From Right Field: Quick Hits, Volume 2

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Chris revisits his popular “Train of Thought” article format… and no, I’m not talking about the card-drawing sorcery. He tackles a number of interesting points, throws in a decklist, and shares some quality cheesecake. What’s not to like?

{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 Dark Confidant, Sacred Foundry, 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.}

* At the risk of being called a heretic, I don’t like the fact that it’s now as easy to get mana for enemy color pairs as it is for friendly colors. If that one line didn’t completely turn you off of this paragraph, please, follow my thinking. One of the ingenious things that Dr. Garfield did when creating this game was to create the five-point color wheel. This gave each color two friends and two enemies. It should be easier for the friends to work together than the enemies. Consequently, when enemies do work together, the effects should be bigger than when friends work together. Yet, thanks to the reprinting of the Ice Age and Apocalypse pain lands in Ninth Edition and the Ravnica Shock dual lands, the drawback of playing enemy colors is exactly the same as playing friendly colors. I don’t like that symmetry. Bigger effects should be more troublesome to achieve.

* How would I fix that? I think that it’s pretty simple, at least in part. Just make it hurt a little more to play enemy colors. Steam Vents and Godless Shrine should cost three life to untap, not two. Blood Crypt and Temple garden can stay at two life. What about the Apocalypse (i.e. enemy) pain lands that are now in Ninth Edition? That’s a bit trickier. Two damage per colored activation would be too much. Maybe the Apoc/9E enemy pain lands could be changed to cause one damage and stay tapped for a turn. Or they could bring out a whole new set of enemy pain lands. They could come into play tapped, with no Ravnica-like chance to untap, and cause one damage when tapped for colored mana. Really, anything to make the enemy colors just a smidge harder to play than the friendly colors would be great. It would fit the design of the game much better than it does now.

* I know that I’m in the (very small) minority on this one. People love to be able to play any color combination they want. I’m one of those people. I’m not advocating taking away enemy lands or making it so that enemy colors can’t be played without using Green to fetch the right colors. I’m merely saying that it shouldn’t be as easy as playing friendly colors. Right now, it’s as exactly as easy.

* I guess I’m bringing this up because I’m finally fed up with how easily Red and Blue work together in the U/R land destruction/Magnivore deck now. I started developing this theory back when Apocalypse first gave us the enemy pain lands. (Yes, I know about the original duals, which also had no extra drawback. The concept of a metagame and net decking hadn’t come up during Alpha and Beta.) It wasn’t too awfully bad back then because there was only one set of two-colored lands in Standard. Making consistently good enemy-colored decks wasn’t that easy. Besides, only U/G Madness really seems to have abused the off-color thing. Red and Blue could have worked together even back then. Boomerang was still legal when Magnivore was in Standard. What we have now, though, are two sets of dual lands that make Red and Blue as well as the Izzet Boilerworks and the Izzet Signet. Red can now get off that second-turn LD spell it’s always wanted. It’s just that the spell is Blue, and LD now stands for “land denial.”

* I am a hypocrite. I know that’s what it looks like. Magnivore and Wildfire are both in the Red Ninth Edition precon deck, and I’ve pimped decks using both of those cards. The Steam Vents are still pretty expensive, though, and the Shivan Reef isn’t cheap, either. You don’t get to play Magic against the deck, and that’s hugely annoying. Land destruction decks weren’t always that annoying because they had no second-turn land kill. This deck, though, unlike other LD decks, is so annoying precisely because it is so good. It’s so good because it’s so consistent. That consistency is fed by the fact that there are two sets of dual lands, neither of which penalizes a player any worse than if that player was playing friendly colors.

* By the way, when you see me use the words “pimp” or “pimped,” I’m almost always using an older meaning for it. I know that today pimp (the verb) means “to turn something that’s boring or average (or worse) into something funky and cool.” In other words, “to trick something out.” I’m using it to mean “trying to convince you to buy something.” As in, “I’m a pimp. Buy this, sucka duck.” So, when I say “I’ve pimped decks using both of those cards,” I don’t mean that I tricked them out. I mean that I tried to convince you to use those cards in decks.

