From Right Field: Taking Care of Your V.D.

Then, I started thinking to myself,”Self, we need to get back on track. We need to start showing people that they can indeed be competitive with a deck that doesn’t cost two hundred seventy-five dollars and that has cards that are unwanted and unloved.” Yes, I am King Scrubracer, ruler of The Island of Misfit Cards.

My column’s mandate, updated and improved, is to generate decks that you, the average player, can build and still be competitive with. Or rather, to be grammatically correct, with which you can be competitive. I’m also going to show you how I (and my crew) make the choices that we do.

Where have I been? It’s a good question. It’s also a cheap way for a writer to get things started.

The short answer is,”Right here.” I haven’t stopped doing all of the things I love to do. I was writing some Magic columns, but they weren’t funny. As The Ferrett once told me,”We don’t mind that you have Chris Romeo strategy as long as it’s backed up by Chris Romeo wit. When it’s Chris Romeo strategy backed up by Kai Budde wit, that’s not good.”

I was stuck, to be honest. I wasn’t feeling funny. I’d write and write and write, but nothing good would come out. It wasn’t really writer’s block, per se. I mean, I wrote stuff. Just not funny stuff. Let’s be honest, you don’t want to read my Magic columns if they’re not funny. My editorial pieces, maybe. My history of Geeks in America, absolutely. But my Magic stuff? If it’s not funny, it’s crap!

So, I went on a hiatus from writing. I played Magic. Badly, as usual. I won some prizes, but nothing more than a few packs of cards. I didn’t win any actual tournaments. I also wasn’t having fun. It wasn’t the losing. It was that I was losing to the same decks over and over again. I know I harp on this all the time. It’s just that I find it sad that people can’t come up with their own decks. They play Mono-White Control and claim it’s their own because”I’m running four Exalted Dragons, not just three.” [Yes, I know what it says. – Knut] They play Goblins and claim it’s their own because”I’m running one copy of Sulfuric Vortex in the main instead of a twenty-fourth land.” Well, ya-friggin’-hoo for you, Cowboy Wally!

I hate that people who don’t have a ton of money to spend on this game can’t be competitive in local tourneys. (I’m leaving the Pro Tour out of this. When you’ve got $25,000 on the line, go for broke, baby.)

Then, I started thinking to myself,”Self, we need to get back on track. We need to start showing people that they can indeed be competitive with a deck that doesn’t cost two hundred seventy-five dollars and that has cards that are unwanted and unloved.” Yes, I am King Scrubracer, ruler of The Island of Misfit Cards.

My column’s mandate, updated and improved, is to generate decks that you, the average player, can build and still be competitive with. Or rather, to be grammatically correct, with which you can be competitive. I’m also going to show you how I (and my crew) make the choices that we do.

However, I will still be dropping in rares. You gotta have some good cards. I also must continue to urge you to get four copies of each of the Onslaught fetch lands. If you can’t get four of each of the five of them, then make sure you have four of the ones that match the colors that you play the most. You simply must have them, dahling. Other than that, I’ll be doing my best to keep costs low.

Back in my schizophrenic head, I was thinking about what the problem truly was in facing MWC, U/W Control, and Goblins. The answer, after much talking with myself (and Karl Allen, 2001 Tennessee State Champ), was that the other decks weren’t being punished for doing what they do best: wipe out the board in order to lay down their own critters and get them through unmolested. I wanted to punish people who played Wrath of God, Akroma’s Vengeance, Starstorm, and even Decree of Pain.

At this point, yet another voice in the back of my head kept calling, much like Poe’s raven,”Vengeful Dead! Vengeful Dead!” (Even the cadence matches. Heh.) [My apologies, John.] Duh, well, of course.

For those who gloss over cards that aren’t being hyped by players from Germany, New Yawk, or The United States North (a.k.a. Canada), the Vengeful Dead is a sweet li’l Zombie that is a bit expensive (3/2 for 3B), but has a devastating knockout punch. Whenever he or another Zombie goes to the graveyard, each opponent loses one life. [Why do we always call these things”he.” It’s a Zombie. It should be genderless. It should be an”it.” Yet, unless it’s the Smokespew Invoker, I’ll probably continue to call Zombies,”he.” I’m just stubborn, I guess.]

