From Right Field: The Big Four-Oh

Read Chris Romeo... every Tuesday at
StarCityGames.com!If this here article hits this here site here on time and if you’re reading it on that day, Tuesday, July 25th, 2006, then, I turn forty tomorrow. If you’re reading it the day after it hit the site, then, it’s my birthday, and I’m forty.

{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.}

If this here article hits this here site here on time and if you’re reading it on that day, Tuesday, July 25th, 2006, then, I turn forty tomorrow. If you’re reading it the day after it hit the site, then, it’s my birthday, and I’m forty.

I don’t mention this because I want gifts and money. Don’t get me wrong. I won’t turn them down. I truly believe that it’s the thought that counts, and I don’t want you to feel that I don’t care about your thoughts. That would be disrespectful. It’s just that I’ve never felt that my birthday was a reason to celebrate. Woo hoo. I made it past another July 25th. That makes me soooo special. However, if you simply must, I could really use some Coldsnap cards.

Anyway, I don’t mention this because I want gifts and money. I mention it because forty is supposed to be a traumatic age for a man in this country. (I don’t know about other countries like England or California. Craig can tell us about the former. I don’t think anyone in the latter reads this column.) The thing is it’s not been that way for me. Thirty-five was much worse. I don’t know why. It could be where I was in my life. There was no Luanne. I had just started writing about Magic. The Red Sox had not won The World Series in my lifetime. Yes, thirty-five was not happy.

I’ve actually been looking forward to forty. For one thing, I don’t look my age. On the other hand, because of this, people don’t take me seriously. I’m hoping that when I say, “I’m forty,” people will look at me and think, “Oh, he must know what he’s talking about. He’s forty.”

Like with today’s Ravnica Block Constructed deck. I think a Simic RBC deck could rule the roost. Since I’m forty now, you should be saying, “He’s probably right, you know.” So, why haven’t the Simic been given much love? Is it because their Guildmage doesn’t do super-flashy tricks like the Rakdos and Selesnya Guildmages do? Do the Simic suffer from what I call The Ron Guidry Syndrome due to U/G Madness?


You don’t know what The Ron Guidry Syndrome is?!? Let me enlighten you.

Ron Guidry, I Hate You

In 1978, a year that we Red Sox fans would much rather forget, Ron Guidry, a.k.a. Louisiana Lightning, was a pitcher for the New York Yankees (patooie!) who won twenty-five games and lost only three. Along the way, he had nine shutouts, sixteen complete games, and an earned run average of 1.74. He issued only 72 walks against 248 strikeouts. If you don’t know baseball (Hi, Craig!), all you need to know is that it was one of the most dominating single-season pitching performances in the history of a game that was over a hundred years old at that point. In fact, it still is. Just to give some perspective, in 2005, the Major League leader for wins, Dontrelle Willis, had 22, but that was against ten losses. Willis also led the Majors in shutouts with five and tied for the lead in complete games with seven. (I’d mention E.R.A., but Roger Clemens, another of the All-Time Great Pitchers, threw that comparison off by having a monster year in that category, posting a 1.87 E.R.A. The second-best last year was almost half a run worse. Oh, yeah, Clemens turned 43 last year.)

The next year, in 1979, Guidry went 18-8 with a 2.78 ERA. He pitched “only” fifteen complete games and had “only” two shutouts. He gave up 71 walks versus 201 strikeouts. People were talking about him being a fluke and/or being all washed up.


I don’t get it. The guy has a year for which most pitchers would give their (non-throwing) arm, and for which today you’d be rewarded with a sixteen-million-dollar-per-year contract after a protracted bidding war, and he’s washed up? I mean, just for good measure, the guy even had two Saves in 1979! How is he all washed up?!?

The answer was simple. Compared to that absolutely ginormous 1978 season, pretty much anything else he did was going to suck.

