From Right Field: You’re Sick, You Know That?

Combos abound thanks to Fifth Dawn. Who cares? Skullclamp’s been banned. Who cares? As far as I can tell from what people have been e-mailing me, all anyone cares about is details from my honeymoon. You know what? You’re sick. Truly.

Combos abound thanks to Fifth Dawn. Who cares?

Skullclamp’s been banned. Who cares?

Jevon Kearse is a Philadelphia Eagle, and Kurt Warner is a New Yawk Football Giant. Who cares?

As far as I can tell from what people have been e-mailing me, all anyone cares about is details from my honeymoon.

You know what? You’re sick. Truly. I guess that’s why I **sniff** love you so much. **sniff** **sniff** **HONK**

However, this is a family site. I know we throw in a lot of cheesecake shots. The pictures we link to, though, are no worse than what you see in People or on the cover of Rolling Stone. I am not about to let you see the honeymoon pictures, though. You’re just not ready for them and neither is StarCityGames.com. See that picture of me up there? Rizzo once said I looked like an out-of-work, 1970’s porn star in that shot. Look again. I think I look like a happily-employed, 1970’s porn star. Like I said, you’re not ready for my honeymoon pictures.

Besides, this column is supposed to be about Magic. I guess I have to jolt you back to reality here. This isn’t for the squeamish. Are you ready? Okay, close your eyes, and picture this:

Rosie O’Donnell in a thong bikini.* [There’s a Rosie O’Donnell eating a Danish joke here, but I think Pete and the GLBA would both have my hide, so you’ll have to read between the lines. – Knut]

Ewww. Now, are you ready to talk about Magic again? Good.

The first thing that I want to get out of the way is responding to the feedback I got on the Relentless Rats deck I listed a couple of weeks ago. Folks, that deck wasn’t even tested. I mean, even less than the usual stuff I throw up there. I was merely saying,”Here’s what a Relentless Rats deck might look like.” However, being the competent Star City employee that I am, I did test the deck last week. Here’s what I found.

It’s . . . soooooo . . . sloooooow. Even in a Skullclamp-free environment, it’s slow.

You wouldn’t think that a deck whose biggest spells cost three mana would be slow, but, boy oh boy, is it ever. At least it was with the twenty-two lands I had in there. I had presumed that with eight one- and two-casting-cost removal spells, there would be plenty of time to set up the nasty Rat line. I was wrong. As wrong as this.

More important, with only twenty-two lands, it was very hard to do two things per turn. I really wanted to be able to do things like play Dark Banishing on a Ravager and then play out a second or third Relentless Rats. That, however, takes six mana. I was usually dead by then whether it was against Ravager, Elf & Nail, or Goblins. Okay, I wasn’t necessarily”dead” against Elf & Nail. However, E&N often did have a Darksteel Colossus and an Akroma on the board by that time, which, against a mono-Black deck, is just like dead.

There was some good news, though. Lose Hope is even better than I expected. The ability to kill Disciple of the Vault or Goblin Sharpshooter at the end of the turn while also setting up your next two draws (or throwing away unneeded cards) is absolutely huge. I can’t begin to say how huge. Mammoth. Titanic. Monstrous. Big, like, well, like this.

Devour in Shadow surprised me, too. Yeah, you lose some life. So what? Take a look at a creature like Visara, one that Dark Banishing and Lose Hope can’t do a darn thing about. She’s a nasty, Black, flier. If you couldn’t kill her, she’d hit you for five every turn. Lose five life once, or get hit for five damage every turn? You make the call. In addition, Devour in Shadow gives you yet another piece of instant-timed removal that can get rid of a DoV or Sharpshooter on turn 2. DiS doesn’t care about the size, color, or type of the creature. Yummy. I’ll take four, please.

Even with those two great removal spells, the deck was too slow. So, we (that’d be Charles Dykes and I) went down to twenty Relentless Rats and up to twenty-four lands. While this was much better in terms of being able to get down multiple Rats per turn, it still left only eight first- and second-turn plays in the deck. (For the smartasses out there, no, I won’t count a Consume Spirit for zero as a two-mana spell. That’d be ludicrous.)