This guy looked very powerful to me for three reasons. First, this is life loss, not damage. So, Circle of Protection: Black, Story Circle, and company can’t stop it. Second, it’s not targeted. So, Ivory Mask, Gilded Light, and even glaring looks from your opponent can’t stop it. Third, it laughs at Ensnaring Bridge. Think I’m being paranoid like Prince? You’re probably right, but I’m gonna have fun every feather-pluckin’ night. Just read on.

In other words, you wanna blow up the world, Jackson? Go right ahead. I’ll just drop you by eight life right after that.

Speaking of Jackson, what do Michael Jackson and a garbage bag have in common? Both are made of plastic and are dangerous for children to play with.

However, a four-mana Zombie that dies to Shock isn’t going to win all by himself. Luckily, there are some other really good cards to help him/her/it.

First off, since the Vengeful Dead only triggers when Zombies go bye-bye, we knew this would have to be creature heavy. We started up with the one-mana creature. Whenever”Zombie” and”one-mana creature” come up, I immediately think of grabbing a shot of Jack Daniels. Then, I think about Festering Goblin and Carrion Feeder. The choice between these two depends on what your local metagame is, as I’ve found out over the past few months. Use Festering Goblin if you face lots of Goblins. Use Carrion Feeder if the people play slower decks. I tend to see gobs and gobs of Goblins. So, I picked Festy.

Fun with Festy: You don’t know how many times a turn 2 Goblin Warchief just sits there not attacking because to do so would be to die to a Festering Goblin. I enjoy setting up my board with him holding off his Red brethren. It’s lovely.”Not gonna swing with your twelve dollar Goblin Piledriver? So sad. My turn?”

Fun with Feeder: On the other hand, the Feeder gives you a way to chuck Zombies and suck life out of your opponent. Use whichever is most appropriate for your metagame. Please, though, don’t play Solomon, and split the baby. If you use two of each, I can almost gare-on-tee you that you’ll never have the one you need when you need it. Commit to one or the other, and play accordion. Sorry. I mean, play accordingly. You don’t play the accordion. What was I thinking? My bad.

Warning: Fairly Expensive Rare Alert!

When you’re talking about sending Zombies to the ‘yard, you gotta have Rotlung Reanimator. If you don’t have four of him yet, and you like playing with Black, you just gotta save up some of your lawn mowing / babysitting / snow-blowing money and get them. I promise, you won’t regret it.

Oh, by the way, I met a wonderful woman named Luanne a few months ago. We’re getting married next May. You can stop sending pictures of your Mom to me. Luanne is hot. Yes, she has a sister. Yes, she’s hot, too. Too bad for you, though, she’s married to a guy who eats bricks for breakfast. Really, he does. Well, Grape Nuts, anyway. Same thing, though.

On second thought, you can still send pictures of your Mom, but I won’t be able to marry her.

We now had one-, three-, and four-drop Zombies. Sometimes, you might actually want to keep those Zombies alive, though. The Undead Warchief is nice for that. Plus, a 3/2 Festering Goblin is hilarious. Of course, a 5/3 Festy is just plain freakish. Then again, so is Crispin Glover. Either one is invited over to my place for dinner, though. I’m making manicotti.

Karl and I have both become rather enamored of Nekrataal, too. We know that he’s not a Zombie. He is, however, a 2/1 first striker. He kills lotsa guys in combat. Best of all, though, he kills Exalted Angels when he comes into play. He also kills Clickslithers, Broodstars, and most household pets. (My late, lamented Pookie suggests you make sure your animals are in another room when you playtest with him. Seriously.)

Of course, we now had three creatures in the four-mana slot. So, the two-mana slot pretty much had to be the Withered Wretch. As everyone knows:

• It eats Eternal Dragons;

• It triggers Rotlung’s ability; and

• It’s a 2/2 Zombie for 2.

“Chris, we should probably have something else to do on turn two, too.” (Two tutus?)

“Smother, right?”

Wrong. Smother is sooooo five minutes ago, Paris. You probably think we wanted Terror then. Wrong again. We wanted to be able to off Myr Enforcers. So, our creature destruction spell became Dark Banishing.

“So, what’s the other friggin’ two-mana thingie, Jameel?” Gempalm Polluter, says I. Yes, I know that it costs way more than two mana to cast. We didn’t plan on casting it. We wanted to cycle it. Yay! More life loss!

