From Right Field: What’s Next?

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It’s third-and-twenty-three in the bottom of the ninth, and I’ve got no fouls to give. I’m working with three guys that have yellow cards, and the other team has a two-foot putt. My back’s against the wall. My feet are in stirrups. The doctor just said to drop ‘em, turn, and cough, and the nurse told me to bend over. In other words, I’m right where I want to be.

{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.}

This is one of the hardest times of the year for me to write about Magic. Baseball season is winding down. That means that I’m caught up in the pennant races. Yes, The Red Sox are right where they want to be: in second place. Meanwhile, the NFL is playing pre-season games, and I have to get ready for not one but two fantasy football leagues. (Note to Self: Let kickers go until very late.) The Fall television season actually kicked off last week with Fox’s show Vanished. That means that I have about forty-six hours of television to watch per week.

Somewhere in all of that, I have to find time to come up with a deck idea or some other Magic-related topic on which to write. It’s not just about time, though. It’s also about timing. I have an inner dialogue going on that goes something like this:

“Do I include Kamigawa Block cards in my decks at this point?”

“Sure. Why not? They’re still Standard legal.”

“But only for about eight weeks.”

“Eight weeks is a lot of Magic. That’s eight Friday Night Magic tournaments and eight Saturday Standard tourneys. Sixteen chances to play the deck.”

“Yeah, but some of that time needs to be used to work in Coldsnap. And then Time Spiral will take some time to work in there. Plus, I haven’t even finished with all of the Ravnica cards.”

“Whoa. I’m glad I’m not you.”

“Um, you are me. We are one, and we are all together. Coo coo ca-choo.”

“Dude, you’re messed up.”

I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.
Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack), Say Anything

Another part of the reason this ends up being so hard is my mandate for From Right Field: cheap decks. As Kamigawa Block rotates out of Standard, a lot of the cards will go down in price. Those cards, of course, are the ones that aren’t really going to see play in Extended or Legacy. Sadly, these don’t include the Dragon Legends.

So, here I am. It’s third-and-twenty-three in the bottom of the ninth, and I’ve got no fouls to give. I’m working with three guys that have yellow cards, and the other team has a two-foot putt. My back’s against the wall. My feet are in stirrups. The doctor just said to drop ‘em, turn, and cough, and the nurse told me to bend over. In other words, I’m right where I want to be.

What to do; what to do? First and foremost, I focus on what I’m here to do. One of the things that this column is supposed to do is help newer players who don’t have access to a lot of cards and/or who are on a more limited budget hold their own in local, Saturday, Standard tournaments. It’s not very budget-friendly to ask someone to go out and pick up cards that they won’t be able to use in a tournament in a few weeks. Here’s what I’ve decided to do. My decks for the next few weeks will focus on Ravnica Block, Ninth Edition, and Coldsnap cards. If you see some Kamigawa Block cards that would fit in, you go right ahead and suggest them. I’ll even try to remember to put an “Adding Kami Kards” section at the end of the pieces. But, the focus will be on Ravnica, Guildpact, Dissension, 9E, and Coldsnap.

Lloyd: I got a question. If you guys know so much about women, how come you’re here at like the Gas ‘n’ Sip on a Saturday night completely alone drinking beers with no women anywhere?

Joe and the Rest of the Guys: <pause> By choice, man.

Say Anything

If you’re gonna play with Coldsnap cards, that means one of two things. Finding a card or two you like (I’m into Phyrexian Etchings; Haakon, Stromgald Scourge; and Hibernation’s End right now), and build around those. Either that, or you’ll be building around Snow permanents. This is going to require getting some Snow-Covered Basic lands. Here are my suggestions on that front. First, you could buy one of the Coldsnap preconstructed decks like Snowscape or Aurochs Stampede from StarCityGames.com. (Our Motto: We Have Pre-Cons Out Our Ying-Yons!) Second, you could simply buy the Snow-Covered Basic lands from StarCityGames.com. (Our Motto: Selling Snow-Covered Lands Since the Last Ice Age!) If you go with the second option, you should know that I did a little poking around,

(Geez, you have one filthy mind.)

and Pete & Company here are actually selling the original Ice Age Snow-Covered Basic lands for only fitty cent each! “Whotta bahgin!” So, let’s say you like playing Red and Green and you want to impress your peeps with your Old Skewl Snow-Covered lands. You’ll probably need fifteen of each. Yes, I know you won’t play thirty in a deck, but one deck may lean more heavily toward Green. So, you might run fifteen Snow-Covered Forests and only nine Snow-Covered Mountains. Another deck might go the other way. Anyway, thirty of those puppies are only fifteen dollars.

