From Right Field: The Ups and Downs – But Mostly Downs – of Crystal Witness

Last week, I wrote about the Blue-Red Isochron Scepter deck that could be a monster of a problem if people lose their maindeck artifact hate. It did quite well, going 3-1 with the one match loss being a tough three-game loss against what I consider the best deck in the format, G/B Control. This week, I tackled Crystal Witness.

{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.}

He’d made it to the top of the penultimate ridge. He could see the final ridge from where he stood. The early-morning sun cast pink and orange streamers of subdued light through the breaks in the clouds and across the mist that hung between the two ridges. It was gorgeous. Costin barely noticed its beauty. Nearly out of clean water, completely out of food, tired, banged up and bruised, he knew that food, shelter, and care for his wounds were just over that next ridge. The aesthetics of the sunrise didn’t make any more of an impression on him than a housefly makes on a boulder. All Costin could think was “one more trek down a mountain. One more climb up. There’s a village on the other side.” He took a deep breath. “It’s such a long way.”

Magic is often a struggle up one mountain and down the next. The whole metagame was settled. Through the Summer of 2004, Goblins and Vial Affinity were at the summit. A few other decks like Tooth and Nail-based decks, Green/Red Control decks (thanks to their maindeck artifact hate), and Blue/White Control decks (thanks to Akroma’s Vengeance) might win a big tourney here and there. Mostly, though, Goblins and Affinity came out on top when the numbers are finally crunched.

Then, a new set from a whole new block came out, and all of a sudden we’re headed down the mountain again. Goblins wasn’t viable anymore because it was almost completely an Onslaught block deck, and Onslaught left Standard when Champions of Kamigawa became legal. We had visions of finally being rid of Affinity or, at the very least, taming it a bit. Imi Statue was printed. Any color could now hose Affinity. Samurai of the Pale Curtain was printed. People searched for the deck that would beat Affinity. Again, a few decks made some splashes. None of it was enough. Affinity remained alone atop the mountain. Back down the mountain we went.

Costin had planned his trek perfectly. He had finished the last of his water a few minutes before cresting the final ridge. Knowing that this was his last day of travel, he had left his tent pack behind when he began moving earlier that morning. He knew that he had to save energy and precious calories or he might never arrive at Langhorne. His message was vitally important to the survival of his people.

When he stood atop the ridge, Costin’s heart broke as surely as if he had seen his first love kissing another boy behind the school. The town was silent. It was completely empty, devoid of any signs of life. There were no people. There were no animals. He didn’t even hear any insect noises, though that was probably because of the blood rushing in his ears. His palms began to sweat, a loss of bodily fluids that he could not afford. He had no way of knowing if there was any clean water in the ghost town below. Even if he found water, what of his injuries? Costin didn’t feel that he could make it to the next village with the gash in his thigh and the pain in his foot from the toe he had lost. Panic set it. “I’m doomed. I’m doomed. We’re all doomed.”

Ted, being the swell guy he is (yes, in addition to being Our Esteemed Editor™), has asked us to focus on some decks that might make a splash in the new, post-Affinity Standard. We all knew how good Tooth and Nail and R/G decks were. Obviously, those would tend to be the first “best” decks. I’ve also been quite impressed with Green/Black Control (replaying Cranial Extraction and Plow Under fourteen times per game is kinda strong). I also shudder at the power of Mono-Blue Control what with the countermagic and the Vedalken Shackles and all.

Those are decks that I’ve left to others to deal with. Besides, they’ve been dealt with very well by folks whose ratings look like dates in American history texts; my rating looks like a date in one of Christopher Columbus’ logs. “1506 – Lotsa water. Crew is getting tired of checkers. Wish we hadn’t eaten the playing cards last week.”

Last week, I wrote about the Blue-Red Isochron Scepter deck that could be a monster of a problem if people lose their maindeck artifact hate. It did quite well, going 3-1 with the one match loss being a tough three-game loss against what I consider the best deck in the format, G/B Control.

Crystal Witness

This week, I tackled Crystal Witness. If you don’t know the deck, it kinda looks like this:

24 Lands

1 Minamo, School at Water’s Edge

12 Forest

10 Island

1 Okina, Temple to the Grandfathers

13 Creatures

4 Eternal Witness

3 Viridian Shaman

4 Solemn Simulacrum

2 Meloku the Clouded Mirror

23 Other Spells

4 Serum Visions

4 Mana Leak

3 Rude Awakening

4 Echoing Truth

4 Condescend

4 Crystal Shard

Some decks do some variations on this. Condescend is often Hinder. Hinder’s a hard counter; Condescend Scrys. Some versions run only three or even two Crystal Shards. Whatever the differences, the point of the deck is to abuse the interaction between Crystal Shard and Eternal Witness (you target your own, don’t pay, and get the Witness back) to control the game and ultimately swing for the win.

To keep the deck in the From Right Field budget range, I switched the four Sullen Speedbumps for four Wood Elves. After some promising initial testing last week, I packed the deck up for Saturday’s Standard tourney. This dropped the cost of the main deck (minus commons and basic lands) from $118 to $70. Still kinda pricey, but close enough for From Right Field.