Ever since then, whenever I hear someone bemoan an athlete “going downhill” because he follows up an immortal year with a merely Hall-of-Fame year, I say that he suffers from The Ron Guidry Syndrome. I guess, as far as Magic goes, we could call it The Ancestral Recall Syndrome. As in “Thirst for Knowledge is good, but it’s not Ancestral Recall,” or “Opt is fine, but it’s no Recall.”

The Simic Guild has a similar problem. A few years ago, U/G Madness ruled the Standard tournament scene in a way that I didn’t think was possible. (I hear that it still does pretty well in Extended, too.) Measured against U/G Madness, the Simic stink.

Good thing a Ravnica Block Constructed deck doesn’t have to measure itself against an Odyssey Block deck, eh?

Set Simic to Simmer, and Stir Occasionally

So, other than Blue countermagic and Green beef, what does a U/G deck get in Ravnica Block? Right off the bat, it gets one of the most problematic (for the other guy) creatures ever printed in this game, Simic Sky Swallower. If “all” that it did was fly and trample with its 6/6 body, that would be bad enough. The thing is, it can’t be targeted. How does someone deal with it? There aren’t a lot of ways. Since it can’t be targeted, the following are useless in stopping it:

Faith’s Fetters;
Azorius Guildmage;
Glare of Subdual;
Minister of Impediments;
Elvish Sky Sweeper; and
Anything else you can think of with “target” in it (Radiance tricks aside).

So, what can stop Simic Sky Swallower?

Remand (for a turn);
Convolute (maybe);
Runeboggle (maybe);
Brightflame (given enough mana and another Green or Blue creature that it can target);
Hour of Reckoning;
Droning Bureaucrats (given enough mana);
Simic Sky Swallower;
Any other flier or combination of fliers with power six or greater;
Punishment half of Crime//Punishment (given enough mana);
Stinkweed Imp; and
A few others, but I’m tired of this game now.

The point I’m making is that the best spells in the format for dealing with problem creatures don’t help against Simic Sky Swallower. What you’re left with is a bunch of stuff that most people won’t be touching.

In other words, while it’s expensive to buy, Simic Sky Swallower is going into this deck. There’s no question about that. The only real question is: what fifty-six or fifty-seven other cards go in here with it?

Keeping my eye on the sparrow, I also know that Trygon Predator has to make the cut. A 2/3 flier for three mana, even though it’s multiple colors of mana, is a good deal. Add on the fact that it kills an artifact or enchantment when it deals combat damage, and your good deal just turned into a “Summer Doorbuster” of a deal. I expect enchantments to be numerous this Summer. Even if they aren’t, you get a 2/3 flier for three mana. Don’t you dare sneeze at that.

Speaking of efficient fliers with trample, how about the Assault Zeppelid? Three-power fliers for four mana are pretty darn good. Sometimes, you get those 3/1 fliers for three mana that have a silly drawback like “Can only block creatures with flying” or “Dies to Rod of Ruin because its toughness is one.” So, when I see a 3/3 flier that Tramples and doesn’t have that kind of drawback, I snatch it up at four mana.

You know, that’s a lot of creatures that are both Blue and Green. Even though we’re probably going to use Signets and a couple of Simic Growth Chambers, that’s still pretty ugly. Aren’t there any mono-Colored cards that might work in this?

Enter the Mono

Have you met the Cytoplast Root-Kin? He comes from a long line of efficient Green beef that costs 2GG. Blastoderm was his Grampa. Jade Leech was his Great-Uncle. Ravenous Baloth is his father. Phantom Centaur is his cousin, the kind that he’s so close to that he thinks of him more like a brother.

The Cytoplast Root-Kin has only one drawback, and it’s not even a drawback in the classic, Magic sense of the word. It’s not like “Prevent all combat damage dealt by Cytoplast Root-Kin to creatures he would normally kill” or anything. It’s really just an annoyance. You see, he needs other creatures with counters on them to fulfill his potential. Oh, sure, he’s pretty good without others. Heck, he’s a 4/4 for four mana. Without +1/+1 counters around him, though, he’s like Terrell Owens. You just keep wondering how good he could be if he got himself some help. Good thing Dissension gave us Graft.

