4/4. That’s pretty sturdy. On the other hand, it has no other abilities. It doesn’t trample (which would have been way too much for the cost, despite what some people have been writing). It doesn’t fly. It doesn’t create 1/1 tokens. That part, I don’t like. The beef, I like. So, it’s right smack dab in the middle.

Number Two!

Genju of the Fens is the only Genju that actually gets bigger and better as the game goes longer. (I was going to just leave it at “better,” but we all now know that the White Genju also gets “better” as the game goes on. The Black one gets bigger, and bigger is better in America.) Take that thirteen mana you have late in the game from the beginning of this piece. You have the Swamp that the Fenju is on. It takes two lands to activate it. If you’re playing a mono-Black deck, you could make this guy a 12/12 until the end of the turn. Hmmmm . . . let’s see. I could use all of that mana to make a White 2/5 that gains me twelve life, or I could pummel my opponent into the fetal position with a 12/12. Which one will it be?

Number One!

How’d you guess? Oh. Right. Last one left. Duh. At first glance, Genju of the Falls looks weak. He’s not beating any of the others in a fight. He trades with the Red Genju and the Fenju (if there isn’t extra mana to make the Fenju a 4/4 or greater) but doesn’t beat any of them. He outright loses to the White and Green Genjus. He can be picked off with a Shock, Glacial Ray, and countless other burn spells.

Oh, yes, but he flies. And he’s Blue. Gosh, what could Blue do with a 3/2 creature that comes out on turn 1, flies, and is essentially immune to sorcery-speed removal?

These assessments are, as expected, purely subjective and quite arguable. There is, for example, a fantastic argument that the Genju of the Spires is the top dog. A lot of internet writers, including a couple on this site, seem to think so. Could be. Drop the thing on a Mountain on turn 1, burn out your opponent’s only creature at the end of turn 2, and you have a 6/1 coming through unmolested on turn 3. Later in the game, at any time that the draws peter out (as often happens to Red), you’d have a 6/1 ready to swing. Like I said, these assessments are purely subjective. Heck, I changed my mind eighteen times while ranking these. Asking me to rank the order of these five enchantments is like asking me to pick my five favorite Victoria’s Secret models – Tyra Banks, Adriana Lima, Daniela Pestova, Jill Goodacre (Harry Connick, Jr.’s wife!), and Laetitia Casta – and then arrange them from best- to worst-looking. I’d enjoy doing it, but, in the end, what’s the point? They’re all winners!

Build It, and He Will Come

Regardless of where each of the five uncommon Genjus fall on a scale of one to five, each one is going to be awesome in a deck that can use it properly. The Genju of the Fields and the Genju of the Falls scream for a U/W Control deck, for example. First off, the Genjus are fairly mana intensive even though they don’t look like it at first glance. U/W decks tend to have extra lands and draw cards that get even more. Second, without access to Force Spike anymore, Blue is either doing nothing on turn 1, casting Serum Visions, or, well, doing nothing.

This is where some folks would talk about Sensei’s Divining Top. I love the top. It’s an uncommon. It does great stuff. Setting up you next three draws is nothing to sneeze at. Except that I want card drawing, not just smoothing. This deck’s performance actually got better when I took the Top out. However, when all’s said and done, if you see a slot that the Top could slip into, please, try it.

Me, I couldn’t find it. When I was testing this, I always found that, when I drew it, I wished the Top was something else, like removal. So, the Top became Final Judgment. I’m not going to bore you with the development of the deck because we’re already going over my vowel allotment. While I won’t be showing you how I got from point A to point B, I can tell you that I ended up with:

U/W Genju Control

(Please, help me with this name; it has no style) [I’ve had the name “Canyu Genju?” stuck in my head since I saw the spoiler. – Knut, all about the silly names]

25 Lands

3 Coastal Tower

9 Plains

13 Island

8 (kinda) Creatures

4 Genju of the Falls

4 Genju of the Fields

27 Other Spells

4 Mana Leak

4 Echoing Truth

4 Hinder

4 Thirst for Knowledge

4 Wrath of God

2 Quash

2 Inspiration

3 Final Judgment

15 Sideboard

4 Ghostly Prison

2 Quash

4 Karma

4 Scrabbling Claws

1 Scour

“Where’s Counsel of the Sortami? Where’s Concentrate?”

