From Right Field – Toast and Pretzels and Popcorn and Beagles

Read Chris Romeo every Thursday... at StarCityGames.com!
Today is Thanksgiving. As one who concentrates on inexpensive decks, I’m especially thankful for the fan-freakin’-tastic commons and uncommons that the folks at Wizards have been making over the past few years. I could make my word count for this article right now just by listing all of the kick aspirin commons and uncommons that are Standard-legal right now. While I’m cheesy (check out that moustache!), I’m not that cheesy.

{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. The author tries to limit the number of non-land rares as a way to limit the cost of the decks. 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 Sulfurous Springs, Birds of Paradise, or Wrath of God. 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.}

In the United States, today is Thanksgiving. The quintessential celebration of this day involves a turkey, lots of family and friends, and gentle revelry. There may also be football involved, either watching a game on the television or playing in the front yard. If you live in a sitcom or your family is dysfunctional, you might also observe Thanksgiving with a drunk uncle who insults everyone, a brooding teenager who runs off to Brazil in the middle of passing the mashed potatoes, or a family member who cracks under the pressure of the day because “No one appreciates what I do around here!”

All of which misses the point like a blind guy stepping off of the teacup ride at a carnival and then trying to use the urinal.

Before you fire up the ole Tandy TRS 80 to set the forum ablaze with comments like “Romeo hates Thanksgiving” and “Romeo is criticizing Thanksgiving because he wants the terrorists to win,” let me say that you are as wrong as both Eminem and Three 6 Mafia winning Oscars before Martin Scorsese. I love the whole, sappy, greeting-card vibe of the day. In fact, I make the green bean casserole for our Thanksgiving feast. Some years, if I have enough time, I also make this delicious cranberry chutney. Much better than simply slapping some canned cranberry sauce onto the turkey. I will also be watching two NFL games that I wouldn’t normally care a whit about (Cowboys? Lions? Who cares?) because, well, that’s what we do. (The third, the one I want to see with The Colts is only on The NFL Network, and I’m not paying extra for digital cable just to watch that.) All of that stuff I mentioned I above I mentioned because I love it.

Still, eating and football aren’t supposed to be the points of the Thanksgiving. The point of Thanksgiving is to reflect and be thankful for what you have. The food is a roundabout way of saying “We’re thankful that we have food and these people with whom to share it.” So, remember to actually be thankful today. And not just because your brother showered before coming to dinner with his worthless wife and bratty kids this year.

If this were another type of article, I might wax poetic on all of the people and things that I’m thankful for this year, even as bad as this year’s been for me. Since this is a Magic site and because I don’t want to get all maudlin right now, I’m going to stick to what I’m thankful for as it relates to Magic and writing about Magic.

First and foremost, I’m thankful for this site where my writings about Magic reach the world, and for Pete, Ferrett, and Craig, for letting me write about Magic. You all know me as a Magic writer because of them. Without those three, I wouldn’t write about Magic for anyone but me, and I already know what I’m going to say. So, that would be boring. I’m also thankful for the leeway that they grant me in writing about this game. Some weeks, I write about decks. Other weeks, it’s issues. Still others, I get to answer e-mail and forum questions. Once every couple of years, I even take a week off, and they say “Sure! No problem! See you next week!” Essentially, I write about whatever tickles my fancy. (Void in states where fancy tickling is prohibited.)

Obviously, I’m thankful for the game itself. No other single, non-living entity has given me more fun, entertainment, and enjoyment than Magic. You might ask “What about music?” That’s an entire field, like saying “games” rather than Magic. Music has meant more to me and probably always will. Magic, though, has been like no other single thing in my life. (People aren’t things, darling, dearest, Luanne. I love you.) Of course, I’m thankful to Dr. Richard Garfield for creating the game and for the people at Wizards of the Coast who keep creating new cards and new sets.