That choice made the creature base look like this:

28 Creatures

4 Festering Goblin (Carrion Feeder if you see fewer Goblins and more control)

4 Withered Wretch

4 Gempalm Polluter

4 Rotlung Reanimator (use Nantuko Husk if you can’t get the Rotlung)

4 Nekrataal

4 Undead Warchief

4 Vengeful Dead

We needed some support spells. Like I said above (technically, I wrote it), Dark Banishing is the removal spell of choice. Geez, we’re gonna have lotsa choices on turn 3, aren’t we?

I also wanted some sort of way to get creatures back. The creatures in here have a lot of abilities that I’d like to reuse. The easy (and monetarily expensive choice) would have been Oversold Cemetery. The Cemetery is slow, though. You get one creature per turn per Cemetery. If they’re in play at the beginning of your upkeep, that is. I wanted something faster. Something that lets me get back my army after a Wrath or a Starstorm.

Enter Reaping the Graves. (No, you can’t have that. It’s the title of my new script. It will be for a Disney movie, based on one of their rides. Possibly the Michael Eisner-Go-Round.)

This is another card that everyone forgets about. Why? Why do we forget the good ones? No one mentions Michael Hutchence anymore, for example? Do you hear anyone talking about Walter Matthau? What about Nell Carter? I feel the same way about Reaping the Graves.

Like the Vengeful Dead, I want you to really understand what this card does and why it’s so powerful in a deck with lotsa of creatures that you want to see die.

Possible Scenario That Actually Happened: It’s midgame. I cast my second Undead Warchief before combat. (Gotta make my Zombies utterly huge, doncha know.) My opponent sits there, deciding if he should respond. We both know he’s holding Starstorm. If he casts it for three, he wipes out my side of the board. But, with a Vengeful Dead on board, he’s gonna lose three life (V.D., Rotlung, and Warchief). Plus, I get a 4/3 Zombie token and my second Warchief stays in play. So, he lets it hit. Then, he casts the Starstorm for four. He wipes out my side, but loses four life instead of three. I guess he thought that was better than leaving two creatures. Probably. I’m left with only a 2/2 Zombie.

But wait! During my end of turn step (not my second main phase ’cause I’m A Good Player), I cast Reaping the Graves. I can get back up to three cards because of the Storm effect. I choose Rotlung, the Dead, and a Warchief. He cries.

Another Scenario That Also Actually Happened? My opponent casts Wrath of God. She loses three life. She doesn’t care. I’ll bet she thinks her Exalted Angel will fix that. Sure enough, she casts a face-down creature. Since I am not (a) a Troll, (b) a Troglodyte, or (c) a Britney Spears fan, I’m pretty sure that this thing is an Exalted Angel. I could be wrong. Just like I was when I thought Fox would renew the Emmy-award-winning Family Guy. I’m almost certain, though, that this is an Exalted Angel. So, I cast Dark Banishing on it. Whadya know? By golly, wow, it was an Exalted Angel.

Then, I cast Reaping the Graves. Count ’em there, folks. That’s four spells that turn. I have a handful of glorious, life-draining funk. Four Zombies! I’m like a kid at Christmas. A really good kid who behaved all year long. Or a rich kid whose parents just buy him whatever he wants. Either way, I giggle like a child watching Sponge-Bob. Or like my brother-in-law watching Sponge-Bob. Which he only watches”because my son likes it.” Rii-iight. Then, how do you explain the Sponge-Bob slippers, bath towel, and (honest to goodness) toilet-seat cover? (Luanne and I got him that one for his birthday.)

But, as Truly Scrumptious as Reaping the Graves is, we didn’t want four of them. I found that out the hard way while doing some early testing on this. Often, it would just sit in my opening hand. Taunting me. Saying,”I coulda been a creature. I coulda been somebody. I coulda been a contender . . .” So, we used only three. Given the many spells at three and four mana, we knew we’d need twenty-four lands. With four Dark Banishing and three RtG, that left only one other card.

We went over and over stuff. More creature destruction? More life loss? More wine, sir? Finally, we came up with adding Persecute. Remember, I wanted to punish the Big Important Decks. The control decks like to keep their hands full. Calling”White” on Persecute against MWC the turn before they can drop Karma is suh-weet. Yes, I know that Persecute is also a rare. It’s a rare that’s been around since 1998. It was reprinted in 7th Edition as well as 8th. Please, please, please, tell me that you have four by now. If not, go get them. Right now. Stop reading this. Click on the link. Get your credit card. Or ask Mom if you can borrow hers. Or ask her boyfriend if you can borrow his. If he says no, tell him that you’ll threaten to turn him in”like that kid did to Michael Jackson.”