* I wish we didn’t have to worry about people marking cards. I love the feel of cards in my hand. I would almost always rather play with an unsleeved deck than with sleeves. I guess it reminds me of when I first started collecting baseball cards. Not that I shuffled them up or anything. Back then, though – 1974 to be exact – cards didn’t go straight from packs into vacuum-sealed sleeves. They went into boxes, from which they often emerged to be traded or looked at while a game was on TV. Sadly, though, we have to worry about marked cards. So, sleeves are a necessary evil. That’s just one reason I like my casual, kitchen-table games so much. I get to feel the cards.

* Speaking of futility, some people think that discussing Ravnica Block Constructed decks is pointless. Apparently, it’s pointless because there are no qualifiers that utilize the format. Poppycock, says I, for two reasons. First, not every tournament has to be some high-level Pro-Tour-related hoedown. There are a lot of stores out there holding RBC tournaments on weekends. Second, my decks aren’t likely to win a PTQ or GPT, anyway.

* I’m glad that Loxodon Warhammer won the vote over Empyrial Plate for Tenth Edition. A change would have been nice, but, honestly, I just didn’t want to dig out my Plates from back in the depths of the closet. Lazy or practical? You decide.

* On the other hand, I know right where my Mogg Fanatics are. So, I hope that it beats Kird Ape. Okay, I really did put more thought into it than that. When Tenth Edition hits, Ravnica block will be legal for about two months. After than, no Stomping Grounds. In other words, unless Wizards does some weird stuff like reprint the Ravnica dual/Shock lands in Tenth Edition (remember: the rumor started here!), you won’t get any turn 1 2/3 Kird Apes. If I’m going to get a 1/1 for R with an ability, I’d like Mogg Fanatic, please. (FYI, FWIW, OMG, this was written on July 12th, well before any results were announced.)

* Syd Barrett is dead, and I am bummed. Syd was Pink Floyd before he went crazy and Roger Waters took over the driving the bus. (Whoever asked a couple of months ago: yes, I knew exactly what I was referencing about when I used the line “Careful With That Axe, Eugene.”) In fact, “Shine On, You Crazy Diamond” was written for, to, and about Barrett. Most people who have heard Pink Floyd have never heard anything that was done when Barrett was at the helm. That’s sad, too. It’s grand, trippy stuff. If you like Coldplay, go pick up the original Pink Floyd album with Barrett on it. It’s called The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. You won’t be disappointed. (A Saucerful of Secrets had minimal input from Barrett, but you’d never know it. His style is stamped all over it. To be honest, Barrett’s style was the dominant one for the band for six or seven albums after he left. It wasn’t really until 1973’s The Dark Side of the Moon that the band starting sounding like the Roger Waters-David Gilmour version that we think of today.)

* Bennie Smith did a great SCG Daily piece that focused on the art in Elephant Ambush. He nailed exactly how I’ve felt about that art since the beginning. I giggled when I first saw it. Then, I pondered it a bit. Now, my E.A. story. Our condo has a nice little courtyard that, thanks to the placement of the garage (out front of the house) and a big shade tree right in the middle of the courtyard (dogwood) inspired Luanne to make the courtyard into a bit of a forest scene. We have lots of shade-loving ferns, for example. One day, I came home, and she had a cement statue of an elephant, sitting on its buttocks, nestled in among the ferns, just kinda peeking out. Immediately, his name came to me: Fernando. Again, I couldn’t help but giggle. She asked why. I went and got a copy of Elephant Ambush. She loved it. It’s now her favorite bookmark.