Where all sorcery-speed card-drawing spells belong when a control deck is being discussed: at home, watching the kids. When I play a control deck, I don’t want to spend all of my turn-three or turn-four mana drawing cards. That’s just a signal to my opponent to unleash the hounds and sick ’em on my lovelies. On turn three, I want three lands up. If I need to Hinder or Mana Leak something, I can. If not, at the end of their turn, I can cast Thirst for Knowledge.

Obligatory Section about Card Choices

Wrath of God and Final Judgment

To quote artic woodsman and entrepreneur Yukon Cornelius, these two cards “blow critters up real good.” Technically, I guess, Final Judgment doesn’t blow them up so much as vaporize them. The beauty of Final Judgment is that (a) the creatures will not be making any return engagements and (2) no goes-to-the-graveyard triggered abilities get triggered. No Soulshift. No Modular. No nuthin’, Buckwheat. (I guess there’s also a “C”: Kev Walker’s incredible art.)

(Only Three) Coastal Towers?

The Genjus require Plains (for the Fields) and Islands (for the Falls). Coastal Tower, Cloudcrest Lake, Cloudpost, etc., don’t work. The Genjus are the first-turn plays in this deck. Ultimately, you’d like to drop either Genju on turn one and then control the game after that.

Genju of the Falls and Genju of the Fields

You’re kidding, right? Please, tell me you’re kidding.

Mana Leak, Hinder, and Quash

The Blue control portion (along with Echoing Truth). Originally, this had four Inspirations, but I found that many decks *gasp* have really problematic instants and sorceries. Are you as shocked as I was? As I tested this deck, I dropped two Inspirations to get two Quashes into the main deck. They have come up huge. As was pointed out on the forums, while a Quash can’t counter, for example, a Cranial Extraction that is cast with Boseiju, Who Shelters All, the second part of the Quash ability still goes off. So, you Quash it and get three copies of the Extraction. Not as good as getting all four, but still not bad. In addition, if they cast that nasty spell and don’t use Boseiju, you get all four copies. Yummy. If you play against a deck that relies heavily on sorceries and instants, say, a Green-Black control deck with Extraction, Tooth and Nail, and Rude Awakening, make sure to bring in the other Quashes from the sideboard. But I get ahead of myself.

Echoing Truth

Some people don’t really “get” Echoing Truth. They see it purely as creature control. It’s much more than that. Oh, sure, it completely wrecks Krark-Clan Ironworks decks.

{THIS JUST IN: As I was writing this part of the piece, The DCI decided to ban artifact lands. The chance of there being a competitive KCI deck in Standard without those is comparable to the chances that my wife will agree that I can have dinner with Magdalena Wrobel or that Wrobel would want to. We now return you to your regularly scheduled ramblings.}

Remember, though, the Blue Truth sends back any non-land permanent. That includes Worship or Ensnaring Bridge or opposing Genjus. It won’t do anything about Rude Awakening tokens, but that’s what Hinder and Quash are for.

Thirst for Knowledge and Inspiration

As long as Thirst is Standard-legal, I’ll be using this for my three-mana card drawing spell. Yes, even in a deck with no artifacts. It digs you deep into the deck. I had been toying with Pulse of the Grid in the Inspiration slot. If you want to save a mana, go for it. Inspiration definitely draws two cards while the Pulse gets you deeper a la Thirst for Knowledge.

Playing the Deck – In General

As with other Blue/White Control decks, this one aims to control the board and win with a threat it can protect. Unlike other U/W Control decks, this doesn’t do so by waiting until late in the game to drop a big, fat Serra Angel, Morphling, or Exalted Angel. This one uses the Genjus to get the creature down ASAP and control the board to make it safe for your boy-ee to attack.