I was tempted to use Simic Initiate in this deck. He was even in the first version. Lemme give you the 411 on the Initiate: he dies when you remove that counter. You want a one-mana creature with a +1/+1 counter on it? Use Skarrgan Pit-Skulk. It might not always have a counter on it, but it won’t die just because you removed that counter.

Still, I’d rather have Graft guys. That means that Aquastrand Spider is going in here. He’s a bit . . .

What’s that?

Why do I like Graft so much?

Simic Sky Swallower.

I thought I’d mentioned him before. He’s awesome with Graft. Imagine that you have two Aquastrand Spiders and a Cytoplast Root-Kin in play each with at least one +1/+1 counter on it. The SSS can come into play and grab three of those counters, going from a 6/6 flying Trampler to a 9/9 flying Trampler.

. . .

Oh, yes, he can.

. . .

He can, too.

. . .

Yes, really. Read the Graft rule again. Do you see anything about targeting? You don’t. You know why? It’s not there. That means that you can move +1/+1 counters from Graft creatures onto creatures that can’t be targeted.


On the flip side, there are only four efficient Graft creatures. Three if you consider the Vigean Hydropon to not really be a creature, what with the fact that it can’t attack or block or anything else you’d really like a creature to do. Of course, it does give you five +1/+1 counters to put on other critters. That’s also not to be sneezed at. (Not at which to be sneezed? Which sneezed at not to be? I dunno…) Imagine casting Patagia Viper (Enchanced!). If you choose to move counters from the Hydropon, you would have a 3/2 flier and two 2/2 Snakes. Not bad for four mana. Meanwhile, the Hydropon still has two counters to bestow.

By the way, the other three efficient members of The Graft Gang are Aquastrand Spider (2/2 for two mana), Plaxcaster Frogling (3/3 for three mana), and Cytoplast Root-Kin (4/4 for four mana). Everyone else is a 2/2 for four mana or something like that. (I’m not counting the Simic Initiate because, as I’ve mentioned, he dies when his only counter is removed. Not a good idea.)

All of this analysis brought me the deck called PF Flyers:

PF Flyers, V1.1

3 Simic Growth Chamber
2 Ghost Quarter
2 Novijen, Heart of Progress
10 Forest
7 Island

4 Aquastrand Spider
4 Plaxmanta
4 Plaxcaster Frogling
4 Trygon Predator
4 Patagia Viper
4 Cytoplast Root-Kin
2 Simic Sky Swallower

4 Utopia Sprawl
6 Good spells…

Sorry about that last part, but I have a story to tell. Figuring out which six support spells to use was probably the toughest figuring I’ve done in a couple of years. You see, the support spells for the Guild don’t just jump out at you. Or, to put it another way, there are too many good options. For example, if you play B/W, you know you’re going to put Mortify in the main deck almost guaranteed. In fact, I can’t think of a reason that a B/W deck wouldn’t have Mortify in it, other than the fact that the person just couldn’t get them. The Simic doesn’t have that kind of card. Well, I guess you could say Voidslime, but I could then say “My electric bill this month is really high because it’s been hot, and my wife would shoot me dead if I bought four Voidslimes instead. She likes air conditioning. And lights. And television. And the cold stuff in the fridge.”

Sure, there are a bunch that might appear to be auto-includes. I looked at the Re Triplets (Remand, Repeal, Recollect), but that group didn’t come through all that well. At times, each was fantastic. Remand stopped some devastating spells for a while… but just for a while. Repeal was nice most of the time, especially against certain artifacts and enchantments when the Predator wasn’t around. Recollect was also nice… sometimes.

A couple of creatures that tried out but didn’t make the team were the Simic and Azorius Guildmages (Az will be pinch hitting, though, riding the sideboard until needed), the Assault Zeppelid, and Coiling Oracle. The fact that Patagia Viper costs the same as the Zeppelid but produces three creatures and four power won it the tryout over the Zeppelid. The Simic GM’s abilities are not as good as one would expect. Maybe the right word is “useful.” When faced with a lot of Auras like Faith’s Fetters and Pillory of the Sleepless in a B/W deck, he’s huge. Otherwise, not so much. The counter-moving ability would appear great in this, but it’s too mana intensive. As for the Oracle, maybe in a Snakes deck. In here, it was too unreliable. If you don’t get him on the second turn, he’s not that good… except in a Snakes deck.