Of course, you could just settle for the new ones. Those are a quarter each. That’s seven-fitty for thirty of them. Either way. Whatever. Get some Snow-Covered Basic lands, pronto.

I am looking for a dare-to-be-great situation.
Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack), Say Anything

Meanwhile, I’m looking for a dare-to-use-Chilling-Shade situation. As you should know by now, I have a bit of a crush on Chilling Shade. You see, it’s got the Shade ability, but it doesn’t have to be used in a mono-Black deck like, well, every other Shade to be used well. It just needs a lot of Snow mana, regardless of color.

The biggest problem with Chilling Shade isn’t that it’s a 1/1 for three mana or that it’s Black. It’s that it’s a creature. People are very antagonistic toward creatures right now. They run Mortify and Wrath of God and all sorts of other spells that kill creatures. It’s very nasty out there in The Red Zone. Kinda like… a five-game series between The Red Sox and The Yankees (8-17-2006 through 8-20-2006).

Baseball Trivia of the Week #1: On Friday, August 18th, The Red Sox hosted The Yankees in what can best be described as the All-Porn Pitching Match-Up. The Yankees’ pitcher was named Wang while The Red Sox’s was Johnson. Yes, Boston brought out their Johnson in the hopes of beating off The Yankees, and New York countered by using their Wang on the mound. To really drive the point (heh!) home, on Saturday, The Yankees flopped out their own Johnson (Randy), whose nickname is — yes, really – The Big Unit.

Baseball Trivia of the Week #2: Major League Baseball’s Comeback Player of the Year Award is now sponsored by — get this — Viagra. Seriously. I’m just not good enough to make this stuff up.

So, what do we do about that when we want to use a creature like the Chilling Shade (or any creatures, really)? Since it’s Black, we could just throw in a lot of discard and creature destruction in the hopes of making the way clear for the Shade.

Frankly, my dear, I’m bored with that. Blackmail, Distress, kill something, Persecute. “Hey, where ya going?” Besides, I didn’t want to make this mono-Black. That kinda, you know, misses the whole point of being able to use Chilling Shade in a multi-colored deck.

Howsabout, then, we just make sure that, if the Shade gets killed, we can bring him back? Yeah, I like that a lot.

D.C.: Why don’t you just call her again?

Lloyd Dobler: I draw the line at seven unreturned phone calls.

Say Anything

Here’s the deck that I call Chilly Willie:

I will now take questions from the audience.

Q: Why Phyrexian Gargantua and not Kokusho, the Evening Star? They cost the same.
A: They cost the same mana, you mean. Kokusho is about eighty-seven times more costly money-wise than the Gargantua. If you have Kokusho, by all means run it. It plays very well with the Rusalka and Lyzolda. This is From Right Field, though. The decks don’t start out with Dragon Legends in them.

Q: Chilling Shade, Stinky, and Lyzolda? That’s a lotta underpowered three-mana creatures, dude. Are you sure?
A: Yes, I’m sure. Stinky is a kill spells on a stick. Lyzolda serves the triple-threat purposes of dealing damage, drawing cards, and negating certain annoying Auras. Yeah, Faith’s Fetters and Pillory of the Sleepless, I’m talking to you. As for the Shade, have you read the rest of this yet?