* You almost got one hell of a treat last weekend. For a while, it looked like I was going to be going to Nationals. Not actually playing in The Big Tourney, mind you. But I had plans to face off against Rizzo in a series of games. Sadly, my family had actual plans for my 40th birthday, and I couldn’t make Nationals. (Damn, thoughtful family and friends. Grrrrrr…) Let me tell you what would have happened, though. For our Extended duel, Rizzo would have beat my Goblins deck because I wouldn’t think there was any way he’d play Friggorid. But he would, though, knowing that I wouldn’t think he would. Legacy, I had him with my Lord of Atlantis-Merfolk deck. By the time we’d get to game five of our best-of-five Standard match, we’d decide to call it a draw because we’re just too even. In my mind, anyway.

* Why isn’t Lord of Atlantis a Merfolk? Wizards did a bang-up job in changing most of the Lords to be the same creature type that they pump up. It was a great decision because it also made sense from a flavor perspective. I mean, how could you be the Goblin King without being a Goblin? How could you be the Elvish Champion without being an Elf? I guess it’s possible, but look at the pictures. The Goblin King’s always been a Goblin. Ditto for Elvish Champion. Now, how do you get to be Lord of Atlantis, with a tail like a mermaid but two arms like Hulk Hogan, without also being a Merfolk? Please, Mr. Rosewater or Mr. Forsythe or whoever does these things, please, make Lord of Atlantis a Merfolk. — Thank you, Chris

* I don’t feel the same way about the Zombie Master, though. Do I have something against Zombies? Of course, not. I love me some Zombies. There’s two reasons I don’t care if they make the Zombie Master a Zombie. No, I’ll go farther than that. Zombie Master should not be a Zombie. First, you can be master of zombies without being a zombie. I used to live in New Orleans, and I can tell you from personal experience that most zombie masters are actually hot voodoo priestesses that are not also zombies themselves. Second, Zombies have Lord of the Undead. That’s plenty.

* I’m still looking for a way to play Bronze Bombshell. Yeah, I know that I could just drop it into a deck. But I want to donate it to my opponent. Spawnbroker is still looking good, but that’s a one shot. You know what could do it? Sky Swallower. Not Simic Sky Swallower. No, that guy’s good. I’m talking about the one that gives all of your permanents away when it hits. Imagine having three Bronze Bombshells in play when the Sky Swallower hits. You win! I guess you’d better, huh? I mean, since your opponent will have all of your stuff (except for the Sky Swallower).

* Speaking of cards I want to play, Dark Depths from Coldsnap. Some people have already poo-poo-ed the card. “It’s too easy to deal with the token.” “Repeal for zero much?” “Cruel Edict targeting you!” Hey, kids! Look! It’s a card for a control deck! While the points above are all quite legitimate, I’m thinking that no one would create the token if they though their opponent could deal with it. This is a card for a U/B control deck. Hammer their hand. Counter the threats. Stop the things that stop the Avatar token. Win.

* I will most surely be packing Ghost Quarter in my decks from now on. I may only have two copies, but they will be in there. There are just too many lands that “needed killin’.” (FYI, that’s a valid defense to a murder charge down here.) Let’s see, there’s Vitu-Ghazi, the City Tree; Svogthos, the Restless Tomb; anything Enchanted with Leafdrake Roost; Rix Maadi, Dungeon Pain in the Ass, and about sixty-two-thousand others.

* Did I mention Eye of the Storm yet in this column? How about this Silly Synergy™ I figured out. Eye of the Storm plus Leyline of Lightning plus Ripple = St00pid G00d. You see, the Eye (get it?) and Ripple both say “play” the copies. Leyline triggers off of the playing (not copying) of spells. The first time you cast any spell with the Eye in play, the Leyline triggers twice: once upon casting; and once upon the Eye doing its thing. For Ripple, that also means two Ripples on the first casting. It really is silly. It’s also fragile thus far. When it works, though, you can win in a spectacular fashion. If you do, you will be someone’s hero. Oh, and FWIW, you can add Thrumming Stone, you know, if you want to really go over the top.