The first thing Costin needed was water. His tongue felt like the entire Vengalese army had marched through his mouth in nothing but their wool socks. He headed for the fountain in the center of town that doubled as the communal well. With no animal life around, he couldn’t tell if the well had been poisoned or not. “The good news is that there aren’t any dead bodies anywhere,” he thought to himself. That meant that any poison that the water might have in it wasn’t very fast to act. If there was poison in the well, though, there would have to be at least one dead body around . . . wouldn’t there? Without any animals, he had no way to verify whether the water was poisoned or not. “Besides, if I don’t drink this, there’s no place between here and Bindu to get water. Drink this and die, or don’t drink this and die.” He frowned. “Or I could look for some wine.”

Costin knocked on the door of the first home he came to. As he expected given the deafening silence he heard throughout the town, no one answered. He opened the unlocked door. Even against such overwhelming odds, Costin felt guilty about stealing. He could not justify it to himself by saying that no one was around to care if he took any wine. Besides, if there had been anyone around, they would surely have understood his plight and offered it to him. No, he couldn’t convince himself that it wasn’t stealing. He was taking the property of another without that person’s consent. No matter what he told himself, it was stealing. When he found a cask of dark red wine, he merely prayed to God to forgive him for what he was about to do.

The wine tasted very, very good. He wondered how the chicken might taste.

I was so stoked. I had never played with Eternal Witness in a tourney. I knew I’d have fun although it did strike me while I was looking at Viridian Shaman and Eternal Witness that, if I lived on a planet of metal leaves and blades of grass, I might protect my private parts a bit better. Anyway, I was ready to kick more buttocks and write another 3-1 or even 4-0 tourney report.

Not gonna happen. You wanna know why?

It’s because I love you guys so much. No, really, I do. If it wasn’t for your eyeballs, Ted and Pete wouldn’t ask me to keep writing. I write about these cheap rogue decks. I lay my rating on the line to be able to say “This is how the deck performed at an actual tourney.”

I went 1-3.


Let’s get this out of the way right now.

The one win was against a friend who hadn’t played in a while. He was playing a mono-White Millstone deck, his weapon of choice no matter the format. Unfortunately, he hadn’t bought many new cards. By “new,” I mean, “since Mirrodin was released.” If he had simply asked us for the cards, I’m sure his deck would have hummed. Hopefully, he won’t get discouraged, he’ll tune the deck, and we’ll have a new tier one Millstone deck on our hands.

The other three were awful. Horrendous. Ugly. Really pretty much any word your thesaurus will kick out. I didn’t win another game. Partly, this could be because the deck just rolled over and died. Here’s the abbreviated report.

Round One versus White Weenie

Game 1
: Where’s the countermagic for Glorious Anthem?

Game 2: Where’s the countermagic for Hokori, Dust Drinker?

Round Three versus G/B Control

Game 1
: Where’s the countermagic for Cranial Extraction?

Game 2: Mulliganning to three is bad.

Round Four versus G/B Control

Game 1
: Where’s the countermagic for Rude Awakening?

Game 2: Mulliganning to four is bad.

Costin was a naturally curious young man. It had served him well, driving him to ask questions of his elders and to read whatever he could get his hands on. As often as not, though, it had gotten him into trouble. (Did he really think the Widow Tarantz was a witch, or did he just want to know what was going on in the basement? His father’s belt had told him it didn’t matter. There was no right answer to that one.) If he hadn’t been so inquisitive, he would never have volunteered to make the trek to the Oracle with Maler. The trip was supposed to be a routine one, always made by some villager or two near the end of the month. It would always reveal what the people of Langhorne already knew. At the beginning of Spring, the Oracle would predict rain and good weather for growing crops. In the Fall months, a great harvest was always on the way. Summer was hot. Winter was cold. A young woman would give birth. Older people took the fulfilling of the “prophecies” to mean that the village was still in God’s good graces (which meant that the hoodlum teenagers had not yet caused the downfall of society). The adults in the generation of Costin’s parents were more likely to understand that the weather was the weather, and, as long as it rained at the right times, the crops would be fine. If the rains didn’t come, they had stored water, food, and feed. The fact that the village council (and his father and mother) had thought it was okay for Costin to volunteer to join Maler meant that it wasn’t supposed to have been a journey of any consequence.

After hearing the Oracle’s prediction – Costin hated thinking of them as prophecies because they never seemed to be very specific, though this one seemed right on the mark so far, the timeline notwithstanding – Maler had decided to stay and try to enter the priesthood. “I’ve found my calling,” he’d told Costin. Costin figured fear played a big part. He was also sure that the priestesses also had something to do with Maler’s decision. They were certainly friendlier to him than any of the girls they knew.

Costin’s innate curiosity didn’t serve him well at the moment, however. It taunted him. He wanted to know exactly what happened here, where the people and livestock and pets of Langhorne had gone. Had the Oracle been correct about the source of the devastation and wrong about the timing (hence “prediction” over “prophecy”), or had something else happened here?