Q: Isn’t that a lot of mana for such a small mana curve? I mean, you really top out at four with just those three Gargantua at six. You don’t even have anything at five mana.
A: Richard Feldman taught me an important lesson when he was beating me at my own game. If you can use the mana, make sure you have enough of it. While the mana curve on this has a pretty low average, this thing loves to use the mana. There’s no such thing as too much mana for the Rakdos Guildmage’s Red ability. With five mana (if two are Black), you can Recover and cast Grim Harvest in the same turn. Etc., et al, ad nauseam.

Q: What if I have more Blood Crypts? Should I use four?
A: Yes, just drop one each of the Snow-Covered Mountain and Snow-Covered Swamp.

Q: Should I use Sulfurous Springs, too?
A: No, don’t use more than four non-Snow lands. If you don’t have the Blood Crypts or can’t afford them, use the Springs. Mix and match up to four. No more. Chilling Shade wants Snow mana. Be careful of the Springs, though. This deck is very color intensive. Sulfurous Springs could end up doing a whole lot more damage to you than bringing a Blood Crypt into play untapped ever would.

Q: What about the Rakdos Carnarium?
A: Don’t use it. This deck doesn’t want to waste the time or Snow mana on that card.

Q: Two weeks ago, you were all “Why didn’t anybody use Death Denied except as a one-shot in some Gifts Ungiven decks?” And now, you have a chance to use it, and you’re going with Grim Harvest instead. What gives?
A: Two reasons. The first was given above. I’m not going to be telling people to go scrounge up Kamigawa Block cards when they’ll rotate out of Standard soon. Second, Grim Harvest is better for what this deck wants to do. This deck doesn’t necessarily want to generate the huge card advantage that Death Denied can leverage. I know that sounds counterintuitive. “What deck doesn’t want huge card advantage?!?” This deck wants card advantage, but it wants to focus on the Chilling Shade. Death Denied, if all copies get used to maximum advantage with the Shade, would each bring back four Shades. That’s sixteen Shades from graveyard to hand, and that’s only if you get all four Shades in the ‘yard at the same time every time you cast each and every Death Denied. Yes, that’s fantastic. Grim Harvest, though, literally has the possibility to bring back an infinite number of Chilling Shades (disregarding, of course, the fact that you’d deck yourself or die long before infinity occurred). As the game goes on, the Shade will have a bigger and bigger target on its ass. You will need to be able to bring it back over and over.

Q: Do you think Dark Confidant would be good in this deck?
A: Well, gosh and golly, let’s see. Except for four four-mana Wrecking Balls and three six-mana Phyrexian Gargantuas, everything in this deck costs three mana or less. So, no. Dark Confidant should not be anywhere near this deck. Don’t put it in here. Please. Don’t. Stop. (Personally, I don’t find it hard to write sarcasm. I guess I’m just a Natural Born Smart-Ass.)

Q: What about Phyrexian Arena?
A: See the answer re: Dark Confidant, above.

How to Play the Deck: The Abridged Edition

Drop lands. Cast spells. Kill things. Swing with creatures. Pump up Shades. Win. Shuffle.

How to Play the Deck: the In-Depth NPR Edition

First things first. By that I mean first-turn plays. You have ten fantastic first-turn plays. They are four Tresserhorn Sinks, two Blood Crypts, and four Scorched Rusalkas. Don’t shun those lands as turn 1 plays. They give you access to both colors. As for the Rusalka, it’s the first of a two-pronged “Death to Faith’s Fetters, Confiscate, and Pillory of the Sleepless” Defense, the other being Lyzolda. Bad Auras should never even cloud your d00ds since you should be sacrificing them out from under the spells, thus causing them to be “countered by the rules of the game for lack of a legal target” (i.e. “fizzling them”). If a Faith’s Fetters does cloud your day, don’t Lose Hope. Just wait for Lyzolda or the Rusalka to come up, and save you.

Your second turn should be pretty good, too. You have the Guildmage, Coldsteel Hearts, and Last Gasps. A word of warning, though. Save those Guildmages if you can. They are so, so, so much better with a lot of mana to run through them. Of course, you could just cast a Last Gasp on a Watchwolf or Guildmage or Birds of Paradise or something. Killin’s good, too.