[StarCityGames.com, its affiliates, and assignees do not condone or promote blackmail or extortion. The preceding was meant to be humorous only.]

{Still, buy the cards.}

[Apparently I’m not the only one who adds editorial comments to his own articles. – Knut, not responsible for the above.]

If you don’t have or can’t get Persecute, both Unburden and Coercion are decent replacements. Unburden will always get two cards (unless they don’t have that many in hand). Sometimes, you don’t even get two with Persecute. Of course, Unburden also cycles if it’s useless. Coercion is slick because it can get any card in their hand. That includes lands, which is suh-weet when they’re mana hosed.

Finally, we had the mana to worry about. Sorry, folks, but you gotta run Blue. You need to be able to bring Mind Bend out of the sideboard to keep Karma from killing you. If you can’t afford or don’t have Mind Bend, then you have to be able to Annul the Karma. Mind Bend is way, way more fun, though.

It’s great to have them drop a Karma, looking really pleased with themselves. You know the look. Like Ralphie in A Christmas Story when he brought his teacher the big, huge fruit basket. Anyway, there’s an even better look. That’s when you say,”During your end of turn step, change ‘Swamp’ to ‘Plains.'” Double heh. (Sorry, again, John. You’re not using it here anymore. I’ve gotta”keep Heh alive!”) While Annul is fine, remember that it’s useless once the Karma hits. You have to have it in hand to be useful. In other words, if you like playing mono- or mostly-Black decks, you’re going to have to invest in Mind Bend if you want to be at all competitive.

Mana Issues {“Bless you.”}

Okay, so what about those twenty-four lands? Well, um, Swamps, maybe? Don’t be a fool like me and fear Akroma’s Vengeance so much that you play zero Vault of Whispers, either. Vault will keep Karma from hurting too badly if you don’t have Annul in hand when the Karma is cast. Also, I apologize but, yeah, you really want a couple of Unholy Grottos. You don’t need them. They aren’t the cornerstone of the deck. But, Oh. My. Gosh. Becky. They are so good. Especially when you can get the Gempalm Polluter Trick going.

[For the Uninitiated: The Gempalm Polluter Trick goes like this. You pay BB to cycle the Polluter. In response to both triggered abilities, the card drawing and the life loss, you activate the Unholy Grotto, targeting the Polluter. So, when you draw your card – Voila! – it’s the Polluter.]

You’ll also need a way to make that Blue mana. I led off my apologies this time with talking about the Fetchlands. You’ll want Polluted Deltas if you can get them. Using four Salt Marshes is fine, but it’s a crap shoot. The Deltas are better. Use what you got. I’m lucky. I have four. So, here’s what my mana (and the deck) looked like.

Deck Name: Taking Care of Your V.D.

24 Lands

4 Polluted Delta (or Salt Marsh)

2 Unholy Grotto (or Barren Moor)

1 Island

4 Vault of Whispers

13 Swamp

28 Creatures

4 Festering Goblin

4 Withered Wretch

4 Rotlung Reanimator (or Nantuko husk)

4 Undead Warchief

4 Nekrataal

4 Vengeful Dead

4 Gempalm Polluter

8 Other Spells

4 Dark Banishing

3 Reaping the Graves

1 Persecute (or Unburden or Coercion)

Finally, we looked at the sideboard. I am horrible at this. I mean, rotten to the core. I am so bad at figuring out what goes and what stays, that I once went almost four months without winning a match in which I lost the first game. If you’re like me, you feel like you’re weakening your deck. Or you want to bring in all fifteen cards. Luckily for me, I had more help from Karl.

Karl’s big rule of sideboarding is”look at your match-ups, and see what you need help against.”

Against MWC and U/W Control, we had to be able to kill Exalted Angels, Eternal Dragons, and possibly Silver Knights. Done. It’s a Black deck. We also had to keep them from having cards in their hand (like Decree of Justice). They also bring in Karma. This means that we needed to bring in the full complement of discard (three more Persecute, Unburden, or Coercion) and the four Mind Bends (or Annul). Did we have seven cards to take out? Yup.