As one who concentrates on inexpensive decks, I’m especially thankful for the fan-freakin’-tastic commons and uncommons that the folks at Wizards have been making over the past few years. I could make my word count for this article right now just by listing all of the kick aspirin commons and uncommons that are Standard-legal right now. While I’m cheesy (check out that moustache!), I’m not that cheesy.

I’m thankful for people who post in the forums and e-mail me with suggestions and ideas. I know that a lot of people don’t believe that. I mean, come on, who actually likes criticism? I’m not saying that I like criticism. I’m not a masochist. I don’t actually enjoy being told what I did wrong, what I did badly (in your humble opinion, of course, not mine), or what I could have done differently and better. I especially don’t like how some people say it and/or write it.


After I’m done steaming about it, I usually figure out that, you know, that foul-mouthed heathen might have a point in there among all of that nastiness. Yes, Virginia, we writers do indeed actually take that stuff to heart. Well, some of us do, anyway.

Case in point, when last I wrote, I discussed a quite solid White Weenie/Kithkin Soldier deck. Many folks decried the lack of Militia’s Pride. “How dare they! What do they know?” I thought to myself. I also wondered “Why’s he calling me meat? I’m the one driving a Porsche.” (That was courtesy of the second-most quotable movie of all time, Bull Durham, because, as my brother says, if you can’t use a Bull Durham quote in a given situation, it’s because you’re not trying hard enough. And I don’t have a Porsche.) Besides, I’d tested with Militia’s Pride. It just wasn’t that good. If you drop it on turn 2, you waste a turn. If you hold it, waiting for later, it’s clogging up your hand.

The thing was, it gnawed at me. Too many people disagreed with me, said I should have added it. As you’ll read in my upcoming (i.e. coming sometime in this century) book, one of the things I’ve learned is that, if enough people tell you that you’re wrong (or bad at something or look stupid doing that), you at least owe it to yourself to consider the possibility.

Then, it came to me in a dream. I didn’t like Militia’s Pride because I was using too many of them. The deck doesn’t want four of them. It wants two. Go back, and drop the Mirror Entity and a Springjack Knight. You’re gonna love it. Also, remember to put the Cenn’s Heir triggered ability on the stack first. In that way, when the Militia’s Pride ability goes off, if you choose to make an attacking Kithkin Soldier token, the Heir is pumped up by another +1/+1. For those of you who like deck lists, the deck would now look like this:

Kithkin Soldiers have Pride

2 Desert
13 Snow-Covered Plains
2 Mouth of Ronom
3 Terramorphic Expanse
2 Windbrisk Heights

4 Cenn’s Heir
3 Field Marshal
2 Goldmeadow Harrier
4 Goldmeadow Stalwart
4 Knight of Meadowgrain
3 Springjack Knight
4 Wizened Cenn

4 Gelid Shackles
2 Militia’s Pride
4 Oblivion Ring
4 Surge of Thoughtweft

I’m also thankful for other StarCityGames.com writers and former writers. Guys like Rivien Swanson. When he and I last “met” online, I told him that I was kinda stuck for a good deck idea.

Yeah, I know. “You’re always stuck for a good deck idea, Romeo!” Ha ha ha ha ha! You’re so cool, Brewster.

Mr. Swanson sent me this nice li’l budget deck. I was skeptical at first. Then, I played it. Whoa.

Rivien Swanson U/G Budget Beats, Thanksgiving, 2007

5 Forest
13 Island
4 Terramorphic Expanse

4 Quirion Dryad
2 Fathom Seer
4 Looter il-Kor
4 Riftwing Cloudskate

4 Delay
4 Peek
4 Ponder
4 Psionic Blast
4 Rune Snag
4 Think Twice

I wasn’t sure that I wanted to mention this deck. On one hand, it has only eight rares. On the other hand, even though Psionic Blast is no longer a twenty-five dollar card “in real life” (it’s eight as I write this), that’s still thirty-two dollars for a playset if you don’t already have them. Meanwhile, the Dryads are five bucks each, making a set twenty. That’s fifty-two dollars for the rares.