Then, there’s that awesome third turn. Chilling Shade. Stinky. Lyzolda. Oooooo, I have goose bumps. Speaking of Lizzy Borden, remember, there are only two slots in the deck that allow her to sac a Red and Black creature: herself, and the Guildmage. Moreover, there are only six of those guys in total. Don’t get all paternal, and refuse to sacrifice something unless it’s Red and Black. Actually, you almost never want to do that with this deck. You want to sacrifice (a) whatever will win you the game, (b) whatever is dying anyway, or (c) whatever’s about to be or has been neutralized by a freakin’ aura.

I can’t take it anymore, Felix. I’m cracking up. Everything you do irritates me. And when you’re not here, the things I know you’re gonna do when you come in irritate me. You leave me little notes on my pillow. I told you a hundred-fifty-eight times: I can’t stand little notes on my pillow. “We are all out of cornflakes. F.U.” Took me three hours to figure out F.U. was Felix Ungar!
Oscar Madison (Walter Matthau), The Odd Couple

We now turn to the four Wrecking Balls, which I would have mentioned right after Wang and the Johnsons except that seemed way too easy. It should go without saying

But I will anyway. You’re going to get antsy. I know you. Don’t say you won’t. You will. You’re gonna cast Wrecking Ball at the first thing that scares you. Then, your opponent is going to drop Vitu-Ghazi or Svogthos or is going to enchant a Plains with Genju of St00pid Life Gain and Hugh Jass, and you’re gonna want to punch yourself in the nuts. Don’t do it. Save Wrecking Ball for as long as you can.

Now, don’t get silly. If you’re facing some mono-Red burn deck, and they’re sending some Goblin-King-enhanced-Mountainwalking-5/5 Goblin at you while you’re at seven life, kill the thing dead. All I’m saying is: be smart. These Balls are huge. They can be very hairy for your opponent. People just don’t want to see your Balls. So, save them for when they’ll make the biggest impact.

Spotlight On: Grim Harvest

Grim Harvest will be your friend and nemesis. As with Wrecking Ball, you’re going to feel like doing some stupid things like not helping your board position for fear of not being able to Recover the Grim Harvest. Don’t be too tight about that. If you lose a Grim Harvest, you do. For example, let’s say that you could kill an oncoming 4/4 of some sort if you block with a pumped-up 4/4 Shade, but, in so doing, you won’t have the mana to Recover the Harvest when the Shade dies. Do you simply trade, or do you chump block and get back the Harvest? That depends on the game situation, etc. The point is: think.

My Favorite Grim Harvest Trick: The ingredients for this trick are lotsa mana, a Rakdos Guildmage on the board, a dying creature (Goblin tokens are great for this), and Grim Harvest in hand or the ‘yard. Since you can bring the Grim Harvest back to your hand whenever a creature hits your ‘yard, you have a near infinite supply of fodder for the Guildmage’s Black ability. Just Recover the Harvest, and chuck it to the ability. Lather. Rinse. Repeat if necessary.

Where have all the cowboys gone?
Paula Cole

Save a horse. Ride a cowboy.
Big & Rich

One of the features that people have been missing, much to my surprise, are the game-by-game recaps from testing. Personally, I don’t like those a lot. It’s tough to make play-by-play interesting reading. Heck, it’s tough enough to make it interesting listening. That’s why sports broadcasts have a play-by-play person as well as a “color commentator.”

“And Urlacher tackles Barber with a vicious hit to prevent a first down.”

“You know, Rich, it’s a good thing that guy has football. Outside of this stadium, that’d result in a ten- to fifteen-year sentence.”

A lot of folks, though, say they learn from my match-up recaps. I think what they’re saying is that they learn from my mistakes, something I don’t even do. In the spirit of these recaps, I’m going to try something different. I’m going to throw out some situations that I’ve found myself in, and we can discuss what I did wrong or right or what you’d do differently. I call this section:

Dr. Romeo’s Situation Room

Situation #1: I was playing against a Solar Flare deck, and I went first. My second-turn play was a Coldsteel Heart while his was an Orzhov Basilica returning a Caves of Koilos. Thanks to that Heart, I could cast Wrecking Ball on my third turn. Should I have killed the Basilica or saved the Wrecking Ball for later?