We needed more early plays. Funny how each set and block changes your point of view on speed. This whole deck costs three or less to cast. Yet, we see the three-mana stuff as”not early plays.” Funny. Like a steel-toed-boot-to-an-un-cupped-groin funny.

Bill Bryant’s Favorite Simpsons Exchange:

Nelson Muntz:”Ha ha!”

Principal Skinner: (scowling)”Nelson! That boy is hurt.”

Nelson: (forlorn)”I said, ‘ha ha.'”

We came up with these two versions:

Endless Vermin, V.2.0/2.0a

24 Lands

24 Swamp

20 Creatures

16 Relentless Rats

4 Ravenous Rats / Festering Goblin

16 Other Spells

2 Reaping the Graves

4 Lose Hope

2 Consume Spirit

4 Devour in Shadow

4 Dark Banishing

Endless Vermin, V.2.1

24 Lands

24 Swamp

16 Creatures

16 Relentless Rats

20 Other Spells

2 Reaping the Graves

4 Lose Hope

2 Consume Spirit

4 Devour in Shadow

4 Dark Banishing

4 Smother

Version 2.0 gives you a choice of small-creature control in Festering Goblin or a more thematically coherent discard mechanism in Ravenous Rats. Version 2.1 trades those creatures for four Smothers. That version has twelve spells that can deal with Disciple of the Vault, Ravager, and Goblin Sharpshooter by turn 2, a fifty per cent increase over Version 1.0.

The only question when choosing your version is which decks do you think you’ll face? If you’re facing more control decks, use Version 2.0 with the Ravenous Rats. Elf & Nail doesn’t want to drop cards from its hand and neither does MWC. For Goblins, I’d choose Version 2.0 with Festy. With him on the board, Goblins become very skittish since they know that an attacking can spell the end of the Warchief, Piledriver, or Sharpshooter.

Against Ravager Affinity, I’d use V.2.1. I want those DoV’s and Ravagers dead ASAP. That means, I have to be proactive (e.g. Smother), not reactive (e.g. Festy). (Yeah, I just got back from another seminar”designed to add value to our processes” so that”moving forward” we can”renoberate our fragmation for blah blah blah.”) [You said”noberate.” – Knut, huh huhing] Of course, if you knew beforehand that you’d be facing, for example, mostly Ravager decks, you might just go with something else altogether.

Speaking of Ravager Affinity (and why is it that all of the creative Magic writers in the known universe can not find a better name for the deck than that?), to paraphrase Mark Twain, the report of the death of Ravager Affinity is an exaggeration. Losing Skullclamp has not been the final nail in the coffin for that deck. To be the final nail, there would have to have been other nails before it. As far as I can tell, this was simply the first nail. Second, if you count Oxidize. It’s gonna take a whole lot more than the loss of Skullclamp to bury Ravager. Did I say”bury?” I’m sorry. I meant”destroy” and”it can’t be regenerated.” My bad.

Obviously, from the e-mail I got last week and the vehement posts relating to the discussion of my last piece, wherein I argued that The DCI did not need to ban Skullclamp, a lot of people think that Ravager is dead, dead, dead. All I can say is this:

Have you played with or against Ravager without Skullclamp? If not, you really need to. Let’s start with Chris Moore’s 2004 South Regionals winning deck:

18 Land

4 Glimmervoid

4 Vault of Whispers

3 Tree of Tales

3 Seat of the Synod

4 Great Furnace

23 Creatures

4 Arcbound Worker

4 Arcbound Ravager

4 Frogmite

4 Myr Enforcer

4 Disciple of the Vault

3 Ornithopter

19 Other Spells

4 Skullclamp

2 Pyrite Spellbomb

2 Oxidize

4 Thoughtcast

4 Shrapnel Blast

3 Welding Jar

This may not be a typical build. It is, however, a championship build. Those two maindeck Oxidizes are huge in a metagame that had almost every deck showing up with four Skullclamps. In a post-Skullclamp world, they’ll still be huge.