The trickiest part about playing a control deck is knowing what to counter and what to let get through. Typically, this deck wants to counter non-creature spells and let creatures go since Wrath and Final Judgment take care of them. For example, against a Tooth and Nail deck, you should probably let the Viridian Shaman hit (presuming anyone would still use Shamans maindeck after March 20th). On the flip side, counter the Rampant Growths and Sylvan Scryings. Rampant Growth lets the T&N player get ahead on mana and negate Mana Leak while also quickly building up to enough mana to cast Tooth and Nail with Entwine. Of course, against pure beatdown decks, you might want to counter a creature here and there since there may not be a whole lot else in the deck.

Against Tooth and Nail Variants

Since I already mentioned it, I’ll start here. I was surprised at how well this deck played against Tooth and Nail. The Genjus held their own and won a respectable six of the ten games (pre-sideboard). It doesn’t take long for Mana Leak to be useless against this deck. Don’t laugh, but – and, yes, I’m saying it again – you will want to Mana Leak the Sylvan Scryings, Rampant Growths, and any other spell that grabs lands. You want to make T&N work for its mana. Don’t worry too much about the small, early creatures. Save the countermagic for the stuff that makes your nubblies crawl up into your belly. You don’t want Tooth & Nail to hit. Save Hinder and especially Quash for Tooth and Nail and/or Rude Awakening. If it’s the G/B Control version, beware of Cranial Extraction.

Sideboarding: You want the other two Quashes and the Scrabbling Claws. The Echoing Truths are pretty much useless in this matchup; drop ’em. You don’t want to send back an Eternal Witness and you can’t send back animated lands. True, you can send back a Darksteel Colossus that got T&N-ed out. If that happened, you’re probably toast anyway. Besides, that’s what Final Judgment is for. You need Quashes to stop the Tooth and Awakening madness. You want the Scrabbling Claws to prevent Silly Eternal Witness Tricks™ and to draw cards later in the game. The other two cards to drop are one of each Genju. On the surface, it looks like you’d want those to stem any bleeding. Truly, though, there’s nothing else that makes sense to drop. Don’t even think about taking out Wrath or Final Judgment. You have to have the card drawing and countermagic. That really only leaves the Genjus. It must have been the right choice since the post-sideboard count was seven wins and three losses.

Against Affinity: As my man Nelson Muntz would say, “Ha ha!” I don’t have to test against Affinity for Standard ever again. Ya-hoo! (I also hope The DCI realizes that, after the October rotation for Extended with Tempest and Urza’s blocks leaving, they need to do something about Affinity in that format, too.) Okay, well, technically, Affinity doesn’t “go away” for about two weeks. So, I actually did test it. Hey! Guess what! Affinity’s a pretty good deck. Before sideboarding, Vial Affinity ripped this deck a new one at a rate of eight out of ten games. Sideboarding didn’t seem to help much, either. The fact that so much can happen on turn one is awful. And if Disciple hit, well, blah blah blah. I tried bringing in Ghostly Prison. That helped some but not enough because of (you guessed it) the Disciple. Another version had Samurai of the Pale Curtain in the sideboard, too. Nothing seemed to help. Thank goodness this deck is going away.

Against R/G: It was tough to find a post-Affinity R/G Beatdown deck. This was as close as I could come. Even so, I switched the Viridian Shamans for Troll Ascetics. My theory was quite simple: without Affinity of any sort in the environment, Viridian Shaman is not a good maindeck choice. Find something else for three mana that’s better. Troll Ascetic is better, though some folks made a good argument for Pulse of the Tangle. This set of ten games was an even split, five and five. Again, I was surprised at the Genjus’ success. I guess I shouldn’t have been. The games that the Genjus won were close (except for one) while the losses were lopsided. Genju of the Fields and the Wrath effects were the MVP’s in this match-up. Unlike when playing against the more controlling T&N decks, don’t fret is if you feel you have to use Mana Leak on a creature like Eternal Witness, Kumano, or Troll Ascetic. Heck, the deck is pretty much nothing but creatures. Stop whatever you can within reason. Remember, though, some creatures may not hurt too badly if you can follow up with a Wrath or Final Judgment. If you Wrath can do your job, hold the countermagic for Rude Awakening. Let them overextend, then lower the boom.