There’s that other hand, though. Online, the Blasts are down to a pretty constant four tickets each while the Dryad hovers right at three tickets each. So, even if you pay full retail for your tickets, you’re only going to spend twenty-eight dollars on those eight rares. Since I’ve been making sure to consider the MTGO players as well as the ones who play with real cards, I’m okay with calling this a budget deck. You should be able to get this deck for under thirty tickets, and that’s fine with me.

How does it play, though? It runs like a top. Hmmm… now that I think about that, I don’t really like that simile. When I played with tops as a kid, mine always wobbled like a ten-month old trying to learn to walk or my Uncle Vinny after his second bottle of wine. How about this? Rivien’s deck purrs like a kitten lying in a sunbeam. Let me get the bad news out of the way, though. This gets run over and crushed by Red Weenie decks with lots of burn like Tiny Tim would get run over and crushed if he were standing between Peter Griffin and a free buffet. That second-turn Dryad lasts for about as long as a good plan lingers in O.J. Simpson’s brain. Without the ability to make big Quirion Dryads, you’re left trying to race with Blue weenies that are outclassed by the Red deck’s weenies. Oh, and their burn, too. Can’t forget that.

I figure this is a problem that I can fix with the sideboard, but I’m having a hard time figuring out what to do. So far, my best idea is to switch the Dryads out for Treefolk Harbingers. They take a lot of punishment and put a Forest on top of your deck for G. I tried Sheltering Ancient since it has the same casting cost as the Dryad. Trouble is if an opponent’s first creature is a Mogg Fanatic, they have no problem sacrificing right after you drop the Ancient. Then, all they have to do is wait for your upkeep, when you have to sacrifice the Ancient because they have no creatures for you to satisfy the Cumulative Upkeep requirement.

Mogg Fanatic Kills Sheltering Ancient without Outside Help. Film at Eleven.

Actually, the best idea was probably the Thallid Shell-Dweller. Same casting cost. Tougher to kill. Makes d00dz with which to block. Still it wasn’t a great solution. I also tried a couple of games with two more Fathom Seers in the sideboard. That would give a 1/3 early and a Morph that draws cards later. The problem was what to do with the other two cards. Epochrasite would put the deck over budget. Dream Stalker would be a bad turn 2 play because it would put the deck down a land. In the end, the best idea – and I’m still looking for suggestions – seemed to be to split the baby with the bathwater. Or whatever. I put two more Fathom Seers and two Thallid Shell-Dwellers into the sideboard to bring in for the four Dryads against burn-heavy Red Weenie decks.

Have You Heard the Good News?

So, Red Weenie decks are the bad news. The good news is that this deck doesn’t seem to have horrible match-ups against anything else I’ve faced. For the short-attention-span crowd, here’s how the first ten games went:

Game 1: U/G Budget Beats defeats U/W Blink.

Game 2: Slaughtered by my own Kithkin Soldiers deck.

Game 3: Mono-Black wins again.

Game 4: Beat U/W Merfolk in a very tight one.

Game 5: Beat Mono-Black Beats with Mortivore without Q-Dryad ever showing up.

Game 6: Beat U/W Control with Deep-Sea Kraken. Again, no Q-Dryad.

Game 7: Beat R/G/w with T-Goyf.

Game 8: Red Weenies are still at twenty when I die.

Game 9: Elves die horrible, squishy deaths.

Game 10: Excellent comeback against G/W!

Final record for first ten games: 7 – 3

However, I also hears from a little boidie dat summa youse guys like your game stories. This next section’s for you.