What should he do with that Skullclamp slot? To listen to a lot of people on the fora, he should scrap the whole deck because Ravager Affinity’s dead. That’d be wrong. The deck still has mighty game. All he needs to do is find something for the Skullclamp slot.

The knee-jerk reaction is to get another card drawing spell in there. I don’t think that’s the answer, though. After Thoughtcast, the next best card drawing spell for this deck would be Thirst for Knowledge. I don’t think that will provide enough more of a push in the absence of Skullclamp.

I’d go another route. Use Mana Leak. There still aren’t a whole bunch of spells that hurt post-Skullclamp Ravager Affinity. The ones that do, though, can really hurt. Like a steel-toed boot . . . wait. I already used that one. It can hurt like, um, lets’ see, um, like the dickens. (That’s right, on a family site, I wrote”dickens.”) Wrath of God. Akroma’s Vengeance. Mindslaver. Hard cast Slice and Dice. Hmmmm . . . three of those four are from mono-White Control (a.k.a. MWC, a.k.a. Oh Sh!t). Need to look at that later.

Getting back into the groove, with Skullclamp, Ravager Affinity could let Wrath and Vengeance go. Heck, it was gonna suck six life off of the opponent and draw four cards anyway. Who cared if the world blew up, too? Not so now that Skullclamp is gone. Ravager’s big problem will be recovering from mass removal. Thus, it has to stop the removal. Enter Mana Leak.

There are other counters in the environment. Dispersal Shield can be huge in Affinity, although, as Ted pointed out to me (and which I finally tested; Ted was right), it falls way short when you don’t have Frogmite or Myr Enforcer on the board. Vex is a hard counter, but it lets your opponent draw a card. It also costs three mana. When was the last time a Ravager deck left three mana up after its turn? Rewind is going to be nearly impossible to cast in Ravager because (a) you need double Blue and (2) you need to leave four mana available. I choose Mana Leak.

The theory is this. MWC or any other deck with mass removal is going to cast it as soon as possible against Ravager. You can’t sit around thinking”I can survive one more turn” any more than you can say”If I wait long enough, Asia Argento will ask me out!” You can’t wait that long in either case. The control deck won’t have time to wait for three extra mana, and you’ll be dust long before Ms. Argento would ever even look at you. Ravager only needs to stop the first Wrath or Vengeance. After that, the game should be over. If the game goes deep enough that Ravager’s opponent is casting multiple mass removal spells, Skullclamp wasn’t going to save the day anyway.

Armed with this, you should take Ravager Affinity to your next tourney and rule the roost.

Oh, dear Lord in heaven. Did I just suggest that people play”the best deck in the format?” What is wrong with me? Oh. Right. I’m married now.

As usual, you’ve been a great audience. Now, go rent Bubba Ho-Tep. Bruce Campbell has never been as good as when he’s playing a seventy-year-old Elvis Presley hunting a mummy that’s preying on nursing home residents.

Chris Romeo

CBRomeo at Travelers.dot com

P.S. As I was about to send this in, I got a flurry of suggestions for Relentless Rats decks. Most think that it should include Aether Vial, a suggestion that Charles made and that we haven’t tested yet. However, I can see the charm in that little artifact that could.

P.P.S. I seem to have lost The Great Skullclamp Debate. As I write this, only two and half people seem to agree that other stuff should have been banned before the ‘Clamp was. Okay, you win. I will, however, be curious to see what effect this has on Standard. Will Ravager and Goblins die, or will they just become less dominant? If so, what will take their place? Also, if we do see a drop off in those two decks’ tourney winnings, will it be because they really are dying or because so many people have said that they’re dying that other people jump ship without testing them?

* Oh, come on. Did you really think I’d do that to you? Shame on you.