Sideboarding: Ghostly Prison and Scrabbling Claws must come in. Quash and Echoing Truth can sit on the bench for this one. Echoing Truth can’t hit the animated lands, and there’s not enough for Quash to target. You still need to stop creatures, though. Ghostly Prison is huge for that. Even when a Rude Awakening hit, often only two or three lands could afford to swing. As with other Green decks, the Claws prevent Silly Witness Tricks™. The other two cards, sadly, had to be one Inspiration.

Making the choices for deck changes for games two and three were tougher for me than with any other deck. I had actually forgotten about Ghostly Prison. Yeah, stupid. I know. Also, I kept trying to take Genjus out when they’re vital defense. It wasn’t until I realized that I wasn’t getting to cast Inspiration that I figured out where the final two cards would come from. After sideboarding, the match-up went to six and four in favor of the Genjus. That may not seem huge. However, unlike the maindeck matchups, none of the losses were blowouts. The key is to use the Scrabbling Claws early and often without letting the game get out of hand. When the Witness has nothing to bring back, she’s just not that scary.

Against Mono-Black Control: This was the toughest game one. The multiple discard spells along with the life loss is stunning. I guess that’s why Thomas Wood is the 2004 Ohio Champ. (Congrats, Thomas!) MBC won seven of ten games before sideboarding. This was another one that didn’t surprise me. MBC deck just punishes decks that hold their hand. Hinder-ing Distress is fine unless it’s immediately followed by Death Cloud for three. Oh, and don’t get me started on Death Cloud. The only thing good about that is that the Genjus come back to your hand after you sacrifice a land.

Sideboarding: In terms of what went in, that was easy. The Karmas and the other two Quashes. A single Karma can ruin the game of the mono-Black mage if it hits. What came out was difficult. I found Echoing Truth to be less than optimal against this deck, which became an interesting theme in testing given how strong that card is. It did save me once when my opponent cast the second Kokusho (sending the first one back means no Silly Legend Tricks™). Usually, though, the Truth was dead. I didn’t want to send back Chittering Rats or Solemn Speedbump. I wanted them to just go away. Since the full set of Wrath of God didn’t seem to be needed because of the slow creature development of the MBC deck, I also dropped one of those. The final card was a single Inspiration. I almost brought in the single Scour – which I had added for use against Worship or Honden of Infinite Rage, if they ever show up – to use on the Phyrexian Arenas. I just didn’t want to drop anything else. I counted on the countermagic to do its thing. You may find a different configuration. No matter what you do, leave the Final Judgments. It keeps Kokusho from doing life-loss tricks and the Speedbump from drawing cards. Also, don’t drop any card drawing. This is a matchup where card advantage is king. You need to draw cards.

When you play games two and three, do not keep a hand just because it has Karma in it. In fact, I would even go so far as to say you should mulligan if you have an opening hand with Karma. It takes too long to get it out, and it will get stripped away. I promise. By keeping that in mind, I was able to make the post-sideboard matchup swing slightly in the Genjus’ favor, six to four. That’s not really a victory, though. If you’re losing seventy per cent of your first games, a sixty-per-cent winning percentage in the other two isn’t gonna win you many matches.

P.U. – It Stinks

Just an FYI. Plow Under is horrible for this deck. I mean, it’s bad against a lot of decks, but it completely hogties this one. If they Plow Under two lands with Genjus on them, you lose both Genjus, and your draws are hosed for the next two turns.

Yes, you lose the Genjus. Unlike the Urza’s block enchantments, these are not truly eternal enchantments a la Rancor and Brilliant Halo. The Genjus only come back if the lands that they’re on go to the graveyard. When the lands get bounced, the Genjus are gone. Remember that. Counter Plow Under!

The Part Where the Princess Kisses the Farmboy

I didn’t have time to test any more matchups. Time is a limited commodity. If there are other decks that you think you might face some Friday night or Saturday afternoon, test ’em out. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how well this little Genju deck runs.

As usual, you’ve been a great audience. Please, give a warm welcome for The Partridge Family!

Chris Romeo