Game 1: Ya know what U/W Blink has a hard time beating? A second-turn Quirion Dryad. He spent most of his resources trying to deal with that little girl. I protected her as much as I needed to, countering Wrath of God and Condemn. Meanwhile, the Merfolk Looters and Riftwing Cloudskates were whittling away at his life. He actually had to hardcast an Aeon Chronicler, but it was merely a speedbump for a Dryad. (1-0)

Game 2: On the one hand, I was glad to see that someone had decided to try a Kithkin Soldier deck. (I say it was “my own” because he said so. I would never claim ownership of any generic White Weenie deck like that.) On the other hand, here’s what I saw. Turn 1 was a Goldmeadow Stalwart revealing another Stalwart. Second turn was two more Stalwarts. I had no countermagic. I had spent my second turn dropping what I thought would end up being a huge Dryad. Third turn was a Wizened Cenn and a Goldmeadow Harrier. Oh, well. It was fun for the two and a half minutes that it lasted. (1-1)

Game 3: People continue to pooh-pooh Mono-Black Control decks, and I don’t know why. Their only hole is Enchantment removal. Unless the other guy gets down a Story Circle, what’s the problem? This guy tore my hand apart, dropped a couple of Phyrexian Totems, and watched me try to deal with them. I couldn’t. (1-2)

Game 4: This was a U/W Merfolk deck based, as you’d guess, mostly around the Lorwyn Merfolk. However, there’s still Lord of Atlantis. Between him and the Merrow Reejerey, that Blue Weenie army can get quite large. Mix with some bounce, a couple of counterspells, Temporal Isolation, and Momentary Blink (to save his guys or temporarily neuter mine, not for Silly Blink Tricks), and you have a pretty strong deck. In fact, I’m going to have to look into it for a future piece. Not the near future, though, because no one wants a U/W Merfolk deck on the heels of a U/G Beats deck. Anyway, there was a lot of back and forth in this one. Essentially, I let my weenies take on his weenies while I protected the two Quirion Dryads that showed up. At the end, I was able to deal the final damage with Psionic Blast just before he would have killed me on his turn. (2-2)

Game 5: Of the ten I played, I was most impressed with this game. This deck hung in against a Mono-Black Beats with Mortivore and won even though the Dryad never showed up. In other words, it wasn’t simply one of those feats of strength that you hear about at this time of year. This was the U/G Budget Beats deck outdrawing and outplaying the MBB deck. How does it deal with a huge Mortivore? If it doesn’t counter it, it bounced it or just chump blocks it while other Blue weenies deal the damage. This may have also been the game that I started getting my legs with the countermagic. I’ve always understood intellectually that you don’t just counter everything that you see, but I could never really feel it. I always get nervous. “That could be the Elf that kills me. No, wait! That could be the Elf that kills me.” I’d counter too much early and not enough late. In this game, I let some of his stuff go that I could have countered, like Eyeblight’s Ending on a Looter, because I knew that something worse might be coming. It was. Mortivore. Consume Spirit. Tendrils of Corruption. Beyond that, I just needed to keep dropping weenies, bouncing stuff, and drawing cards. (3-2)

Game 6: This was a more “traditional” U/W Control deck. A ton of countermagic and one or two slots of beefy, hard-to-deal-with creatures, in this case Deep-Sea Kraken. (If there was another, I didn’t see it.) He tried to counter everything and did a pretty good job of it. The problem for him was that I had Peek and card drawing. I merely held my countermagic for the Kraken and Wrath of God. Again, Quirion Dryad didn’t show up, and it didn’t matter. (4-2)

Game 7: How does this deck deal with a 6/7 Tarmogoyf? It blocks with an 8/8 Quirion Dryad. That’s actually a bit flip of me. I have an excuse, though. That’s actually what I did. Honestly, I didn’t think this deck could handle Kavu Justice or whatever the name for the G/R/w T-Goyf deck is today. The creatures are big and fast. A little disruption goes a long way. So does a second-turn Dryad followed by a third-turn Peek into Ponder. This gave me a fourth-turn Merfolk Looter off of another Ponder. It also gave me a large Q-Dryad. (5-2)

Game 8: “Red Weenies are still at twenty when I die.” Really, we covered this already. (5-3)