What Romeo Did: Darn skippy, I killed the Basilica! What do I look like, a vapid supermodel who says “You know, it’s really a harder job than it looks like?”

Was Romeo’s Call a Good One?: So much of this game’s strategy doesn’t reveal itself as “right” or “wrong” until after the fact. It’s easy to be a Monday morning quarterback, what with hindsight being 20/20 and all. However, this may be as close as I can come to saying “that is always the right play.” I had a chance to set back a top-tier deck by two turns, and I took it. How’d it work out? I won. That shouldn’t be too surprising. Solar Flare has only Remand and Signets they can play on turn two, and he was too busy rebuilding his mana to not play a second-turn Signet. At that point, I was swinging with a Chilling Shade for some major damage. I made him take a one-for-one trade with Wrath of God for Chilling Shade. I still had to fight through Zombified Angels and such, but the early hit to the mana base was too much.

Situation #2: Against the same Solar Flare deck late in the second game (we didn’t do sideboards), I had a nice board of Hearts, land, including a Tresserhorn Sinks, a Chilling Shade that could be very big in an instant, Lyzolda, and a Rakdos Guildmage. I had Grim Harvest in the graveyard, and Last Gasp in my hand along with two lands that I’d been sandbagging. With me at ten life and him at seven, he used his third and final Zombify to reanimate an Angel of Despair. (He said he didn’t go for the Kokusho because he wanted to kill something. That is a question for another day.) With the Zombify on the stack, what should I have done?

What Romeo Did: You should actually recognize this as a trick question. The (A) answer is “Let the Zombify resolve.” Don’t do anything until the Angel comes into play. Once the Angel’s in play, what do you do? This is the (B) answer. Let your opponent pick a target for the Angel’s triggered ability first. Don’t sacrifice anything to Lyzolda yet. (Geez, I’ve got a lot of “right” and “wrong” answers when I said I wouldn’t. Maybe you should disregard that statement.) If you anticipate what he’s going to target and get rid of it beforehand, he just gets to hit something else, too. That’s a serious piece of card advantage. He used one card to kill two and get a flying 5/5. Yikes.

He ended up targeting the Shade since it could potentially keep the Angel at bay while living. With that ability on the stack, I sac-ed the Shade to draw a card. This triggered the Grim Harvest’s ability, which I did use. On my next turn, I killed the Angel with that trick that I love so much. I pitched the Harvest to the Guildmage’s ability and then cast Last Gasp. After combat, he was at three. Had he not pulled Kokusho, I probably could have won that game. (I know. He could have Wrathed or about six other things, but Kokusho was the biggie because he followed that up with a second Kokusho.)

Was Romeo’s Call a Good One?: I don’t see how it couldn’t be. The Shade was going to die anyway, and I got to draw a card. Was there a better call?

Star City Writer’s Line of the Week
“An infinite number of monkeys typing at an infinite number of keyboards will eventually write Mike FloresDeckade. And an infinite number of rednecks with an infinite number of shotguns shooting at an infinite number of road signs will eventually re-create the complete works of William Shakespeare in Braille.”
Sean McKeown, Magical Hack: Snakes on a Ballot!

It was at this point that one of my friends asked what I was working on. I showed him. “Wow, that’s risky. How do you win against Global Enchantments?”

“Against wha-aaa’?”

“Excuse me, non-Aura Enchantments. How. Do. You. Win?”

“Like, which ones?”

“Glare of Subdual.”

“Wrecking Ball for the Vitu-Ghazi and hope I can outpace them.”

“Debtors’ Knell.”

“Win before it’s a factor.”

“Heartbeat of Spring.”

“Lose quickly so that I can get a drink and go to the bathroom.”


“Are you serious? Who would play those anymore?”

“Night of Souls’ Betrayal.”

“Um, I think this pretty much rolls over and dies.”

So, I set out to see how this deck did against some of those.