In the end, I went with these ten support spells:

3 Repeal
3 Convolute
4 Utopia Sprawl

That made the deck look like this:

His Rocker Done Gone Flipped Over

I know what you’re asking. “Convolute? What’s the dang deal?” Well, for one more mana than Remand, I get what is pretty much a hard counter against the biggest, baddest spells, the ones that actually hurt this deck the most. Should it be something else, something more of a sure thing? Muddle the Mixture? Maybe, if one expects a lot of Instants and Sorceries that really hurt. (Savage Twister is pretty bad.) Frazzle? Sure, if you don’t care about countering Blue spells. Spell Snare? Eh, not really, but it certainly goes into the sideboard. It’s great and all. Stopping Lightning Helix and Last Gasp for one Blue mana is nice, but Plaxcaster Frogling can do the same much of the time. Ditto the Plaxmanta. This deck wants to stop Glare of Subdual, Hour of Reckoning, and other Simic Sky Swallowers. So far, Convolute’s been best at that. Well, best for the cheap cards, anyway.

(Other cards that I tried: Leafdrake Roost (too expensive to use); Shielding Plax (awesome against certain decks); Peel from Reality (awesome at times); Thunderheads (you get the drift); Flash Foliage (uh-huh); Wildsize (how about those Red Sox?); Overwhelm (did you see how far Ryan Howard hit those balls during the Home Run Derby?); and about six others. Like I said, U/G has too many good options.)

Because of the fact that there were too many good options, this is the eighth version of this deck. It didn’t solidify until Karl Allen chimed in with “You should use Utopia Sprawl. It’s better in here than the Simic Signet.”

“Better? How is that when Ghost Quarter or Rolling Spoil become two-for-one trades?”

“Two words: Second-turn Trygon Predator.”

Karl also suggested the Plaxmanta. Yes, kids, the Plaxmanta skipped my mind. It came about because he wanted to know why I had four Convolutes and Remands but no Repeals. I explained that I needed to save my stuff from Faith’s Fetters, Lightning Helix, Putrefy, and Mortify.

“Won’t Plaxmanta do that?”

“Um, yeah.”

“Then, you can save the Convolutes for the non-targeted stuff and big creatures.”

“Yeah… I was just about to make that change. I was just, um, trying out some ideas.”

Often, this is the point at which I give some game rundowns. I’ve stopped doing that lately because it seems formulaic. As in:

1) Funny story/intro

2) How I built the deck

3) The deck list

4) Too many game recaps that start to run together

5) Cute closing

People seem to like the game recaps. I guess my former life as a sportscaster is showing through there. I was a pretty good play-by-play man, at least on a level with Ronald Reagan. *sigh* Yes, he really did. Apparently, he was pretty good, too. That’s not the point, though. Man, I hate when you sidetrack me like that. Anyway, I’ve stopped the game recaps for a while to shake things up. If you like them, don’t despair. They will be back. Just not this time. It’s already a long piece, and Craig’s been getting on me about that. Not that I don’t like Craig getting on me. That’s one of the perks of this job. It’s just that now’s not the time.

Blowing Up the Budget

The most obvious thing to add to this deck would be Breeding Pools. I don’t have enough arms for that. So, mine stays as is. If you get them, start with dropping an Island first, though. In other words, if you can get one Breeding Pool, drop an Island. If you can get two, drop an Island and a Forest. If you can get three, drop two Islands and one Forest. You see, Utopia Sprawl needs Forests to work. Since the Pool can make Blue or Green mana, drop the Islands first. That gives you more options for the Sprawl.