* I thought about addressing this only in the forums since it is in response to a post, but I think it’s something everyone should read. One forum hound, commenting on the U/W RBC decks from two weeks ago, said something along the lines of “Azorius Guildmage is just so much better than Minister of Impediments that, no matter what you say, I think the GM should be in the deck.” Ben addressed something similar in a recent column. What I can say is this: I actually test my decks (unless I specifically note otherwise, which I usually only do for completely theoretical decks). So, when I say that I found Minister of Impediments to be better than the Azorius Guildmage in that deck, what I mean is that I found Minister of Impediments to be better than the Azorius Guildmage in that deck. You might not think it’s true. You might not believe it. However, when you read my pieces, and I say that one card was better than another, it was, at least in the games I tested. This is most likely true for every writer on this site, too. Don’t just dismiss our card choices out of hand. Test the deck yourself. Theorizing is great. But theorizing didn’t put a man on the moon. People building and testing stuff did. The theorizing is a necessary first step, but it can’t end there.

* I think that the reason that I used the moon landing analogy was that I just saw a fantastic documentary on the mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, from inception, through design, to launching. One part that intrigued me was the work done on the actual landing itself. Even with all of the incredibly intelligent people working on the things, they knew that theory wasn’t enough. They had to actually test how the things would actually land. Computer simulations and mathematical equations weren’t enough, and they couldn’t do a quick test run to Mars. Instead, they had to drop a giant balloon (yes, really) housing a rover stand-in from a helicopter onto the desert floor. It was so interesting to watch how reality broke theory and forced them to change things. I won’t say anymore since you should see it to find out what was wrong and what they did to fix it. If you’re a space junkie like me, you’ll love it.

* Having said all of that, I’m not saying not to change our decks. Do you see where I write up above there that you should never consider my decks to be “done”? If you find in one of my pieces a skeleton onto which you can grow some tasty flesh… please, do so. Just don’t say that a choice is bad or wrong until you test it. I tested the U/W deck. A lot. “Too much,” said Luanne. In RBC, the Minister of Impediments is a better main deck choice. So far. Who knows what other decks will show up to blow that data out of the water? The Guildmage, though, does go in the sideboard.

* Other folks have been worried about less-relevant things like the lack of cheesecake. Look, I won’t always have a good way to work into an article pictures of Monica Belucci, Petra Nemcova, or Catherine Bell. Sometimes, they just have nothing to do with the columns. Typically, I’ll work in cheesecake in one of two ways. First, there’s the analogy, such as “the deck’s as hot as Rachel Hunter as Stacy’s Mom.” Or, I’ll give you a hypothetical-game story, like how you might be playing the deck against Adriana Lima when she casts Wrath of God after you, of course, “overextended your position.” (Heh!) However, if none of these things work there ways into the article, I won’t just randomly add a “My Favorite Cheesecake of the Week” section or anything. Who do you think I am? Ted Knutson?

* To Brandon, who asked about me working Warp World and Spellweaver Helix into an article: does this count?

* Have you seen Haakon, Stromgald Scourge? Do you know how ludicrous this guy is? I do, because I got to play with him in a draft. He may end up being just as good in Constructed. Butter my ass and call me a biscuit, you play this guy from your graveyard. That gives you about thirteen more chances to cast him than if he was in your hand. Hinder, of course, stinks. Still, it stinks to get hit with Hinder, anyway.

* A couple of folks asked why I didn’t mention Hour of Reckoning or Culling Sun for the B/W Murray & Sons deck from two weeks ago. When I don’t mention trying a particular card, there are essentially three reasons. First, I tried it, didn’t use it, but can’t mention all of the cards that I didn’t use because Craig likes to keep these things a tad shorter than a James Joyce novel, or, for you younger ones, a Harry Potter book. Second, I’ve already hit my rare limit. Third, whoops, I missed that one. My bad.

As far as Hour and C-Sun are concerned, I did try them, but I found that they weren’t needed. The deck was essentially beating the sn0t out of people already. I would consider Culling Sun for the sideboard, though. Against weenie decks, you’ll keep the Blind Hunter, Skeletal Vampire, Absolver Thrull, and Belfry Spirit when Culling Sun goes off. They will lose everything.