Game 9: I had no illusions about being able to beat Elves. I’ve been working on an Elf deck myself, and it can do some degenerate things. Again, though, a big Dryad, some nicely-timed Rune Snags and Delays, and a Psionic Blast or two, and it was another win for the Dryad & Co. (6-3)

Game 10: This guy got off to a very quick start. I had to play defense very early. Goldmeadow Harrier doesn’t care how big Quirion Dryad is, either. On the other hand, he would have had to have out all four of his Wizened Cenns to save the Harrier from the Psionic Blast. The first Dryad took out a Stalwart. Other weenies played defense while my Looter drew cards. Then, a funny thing happened on the way to the forum: he ran out of cards. He’d played his hand out, and was drawing lands. Meanwhile, I was getting another Dryad, Riftwing Cloudskates, and even a Fathom Seer, whose 1/3 body is great for stopping 2/2 bodies. When the game ended, I was at three and had been for several turns. (7-3)

There you have them, my adventures with Rivien Swanson U/G Budget Beats deck. Given what the Dryad does, I think the main strategy on how to play the deck is obvious. I’ll give you whatever insight I think I can into some other aspects of the deck.

First and foremost, don’t hesitate to play Ponder or Peek on the first turn (yours for Ponder, end of his for Peek). I know that my first reaction was to hold those guys to pump up the Dryad. I quickly realized, though, that there will be more one-mana Blue spells to come, and you want these cards to help you get there. Second, if the cards that Ponder turns up don’t help you, go ahead and shuffle the deck. What could it hurt? Third, remember how Psionic Blast helps the Dryad. Twice, I used the P-Blast to lure people into attacking away the best parts of their army. Just wait until you’ve declared blocker, making sure that the Dryad blocks someone that it can kill once the Dryad gets +1/+1. Use the Blast to take out the biggest guy that it can. The Dryad is bigger and takes out the attacker that it’s blocking. Two-for-one card advantage and a huge shift in board advantage. If I think of more, I’ll give ‘em to you in the forum.

As usual, you’ve been a great audience. I don’t know what deck I’ll be writing about for next week, but, barring more “updates” of MTGO, I should be here. Before I go, though, I want to turn you on to a fantastic and moving “Christmas” DVD. It’s called The House Without a Christmas Tree, and, as far as I can tell, it’s the first time that it’s been on DVD. I won’t bore you with a synopsis since the link sends you to a good one. I will say that I’ve been waiting for this for, honestly, decades. I remember seeing this as a kid. It must have been one of the last times that they reran it, probably around 1975. Typically, the Christmas shows that get rerun involve the secular icons of Christmas (Santa, Rudolph), are cartoons, are actually about Christ’s birth (on rare occasions), or are A Christmas Carol. This is none of those, and it’s even why I put Christmas in quotation marks up there. This is a Christmas show like Bull Durham is a baseball movie. Christmas (or baseball) is only an element of the story. I don’t want to downplay that element. Just as Bull Durham wouldn’t have been as fun with another profession (Crash Davis, the wily veteran landscaper?) and the writers wouldn’t have been able to do what they did with the characters, so too does the emotion of the season make the impact of The House Without a Christmas Tree all that much greater. In other words, this is indeed a Christmas story, one with a wonderful message for this time of the year, but don’t expect a re-telling of Scrooge’s adventures, the origin of Comet and Vixen, or wacky Elves and a Santa who has to save Christmas for non-believers.

Jason Robards is powerful in this. In fact, I remember seeing this as a kid and thinking, “I don’t think this guy is acting. I think he really is that miserable and unhappy.” Of course, I now know that this is what we call Very Good Acting. At the time, though, I was convinced that Jason Robards was a wretched human being.

Find this. Watch it. Enjoy it. Maybe, if we’re lucky, some network will get the rights to broadcast it again, and more people can finally see it.

Oh, and one last thing. Remember, elastic is your friend today.

Chris Romeo