First, Festering Goblin does nothing in this matchup. So, there’s four. We liked the instant-timed removal of Dark Banishing. Plus, MWC doesn’t run a lot of creature cards. So, we could lose three Undead Warchief. It doesn’t matter how big your guys are when they go to take their dirt nap. That left us with a full complement of creature destruction. The only bad thing was going to be a Decree of Justice late in the game peeled off of the top of the deck. Nothing you can do about that except to hope you’ve played in such a way that it just won’t matter.

Goblins was next. The answer here was clearly Infest. We needed to wipe out the horde. Clearly, we can lose Persecute. By the time that goes off, they got nothing in their hand. As for the other three cards, I hated to say it, but given all of the hasty stuff that Goblins packs, Nekrataal is a turn too slow. So, three of those come out. (It also turns out that Infest is a fine and dandy answer to Troll Ascetic, too.)

That meant that we had four more cards we could use in the sideboard. The only other decks that worried us were Bidding decks, especially Cleric Bidding. Dark Banishing easily comes out in those match-ups as does Nekrataal because of the fact that neither can hit black creatures. This means we could bring in four Scrabbling Claws and the other three Persecutes and still have one 2/1, first-striking Nekrataal.

Thus, the sideboard ended up looking like this:

3 Persecute (or Unburden or Coercion)

4 Mind Bend (or Annul)

4 Infest

4 Scrabbling Claws

Almost everything I do is theory until the tournaments. I do have a couple of great guys, Charles and Bill, that I playtest with sometimes. However, it’s not in-depth testing of the hundreds and hundreds of games that the pros do. We’re all working schlubs. We don’t have time for that. So, once a week (mostly), we meet and play some. My real testing comes in the tourneys. Unlike many of the Magic Theorists, I put my money where my mouth is. So, I packed up this monstrosity a few weeks ago, and I headed off.

Sadly, I don’t remember the exact order of the match-ups. Except for one.

My first match was against one of the decks that this one was designed to beat. It was against Michael Hale playing a Red/White Control deck that included main deck Story Circles and Ensnaring Bridges. Who does that? My deck did exactly what it was designed to do, though. He was scared to cast Wrath. He sure didn’t want to cast Vengeance for fear of wiping out his Story Circle and/or Bridge, depending on what was out. Both games were essentially the same. In game 1, I beat and beat until he could get the Story Circle out. Then, I beat some more because he couldn’t prevent all of the damage. Then, he dropped the Bridge. So, I cycled the Gempalm a couple of times. Game 2 was the same, except that I got a Persecute to hit a Karma. He did drop Karma a few turns after that, but it was too late.

I also played a U/W Control deck that day and beat it in three games. The great thing that it was a three-game match in which I lost the first game. The theoretical sideboarding worked. In both games 2 and 3, Persecute came up big, ripping big cards out of his hand.

Sadly, I lost to the Mono-White Control deck that I played. Matt Owens always has the right card. Doesn’t matter what he needs, he gets it.”I only have one card that can save me in the whole deck. It will turn this sure-fire loss into a win. I have one hundred twenty-seven cards left in my deck. Oh, look! I drew it! I win!” The good news was that it took three games. I had a Persecute in the second game that was huge, hitting an Exalted Angel, a Decree of Justice, and an Eternal Dragon that later got eaten by the Withered Wretch.

I also found out something very interesting. The deck is accidentally tuned to beat other Zombie decks. The Vengeful Dead triggers whenever any Zombie hits the ‘yard, not just yours. I beat two Zombie-based decks that afternoon, one was a Cleric Bidding deck, the other plain, ol’ aggro-Zombies. I never faced Goblins, though. Hmmmm . . . .

I made Top 8 after a 4-1 Swiss. In the first round of the Top 8, I played a Zombie deck that I had beat, and I won again. In the Top 4, I lost to the U/W Control deck that I had played earlier. It was tense, though. It went deep into game three. His Karma was slowly killing me, but his hand was empty. All I needed was some life loss or Mind Bend. Unfortunately, in the eight or so turns I had to find an answer, I got nothing.

There you have it. The new Vengeful Dead deck. Enjoy beating people who don’t think they can be beat.

As usual, you’ve been a great audience. Please, welcome my closing act, The Rolling Stones.

Chris Romeo

[email protected]