There’s a great synergy, though, between Hour of Reckoning and Skeletal Vampire. Okay, well, at least it’s not dis-synergy. Hour of Reckoning doesn’t say creatures can’t be regenerated. Murray can regenerate himself by eating one of his kids that are dying anyway. (I’m so gross!) Casting HoR can often mean that you’re the only one with any creatures left on board.

Regardless of these facts, I didn’t find either card to be necessary in the main deck. However, I will, as always, suggest that you use the deck as a jumping-off point, and test some changes yourself. (And you thought that I was going to say “and go jump in a lake.” Shame on you.)

* In my last Quick Hits column, I asked if anyone played my decks at tournaments. I got a lot of “You’ve got to be kidding. Play your decks at a tournament? It is to laugh.” I also got a lot of “I use your decks as jumping off points, and I play those at tournaments.” Lew McDonald, however, says that he took the Halcyon Glaze deck to a tournament and came in second, losing only to a Gruul deck in the finals. And Lew didn’t use a sideboard, either. Okay, so it was only an eight-person tourney. Still, he beat a Niv-Mizzet Control deck and U/W Control before the Gruul finals. That seems pretty dang good to me.

* I’ve decided that Chilling Shade is ludicrous. Here’s why. Unlike other Shades, this guy can pump himself up for any color of mana, as long as it’s Snow mana. Now, the rule for Snow-Covered lands is that they are Basic lands. That means that you’re not limited to four in your deck. You can have any number of them. You could play with all twenty-four of your lands as Snow-Covered, say six each of Snow-Covered Swamp, Snow-Covered Plains, Snow-Covered Island, and Snow-Covered Forest. Each one of them could pump up the Shade. In other words, Chilling Shade is splashable, unlike the rest of the most recent Shades. Oh, yeah, and it flies. Sick.

* Peter Jahn wrote a great piece on the cost of playing competitive Magic what with the addition of a fourth, tournament-legal set of almost entirely new cards (Coldsnap) this year. It’s well written and quite thoughtful and thought-provoking. I don’t really have anything else to say about his piece other than the fact that, as I’ve already said, it’s great. What I want to address is some of the forum comments about that column. Several folks said essentially that “We’ve wanted great dual lands, and then, when you get them, you complain about their cost. You’re a p00py-head.” This is what we call a non sequitur. Of course, we want great dual lands. They make playing the game easier. Getting them, however, doesn’t mean that we should feel that we can’t complain about their monetary cost on the secondary market when a set of four runs for between sixty and a hundred bucks even though the packs they come from are still being printed. You see, the Ravnica dual lands didn’t have to be rares. There’s no law of man or nature that required it. They could have been uncommon or even common. It was all up to Wizards to decide where they went. They picked rare.

Of course, I’m also a realist. From Onslaught to today, good dual lands have been rare. (When I say “good” I mean ones that don’t come into play tapped or stay tapped a turn for making colored mana. Those seem to be uncommons like the Invasion, Champions, and Coldsnap duals.) Heck, even the silly Odyssey filter lands were rare, and they did nothing for you until you had another land that could produce mana. I wouldn’t be surprised if, from now on, this will always be the case.

On the flip side, these lands are expensive because of simple supply and demand. People are willing to pay fifteen to twenty-five bucks each for them. So, dealers are gladly willing to charge that much for them. Simply put, they’re worth it. They will continue to be worth it, too. Or, as one forum poster (kinda) put it, “If I pay twenty-bucks for a Rav Block dual land, it will still be worth twenty bucks in five years, maybe, probably, more. A lot of the cards that were expensive a few years ago plummeted when their deck was no longer viable or rotated out of Standard. A particular spell may be good sometimes but not always. Good lands will always be good.” (See, also, Rishadan Port.)