If you can afford the other two Simic Sky Swallowers, do it. If all you can afford is a third one, drop a Trygon Predator. If you can get two more, drop a Predator and a Viper. Finally, in a Star Trek world, i.e. a world in which money no longer matters, Convolute would be Voidslime.

Okay, But How Does This One Work?

Kinda like U/G Madness. By that, I don’t mean it will rule the roost. What I mean is that it runs Blue, but it’s aggressive. As with U/G Madness, there’s a tiny bit of control; enough, really, just to make sure that the deck doesn’t get stopped from winning. Mostly, though, cast d00ds, and swing. Whoops. I mean, swing, and then cast d00ds. Always do it the right way. Unless you have Cytoplast Root-Kin in hand and guys on board with +1/+1 counters on them. In that scenario, cast d00d and then swing; he will pump them up. Anyway, you know what I mean:

If it doesn’t help you in combat, don’t do it before combat.

If this were a mono-Red-Dan-Paskins-Weenie-Burn-Leave-Forty-Minutes-in-the-Round Special, that would pretty much be the end of the strategy.

(Stop right now. No need to flame me. I know that Red decks like Dan’s require more thought than I’m implying there. There are many, many, many decisions to make in a Red deck. For example, when casting a one-mana burn spell like Shock or Seal of Fire, do I tap my Ravnica Mountain or one of my Unhinged Mountains? It’s tricky stuff.)

There is a rubber crutch in this polio ward, though. It’s called Graft. Here are some plays that I’ve made or not. Instead of me telling you to do this or don’t do that, I’ll let you decide.

I) I attacked with my fully-loaded, 3/3 Plaxcaster Frogling. My opponent blocked with his Guardian of the Guildpact. The Guardian died. I cast Trygon Predator, moving a counter from the P.F. to the Predator. The Frogling died, being a 2/2 with two damage on it.

Good Play or Bad Play?

II) My opponent had a 4/4 Loxodon Hierarch to block. I had an active Cytoplast Root-Kin with all of its counters. I cast a second CRK. This gave the active one another counter, making it a 5/5. I also used the Graft ability to move a counter from the first CRK onto the freshly summoned one, dropping the active one back to a 4/4. I swung into the Hierarch with the 4/4 Root-Kin. I didn’t have two mana in order to move a counter, a counter that shouldn’t have been removed anyway. He lost the Hierarch. I lost the Root-Kin and some dignity.

Good Play or Bad Play?

III) With my opponent’s side of the board completely empty and me with a Frogling ready to swing, I chose to cast Patagia Viper (Enhanced!) before combat. I moved one of the Frogling’s counters onto each of the new creatures. Frogling died as a state-based effect. And I was holding a Root-Kin that I could have cast the next turn.

Good Play or Bad Play?

IV) I had a fully-loaded (4/4) Cytoplast Root-Kin that had already swung for damage. Since it was late in the game, I was able to both cast a Viper (Enhanced!) and leave mana up to Repeal the Root-Kin, ready to add more counters to my stuff next turn. In response to the Viper and its cubs triggering the CRK’s Graft ability, I Repealed the Root-Kin. Since the Root-Kin wasn’t in play, there were no counters to move. I got a 2/1 Viper and two 1/1 Snakes. I could have had a 3/2 Viper and two 2/2 Snakes as well as a Root-Kin to recast the next turn. That, of course, would have made the Viper a 4/3 and the Snakes each 3/3. I did draw an extra card, though.

Good Play or Bad Play?

I could go on and on. The purpose of my life, it seems, is to serve as The Bad Example.

I do know this, though: Cytoplast Root-Kin is one of the best creatures to come along in quite a while. Sure, he’s great when there are other creatures with +1/+1 counters on them, but he also gives those away. Remember, when you play this guy, don’t be afraid to drop him even when all you have is non-Graft, no-counter-having dudes on board. For example, if you can get off a second-turn Trygon Predator and a third-turn Root-Kin, for the love of Eva Mendes, don’t hold the Root-Kin. (For the love of Elsa Pataky, though, do hold the root.) (Oh, yes, I did.) Other creatures will come into play and benefit from his counters. Then, when a second Root-Kin hits, everybody enjoys the party favors. Let me give you this example from testing.

