You know, I crack myself up with that title. I could be suggesting that I will provide decklists from a highly secret underground (and thus cool) place. Put that way, sounds like I’m sharing "tech." Or I could be referring to my remote outpost of virtual Magic, where all of the decks have been played but never actually assembled. Which is a spooky idea, and spooky things are dark. Put that way, I sound a little sad but also slightly mysterious.
Most likely, I’m talking out of my butt. And that’s what cracks me up.
(space to think about the pun in that last sentence)
My wife Sarah is starting to throw worried glances at me (and not just because of the butt-talk). She thinks…
I might be falling into the pit of quicksand that is Magic again. You’ll recall I quit the game for a couple of sets (Nemesis and Prophecy to be specific) to find B-A-L-A-N-C-E in my life.
And now, just maybe, she thinks I’m spending a wee bit too much time laughing at my computer screaming "Can’t take a big fat Crosis, can ya? Can’t beat the Almighty Flying Slug, can ya!?! Kiss him!!! KISS THE SLUG!!!!!"
She might be right.
I try to tell her that I just get really happy when new sets come out. And this set looks as confusing and color-confounding as the last. Maybe more. And listen to this card… No, just listen for a second – it’s a Phelddagrif!
And, I point out, I’m still running a 5k three times a week. And I cut out the donut runs on Wednesdays. And she’s busy all the time anyway. And… And…
And I can’t hide the faraway look in my eye, even when I’m speaking. That look is the residue left over from my brain spinning madly, matching various cards together to see what happens. I’m like some autistic genius figuring out the path towards world peace, except… except…
Well, except I’m not as smart as that autistic guy and what I’m thinking about is pretty trivial in the grand scheme of things.
Hm. Well that didn’t go nearly where I wanted it to go. Maybe I’ll just stick to looking at my newest Type II deck for when Planeshift is legal.
No, no, no… Wait a minute. Heh, sorry to get your hopes up there. I actually have a bit of a caveat before I do that.
My "schtick" is to throw out random deck ideas and to challenge folks to think creatively. But given the surfeit of articles on the relative uselessness of Magic articles for cutting-edge tech – David Sutcliffe’s was the best – it’s worth pointing out that you should look elsewhere if you’re hoping to get to the pro tour. I’m a good Friday Night Magic guy; not that most of you were getting confused on that point.
Just to be clear, if you think of me as someone trying to give out High Strategy I’ll look like an idiot – not a good lens through which to view me. Not even one I want. I mean, c’mon, people – I don’t own any cards. You’re going to qualify by standing on MY shoulders?
I won a 5-round online tournament whose format was "March Type II" that took place the Wednesday after the prerelease. You might be impressed… Until you realize these tournaments are pretty small and happen several times a day. In addition, most people aren’t really good deckbuilders, and most of their ideas will get tossed as soon as a proven deck emerges. Two of the people I played didn’t even use Planeshift cards; they were just seeing what other folks were using and where their formerly-proven deck might need work.
As you can imagine, these pre-format tournaments are not awfully good predictors of what will be good in March.
Still I won. And that gives me a right to wax theoretic, especially to you FNM folks I love so. Moreover, I won with a deck that, while not entirely original, was at least a couple standard deviations from the mean (that was for Alongi and his Goblin Game game-theory mathuhmatics). Here it is, or was, or whatever…
4x Tsabo’s Decree
3x Cremate (okay, okay… This was a dumb choice. Teferi’s Response would have been much better, or maybe Chill, or maybe anything that isn’t Cremate. Sue me.)
This deck had only gone through a couple rounds of playtesting when I entered the tournament. And in that round, most of the Planeshift cards got taken out.
Anyway, the deck is supposed to run like most aggro-control decks: It throws out a couple of little boogers to do damage and then frustrates the crap out of an opponent while they try to deal with said boogers.
My thinking originally was that with Phyrexian Scuta and "gating" creatures in the environment, bounce becomes a lot more potent. Since I didn’t feel like messing around with Warped Devotion all that much, I took some of Blue Skies’ good critters and added more bounce. The black made sideboarding a lot easier, and both Recoil and Crypt Angel turned out to be spiffier than spiffy.
Rather than go through a blow-by-blow of the tournament, which would be making quite the mountain out of quite the molehill, here are some highlights:
* I saw some new and interesting deck ideas, including a land-destruction deck built around Nightscape Familiar, a Warped Devotion deck with (ulp!) Waterspout Elemental as its kill-card, and a B/R Zombie deck.
* I faced the Zombie deck in the finals. Zombies! In the finals! How cool is that? The guy used the new Lord, plus Maggot Carrier, Pyre Zombie, and the Scuta. I figure Lava Zombie HAD to be in there somewhere, though I never saw it. He also had loads of creature elimination like Terminate, Snuff Out and Vendetta.
* One of my opponents started the match by saying "Are you that internet writer guy who makes bad decks with legends in them?" Ah, fame. (Yes, but did you cop to BEING that writer? – The Ferrett, supascrub tech masta)
* One match went to all three games and took a long time. Into the third turn of the third game, time was called on the round. My opponent told me good luck and said I won. Thus I discovered that in online single-elimination rounds the player with the most life wins the third game. My Cloud Sprite had attacked twice. Whoah. Go Cloud Sprite.