* Arguing over the cost and value of dual lands, though, is a red herring in this case. Peter wasn’t talking about whether the cards that made Pro Tour-winning deck expensive were worth their cost. It doesn’t matter. Regardless of why the cards are the price they are or whether or not they’re worth it, the fact remains that the top decks are prohibitively expensive to build for newcomers. Much of that is due to the dual/rare lands. (For the percentages, refer back to Peter’s piece.) (Oh, man, that sounds so wrong out loud.) Take Ghost Husk, for example. If you don’t know the deck by name, it’s a Black and White deck that runs eight of the rare, dual lands, four each of Caves of Koilos and Godless Shrine. Could you build the deck without Godless Shrine? Absolutely. How about without Caves or Shrine? Again, absolutely. Would the deck be as good? Absolutely not. By not using dual lands, any deck that could use them suffers, almost by definition. It’s a matter of simple math. Fewer lands that produce two colors of mana in a two-color deck means more chances to miss having the right color. More dual lands means more consistent draws.

While Emerson was right when he said, “foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” the key there is the word foolish. It’s not foolish to want your manabase to be consistent. The more easily your deck gives you either color of mana, the more smoothly your two-color deck will run. Ultimately, of course, what you’d like to have is a manabase that will always give you the right color. That can only happen if you play a mono-colored deck (or a no-color, artifact deck) or a two-color deck with nothing but various “dual” lands. (Dual is in quotation marks back there because most folks would not consider a Rakdos Carnarium, for example to be a dual land even though it produces two colors of mana.)

The bottom line is this: if you want to compete at the upper levels of Magic, your deck will be expensive most of the time (the occasional U/G Madness deck aside). Your choices then are to spend the money on the cards, find someone who can loan you the cards, play cheaper (read: inferior) versions of top decks, or play different decks.

* Most folks don’t like those final two options. “If I play a rogue deck, I’m gonna lose.” John F. Rizzo used to like to say something along the lines of “you’re gonna lose anyway, Laetitia. Only one person’s gonna win the whole thing. You might as well lose with your own deck.” (I wonder if he still feels that way after break three or four different formats…) The question you have to answer for yourself is this: what do I want out of this game?

Think about your honest answer to that, and get back to me.

* This week’s #1 Super-Best Quote comes from quote machine Kevin Smith, being interviewed on NPR on the eve of the opening of Clerks II:

Steve Inskeep: I wanted to play that clip because it brings up two things that come up a lot in your films: comics; and God.

Smith: Yeah, I’m a pretty big fan of both.

* I see that Mogg Fanatic beat Kird Ape. Yeah! I went looking for my Mogg Fanatics. I can’t find any. Boo! I know that this is a common occurrence for most folks, but not for me. I am organized to a fault. I got into Magic during Urza’s Block. Since then, any cards I’ve gotten are organized by color and set. Anything that came out before Urza’s goes into my Oldies box, also organized by color. Mogg Fanatics should have been in the oldies box. I’ll bet I loaned them out and never got them back. Ugh. On the flip side, I have my four Incinerates, four Hurricanes, and four Lord of the Pits set aside in a small box labeled “New to Tenth Edition,” just waiting for Summer 2007 to roll around.

Man, I hope I find my Mogg Fanatics. Of course, if I don’t, this here site here has a great ordering system. I can just pick up four from Pete & Co. As long as there are still some left…

* As for the next selections, I picked Forgotten Ancient over Crucible of Worlds and Spelljack over Time Stop. Yes, I know that I picked the “weaker” of the two in each case. I don’t care. I like creatures over artifacts that do wacky things, even if those wacky things can win you games in degenerate ways. I also like the surprise factor of Spelljack over the pure power of Time Stop. I wish they could just reprint Time Stop’s art on some other card, though.