Situation #3: Against Glare, I’d done a good job of keeping the board clear. Pretty much. There were a couple of Elves, but Last Gasp had taken care of Watchwolf while the Rakdos Guildmage’s ability got rid of an early Selesnya Guildmage. Then, this problem. My opponent cast a Glare of Subdual and followed that by dropping a Vitu-Ghazi. I was holding Wrecking Ball. Should I have killed the Vitu-Ghazi or saved the Wrecking Ball to kill whatever might grab Umezawa’s Jitte later on?

What Romeo Did: I killed the land. The Jitte might come up later. The Vitu-Ghazi was going to start being a problem with the Glare right now. Except for a couple of creatures that Last Gasp couldn’t kill anyway (Yosei, for example), the Rakdos Guildmage could handle the other guys he could bring out.

Was Romeo’s Call a Good One?: You tell me. I lost, but it was to a Jitte-Wearing Yosei.

Situation #4: Against a B/G deck running Debtors’ Knell, I had a pretty good board position with Lyzolda and a Scorched Rusalka. He was at seven life with no creatures on board, just mana and the Knell. I had a ton of good stuff in the graveyard when a Debtors’ Knell hit, including another Lyzolda and a Guildmage. With Grim Harvest, another Lyzolda, and Last Gasp in hand, what should I have done?

What Romeo Did: I waited. Again, this is part of the rule about doing whatever you can at the last possible second. Had I cast Grim Harvest on that turn or even on mine, he might have had the chance to pick whatever he wanted. By waiting to use the Grim Harvest, I can target it in response to him choosing targets with the Knell, thus countering the Knell’s ability.

Was Romeo’s Call a Good One?: I, of course, ask “how could it not be?” Was it really, though?

Situation #5: Same as number four except that I had more land.

What Romeo Did: I got a little antsy (or did I?) and cast the Grim Harvest at the end of his turn.

Was Romeo’s Call a Good One?: Of course it was. How can number three and number four both be “right”…? This is where the land is an issue. I had enough that I could use the Rusalka’s ability (a single Red mana), Recover the Grim Harvest (three mana, one being Black), and cast Grim Harvest (two mana, one being Black), all in the same phase. By bringing something back to my hand now, I gave myself more options. Sure enough, on his upkeep, when he targeted a Gargantua, I sacced the Rusalka to her own ability, Recovered the Grim Harvest, and cast it to take the Gargantua away from him. Nanny nanny boo boo.

Situation #6: This is when things started getting hairy. I next played against a B/W/g/u Good Stuff deck whose first few plays were untapped Overgrown Tomb and Birds of Paradise on turn 1; Hallowed Fountain on turn 2; Temple Garden and Court Hussar on turn 3; Mortify targeting my Rakdos Guildmage on turn 4 (with me stuck on three lands) and another Overgrown Tomb; Mikokoro, Center of the Sea and Kodama of the North Tree on turn 5; and Eiganjo Castle and Kokusho. the Evening Star on turn 6. At that point, I still only had three lands, a Last Gasp in hand, and a Chilling Shade on board. What should I have done?

What Romeo Did: I conceded.

Was Romeo’s Call a Good One?: Maybe not. I could have blocked the Kokusho, pumped the Shade to 2/2, and cast Last Gasp on Kokusho. Having started that turn at twelve life, I would have been at one when all was said and done. Did I really have a chance, though? The Kodama tramples. I couldn’t have cast enough to stop the last point of damage from Trampling over. So, I went and got lunch with my brother.

Situation #7: You’re going to a Standard, Constructed tournament at the local game store on Saturday. Do you take this deck?

What Romeo Would Do: I’d take it. Build a sideboard, of course. Add Nezumi Graverobbers for decks that like to much with their ‘yards. Smash or Shattering Spree for Artifacts. More discard like Rise/Fall for control decks. Hideous Laughter for the weenie decks. But, yeah, I’d take it.

Is Romeo’s Call a Good One?: Depends on your goal. If you want to get your rating to 1900, no. If you want to play a deck with lotsa of options – and, man, does this deck have options – then play this.

As usual, you’ve been a great audience. My advice for the week? Don’t stick your tongue to any flagpoles, Flick.

Chris Romeo