I had gotten an Aquastrand Spider on the second turn and a Trygon Predator on the third turn. Sounds good until you find out that both met grizzly ends via Last Gasp and Mortify, respectively. On my fourth turn, I had a Root-Kin and a Viper in hand. I could cast the Viper and get three creatures. I dropped the Root-Kin instead. If he had Mortify, he had it, and there was nothing I could do about it. He didn’t. On his turn he made an inconsequential 1/1 dude. On my turn, not wanting to risk him chumping my 4/4 (giving the Root-Kin one damage is bad when I want to remove three counters), I just cast the Patagia Viper (Enhanced!), and moved all the counters that I could from the Root-Kin. Getting a 3/2 flier and two 2/2 ground pounders is great for four mana. What was even better was peeling a second Root-Kin on my next turn, which happened because I’m finally getting good at this game. He came down and powered up the Viper Gang (as well as the first Root-Kin), which swung in for major damage. The Vipers lost Johnny Wadd #1 in the fight, but he took one of the boys from Zombie High with him. So, it was all good.

U/G: The Lost Episodes

I haven’t mentioned Plaxmanta much, but this is one of those “last but certainly not least” things. I wanted this li’l guy to stick out. He’s just such a great trick. Many times, opponents see Blue and Green or even just Blue and Blue mana available to you, and they expect Remand. “’Sokay. I’ll get it back.” They cast Faith’s Fetters, and you counter it with the Plaxmanta. If you paid Green mana to cast it, you even get to keep it. Sure, it doesn’t work against non-targeted spells like Hour of Reckoning. Oh, well. You can’t have everything. Let’s be honest, though. In this format, targeted removal/neutralization is the rule of thumb. Faith’s Fetters. Brainspoil. Lightning Helix. Repeal. All say “target” on them. Plaxmanta just says no. Save him/it for when he/it matters most.

You can even do silly tricks like have him pick up a +1/+1 counter from a Graft guy and then block and kill a Watchwolf. Good stuff.

Triple-S! Where Are You?!?

Not a whole lot of discussion on the Simic Sky Swallower, huh? He really kinda speak for himself. And it’s in a John Wayne-meets-Gabriel Byrne (think Miller’s Crossing) kinda way. He’s big. He flies. He tramples. Pretty much the only things that people typically play that will stop him are countermagic, Stinkweed Imp, and other Simic Sky Swallowers. Here’s what you do with him. You get to seven mana. You cast him. You put him in the Red Zone. You turn him from vertical to horizontal. You watch your opponent squirm as s/he tries to deal with him/it.

The Final Straw

I almost gave up on this deck. I was testing with Joe and Landon. They were playing a B/G/W Good Stuff deck, the kind that costs tons of money, thanks to about twelve dual lands, Loxodon Hierarch, Dark Confidant, and Birds of Paradise. Of course, it had other super-awesome spells that didn’t cost as much like Putrefy and Mortify. The PF Flyers deck only went 2-2 during that night of testing, and I was bummed. Looking over my notes, though, I noticed two things. First, not once did I get Utopia Sprawl. That’s very unusual given that there are four in the deck. I checked the deck. Yup. They were in there. The second annoying thing was they were getting Loxodon Hierarchs at an incredible rate. At first, I wrote it off as a quirk due to Congregation at Dawn. Hey, that’s what that card’s for, you know? After four games, they had had two in which they got three Hierarchs and two in which they got four. So, just as we checked for Utopia Sprawls, we checked for Elephants.

They had five.

Given that this deck went 2-2 against a B/G/W Good Stuff deck that runs five Loxodon Hierarchs, I decided that it’s a pretty good deck. I’m smrt like that.

As usual, you’ve been a great audience. Please, remember to post in the forums. I love reading all that gushy stuff about how cute it is that I write about these decks. It makes me giggle.

Chris Romeo