* My favorite Coldsnap preconstructed deck is Aurochs Stampede. As with my Forgotten Ancient and Spelljack picks for Tenth Edition, though, I’m not saying my choice is of the best one. It’s just my favorite from looking at them. (I haven’t played any of the precons yet.) I like the fact that I can buy two and have four Incinerates (which are coming back in Tenth Edition) and four Highland Weald as well as two Hibernation’s End (one of the best Green rares in the set) and two Shape of the Wiitigo. (You also get enough Snow-Covered Forests and Snow-Covered Mountains that you could fill a deck with nothing but those as your lands.) Is this the “best” way to collect those cards? Depends on your definition of the word “best.” It’s certainly not the cheapest way to get those cards. For some folks, though, buying precons is more fun than just buying the cards outright. In fact, here’s something I used to do with my Kitchen-Table-Magic krewe. When the new set came out, we’d each buy one of the precons, after making sure who was getting what and that no one was doubling up. (Exceptions made if five or more people wanted to play, obviously.) Then, we’d each bust open our precon and shuffle up for a multiplayer chaos game. After the first game, we’d pass the decks left, and so on until we couldn’t keep out eyes open. This way, everyone would get to see and play with a bunch of different cards from the set.

* “Why do you even care about preconstructed decks?!? They’re useless!” I get this a lot, especially when I’m in my Precon-Decon mode here. The simple answer is: they spark my creativity. I also like the challenge. I mean, it’s pretty easy to make a kick-ass deck (note: I’m not saying Pro-Tour-winning deck) is budget is no obstacle. What about when budget is very much an obstacle, though? Or finding cards online? You might be shocked to know that some kids don’t have access to a credit card or bank account with which to pay a place like StarCityGames.com. (Although, if they really want to be industrious, they could save their money, use money orders, and mail in their order to Pete. I’m pretty sure he’d work with folks on that.) They have to *gasp* get their cards from a non-gaming store. I feel that sometimes my job is: how can I help them if/when they do find a local tournament to play in? One way is to trick out a precon. Don’t laugh. I once saw an 1800-plus-rated player wielding an Opposition deck taken down in a best-of-three match by a kid playing his first tourney with a tweaked precon. And mana hosing or flooding had nothing to do with it.

* Do you think building precons is easy? It’s not. You oughta try it sometime. In fact, someone did something like that on this here very here site here a while back. Sadly, I am unable to locate it. (Super-Craig to the rescue?) [Maybe… – Craig.] It’s a great exercise. Look at the rules that seem to follow Wizards’ own precons, and see what you can do.

Rule #1) The rares in the deck must be from the set you’re featuring — You can’t build a Coldsnap “precon” and use Debtors’ Knell and Golgari Grave-Troll. The rares have to be from the set that the precon is focusing on.

Rule #2) You can only use two rares, and they must be different — Seems easy enough. Just find the two best rares in the set. Whoops? What did you say, Number Three?

Rule #3) You can not use the chase rares in the set — Yes, we all remember that Umezawa’s Jitte was in the Rat’s Nest precon deck. I think that only goes to prove that Wizards really didn’t know how hot that card would be. The Ravnica Block dual lands, for example, would never be in a Ravnica, Guildpact, or Dissension deck. A Coldsnap White deck wouldn’t get Adarkar Valkyrie. And, a Ninth Edition Red precon would have Wildfire or Magnivore. Okay, so, this and the Jitte go to show that once in a while a few slip through. However, you gotta admit the vast majority of precons feature non-chase rares. So, err on the side of caution.

Rule #4) You can not have four of any card in the deck unless it’s basic land — The only exceptions are (a) when it only makes sense to have either four of a card or none or (b) when you really want to/need to hammer home the “theme” of the deck. For example, the Coldsnap U/W Soldiers deck has four Surging Sentinels and four Surging Aethers. That makes perfect sense because of the Ripple mechanic. You want to pack the deck as full as you can. As for the second exception, the Urza’s Saga precon called Sleeper had four Brilliant Halos, but the theme for that deck was the Sleeper and Eternal Enchantments. All right, so “it’s more like a guideline.”

Now, see what you can do.