Costin had to fight against every natural instinct he had to investigate. He had to get moving to Bindu. His mandate from the Oracle had been to warn the towns and villages in the Valley of Light. So far, he was not fulfilling his mission. He found a backpack in another home, filled it with wine and food, and asked God’s forgiveness – again. (“Too many times in one day,” he thought.) If he was supposed to make it to Bindu, he would. If he wasn’t supposed to make it, he’d die trying. Staying in Langhorne was not an option since he would most certainly die, and he’d die alone, a coward’s death. “A coward may save himself today only to die tomorrow,” his father said more than once. “A hero saves others who will make him immortal through their songs and stories and poems.” (Costin often wondered where his father, a farmer, came up with such grandiose and deep sayings. He respected his father too much to ask, though.) The only other alternative was going back through the mountains to the Oracle. That way lay sure death. All the thoughts of death made Costin shudder. “Better to die trying to save others than to die trying to save only myself,” he thought, trying to bolster his courage. With a final look back at the deserted town, Costin set out across the valley floor.

So, I sit here wishing I had better news to report, and I don’t. I could try to figure out what went wrong with the Crystal Witness deck, but that seems futile. Many folks will say, “that deck stinks on a stick. It was good in block and nowhere else.” The fact that several folks made Champs (a Standard tournament) Top 8s with it won’t deter them from making those statements. Others will point to my mini-report and say, “obviously, your deck punked on you.” That seems too easy. Yes, when you mulligan to three or four, winning is almost impossible. When that happens in game two and you’re already down a game, that’s pretty much the match.

It just seemed like there was something else to it, something other than my own bad decision making. The deck almost seemed like it could pull some wins out, but nothing happened. Was it the lack of card drawing? Could be, though my hand was always full of cards . . . when I wasn’t mulliganning to three, that is. Was it a lack of countermagic? Not really. There was enough in there; it just didn’t seem to show. I was into the third match when I realized that I had not seen Condescend once in the first two matches.

What the deck was was inconsistent. The bottom line is that it had answers that didn’t show up on time. When something like that happens game in and game out for four matches, that tells you something. It tells you not to play the deck in a tournament.

I did learn something else, though. I learned that Boseiju-powered Rude Awakenings are going to be the death of Blue mages everywhere. I have the answer.

It's a Trap!

Dr. Romeo Reveals the Meaning of Life or at Least How Blue Can Stop Rude Awakening Madness

Does Rude Awakening cast with mana from Boseiju get you down? Then, you need the amazing new Leonin Bladetrap! If I had had those in my sideboard, I would have wiped out all but a few fliers against the White Weenie deck while essentially casting a one-sided Armageddon against my Rude opponents. This, of course, presumes that I would have drawn the Bladetrap.

I wish I had more and better news for you. I’d like to say, as I usually can, that I had fun playing the deck. I didn’t. Maybe it was because I was faced with so many decisions and seemed to make the wrong ones. Maybe it was because everyone else always seemed to enjoy doing Silly Witness Tricks™ that didn’t seem so fun to me. Whatever it was, I feel like I wasted both of our times even though I know it’s not true. Any scientist will tell you that an experiment that proves your hypothesis wrong isn’t a failure. It’s a success. It succeeded in proving that your hypothesis was wrong. I need to find another cheap-but-well-known deck for this weekend, pronto. Any help?

Costin knew the way to his destination quite well. Bindu was a slightly bigger village, a town, really, with a farmer’s market and pubs where people could buy cooked meals. His father, Richolus, often took Costin with him to help with setting up his stall on weekends after having sold his crops in Langhorne during the week. It was a five-hour trip by horse over good roads. (Once, Costin asked his father why he would make the Saturday trips. “Even though we leave at dawn, we don’t get to the market and set up until nearly noon. Seems like a waste to me.” His father replied, “But do you notice how, by that time, the other farmers have no good fruits and vegetables left? They’ve all been picked over, and there’s nothing left but bruised apples and wilted lettuce. Yet, there are still people who need to buy food. We show up with fresh food, and we get all of that business without having to work as long. Besides,” his father said, poking him with his elbow, “it gives you and me an entire day away from the women.” By “the women,” Costin’s father meant Costin’s mother, Costin’s two sisters, Costin’s mother’s mother, and Costin’s mother’s two sisters. The family homestead seemed to be overrun by women.)

On the way out to Bindu, Richolus would tell Costin stories about fantastic animals and gifted people who lived in wondrous cities across the mountains in the opposite direction from Bindu. His father’s stories were often punctuated with nods and jerks of his head over his shoulder to indicate the direction of the mountains in case Costin had forgotten where they were. Richolus knew that Costin, like most young people in this enlightened time, didn’t think the stories were true. For that matter, most people of Richolus’ generation, including Richolus himself, didn’t believe most of the tales. They were just entertaining stories.

On this trip, however, there was no father. There were no stories. There was no cart or horse or bushels of food. It was only Costin, a well-worn road, and a sense of urgency. It would have to be enough. For Costin. For all of the people who lived in the Valley of Light. It would have to be enough.

Chris Romeo