* Drawing of the Week: Ben Goodman Frowntown, apparently where he feels he needs to live after being defeated by Talen Lee in the third round of the SCG Writers MTGO Battle Royale.

* I don’t have a Ravnica Block Constructed deck this week, and I’m sorry. Or, to be more precise, I don’t have one that I came up with on my own and that is vigorously tested by me. This is a deck that my Two-Headed Giant (Limited) States teammate Mr. Harmon had been working on. He likes to reanimate things. In fact, he took such a deck to Regionals in 2005, and I’m pretty sure that he would play Reanimator-style decks any time he could. Right now, Standard offers him a great set of tools because he can use both Vigor Mortis and Zombify in a U/B Reanimator deck. An RBC version isn’t too bad, either. The Magic number is nine.

4 Dimir Aqueduct
11 Island
10 Swamp

4 Dimir House Guard
1 Blazing Archon
2 Nullstone Gargoyle
4 Grozoth
4 Muddle the Mixture
4 Remand
4 Dimir Signet
4 Vigor Mortis
4 Debtors’ Knell
4 Compulsive Research

This deck is right at the rare limit for From Right Field… but come on, folks. Look at the rares. Only the Debtors’ Knells (I told you I would) are even slightly pricey. The Blazing Archons, Nullstone Gargoyles, and Grozoths are, at best, cheap rares, and, at worst, trash rares. (I got my online Grozoths, for example, by trading a single Viridian Shaman for them, and the other guy still thought he’d ripped me off.)

The deck screams for Watery Graves, but you will feel silly playing such a good and expensive land in this deck. They do make the deck run more smoothly, though.

Playing it isn’t that tough. Knowing when to mulligan; that’s tough. You’re going to use Muddle the Mixture and Remand early to control things while Compulsive Research dumps critters into the ‘yard. I can’t stress this part enough. Dump creatures to the Compulsive Research even if you have a land in your hand. You need as much land as you can get in case you ever have to *gasp* cast one of those monstrosities, and you want the big creatures in the ‘yard. Exceptions can be made if you have twelve mana and can cast a Nullstone Gargoyle after the Research, if you can Transmute the Grozoth in a meaningful fashion, or if you can cast the Dimir House Guard. The House Guard, though, is really there to Transmute for the Vigor Mortis.

One card not listed that you might want to try is Delirium Skeins. It allows you to dump some stuff from your hand while also hitting the other guy very hard. He wants to keep the cards in his hand. You may not. I’d start with dropping Remand, but that’s just a starting point. Compulsive Research would be my number two choice.

* How does it play? Hit and miss, but four tons of fun when it works. Harmon designed the original (i.e. Standard) version of the deck for, believe it or not, a more competitive atmosphere. That typically means more control. This deck is slow and often gets rolled by Gruul, mono-Red weenie, mono-White weenie, the Professor, and Mary Ann. When it isn’t busy getting rolled, though, it has a very nice curve (including Transmute at three mana). Ultimately, turn 2 is a Signet, Remand, or Muddle, turn 3 gets you Compulsive Research, and turn 3 has you reanimating some disgusting beast that you dumped with the Research, preferably Grozoth, which allows you to fill your hand with other nine-mana filth. (Personally, I like reanimating the Archon, but I’ve been told the Grozoth goes first. Still, stopping combat dead seems like a good idea to me, Mortify and Putrefy aside, of course. Ah, whadoIknow?)

The surprise hit in the deck is the Gargoyle. Think about this: how do they kill him? It would take two Mortifies or Putrefies just because of his ability. Yes, he’s quite strong. Just don’t run him into Stinkweed Imp. Be careful, though. He can mess up your own plans. If you don’t have control of things, leave him in the ‘yard. If you still need to draw cards or want to Vigor Mortis-ize someone else, you need to do that first. Once you have control, get him on board.

* I can’t tell you exactly why I haven’t been able to test RBC decks the past couple of weeks. You’ll get a big hint next week.

Until then, keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for your wallet.

Chris Romeo