* The silliest game came against a U/B Fish deck in which I bounced his Lord of Atlantis five times and he could only find two lands. Seeing the same turn five times in a row is a little mind-altering.
* The coolest play was against the Warped Devotion deck when he played Waterspout Elemental with kicker to stabilize. I untapped and replayed all of my creatures plus an extra Sprite during my first turn. On my extra turn, I topdecked a Recoil, bounced the Elemental, and came in for the win.
Not very descriptive, but you get a sense for how things went. Mostly it gave me some confidence that the deck has a speck of merit (but only a speck… do I sound sufficiently defensive yet?). Here are some reasons why "Dark Skies" looks the way it does:
Cloud Sprite – My absolute favorite creature for aggressive blue decks. No kidding. Cloud Sprite lasts much longer than most creatures because nobody wants to waste a removal spell on it. That means it will usually fly merrily along, dealing six to eight points of damage before eventually getting removed by a big spell or chump-blocking a flier. If it gets bounced, it’s easy to recast (and who wants to waste a Counterspell on Cloud Sprite?). That it kills Rishadan Airship is just too funny. I understand why a lot of Skies builds don’t include Cloud Sprite, but I use it whenever I can.
Cloudskate – The Sprite’s big cloud-brother, on the other hand, makes me a little less happy. A 2/2 flier for two mana is pretty good, even if it does only serve for six damage before dying. There is the nice little trick of bringing it back with Crypt Angel, too, which turns it into a twelve-point machine instead. But I can’t help being a little disappointed by Cloudskate’s impact on a game. I’ve tried Stormscape Familiar in this slot, which made for waaaaay too many one-toughness creatures and only helped cast eight spells. Vodalian Zombie helps against Fires, but is dicier to reliably cast on the second turn. Sleeper’s Robe has the same problem of reliability, and there’s no way I’m slapping Robe into a deck without Counterspells or Misdirections to ensure my critters survive their first attack. I feel like there must be a two-cost spell just jumping up and down in the crowd waving its arms and yelling, "What about me? What about me?"
(Face turning red from strain)
Nope. Can’t think of it.
Skyshroud Hatchling – Ah, my one counterspell. A second-turn Hatchling can obviously throw an opponent’s math all to hell. That, and once it dies the Angel is more than willing to bring it back for more math-tinkering later in the game. My problem with the Hatchling is that it becomes a counter so often that it usually only does one or two damage before dying. And if I want a counter that does a little damage, why not use Undermine? You know what I think it is? I think it’s the damned picture. Call me a softy, but I think the Hatchling’s art is bee-ooootiful – and when I’m playing on Encyclopedia I enlarge its picture to take up half the screen during games. Pretty, pretty ocean.
Chimeric Idol – Since there are only eight instants in the deck, the Idol’s benefits far outweigh its costs. Especially against Wrath- or Wash-happy decks, the Idol is arguably the #1 threat. On a conceptual level, it bothers me slightly that without Chimeric Idol the deck has nothing to Disenchant, Seal of Cleansing, Dismantling Blow, blah, blah, blah. And it sure would be nice to make all of those cards dead cards. But the truth is that the Idol has won me a lot more games and caused more consternation than most other creatures in the deck, so it probably isn’t going anywhere.
Rishadan Airship – Do you know in some creature decks I splash blue for Rishadan Airship? I think it can be that good a creature. Blue is lucky to have a three-power creature with evasion for a mere three mana. As long as you have a deck with either a) a solid defense, or b) an intentional lack of defense, the Airship is hard to pass up. True, it dies to Cloud Sprite – and I still think that’s funny. But when it hits the table, more often than not an opponent must find a way to deal with it or die.
Crypt Angel – The fact that Crypt Angel is black suddenly becomes a lot less attractive now that Terminate is becoming the preferred creature removal. But it’s still resistant to other black removal (which will likely become common again after March) and it gives the deck a creature that laughs at all Wash Outs and Story Circles nicknamed "blue." Crypt Angel also has built-in card advantage by giving you one of your blue weenies back. Oh, and it’s a 3/3 flier too, which means it’s got "big threat" tattooed on its forehead. If there is a downside to Crypt Angel, it is the casting cost. Especially with Rushing River, this deck struggles to make five mana and rarely does so by the fifth turn. This can make me shout at my computer screen in frustration – causing more odd looks from Sarah – but it isn’t worth dropping the Angel from the deck.
Rushing River – The sole survivor of the Planeshift experiments, and it has stayed for a reason. I also find few people, if any, are giving this card lip service… Well, at least when I first wrote all of this that was true. It’s a little more recognized now. Still, I’ll spend a bit more time explaining my appreciation for Rushing River.
Probably the best comparison to the River is Withdraw, which is currently getting some play in Blue Skies decks. Both spells are instants, both are blue and both are meant to disrupt an opponent’s tempo. The advantages of Withdraw are clear: it costs one less mana and requires timing to return a second creature rather than a land. And it’s true, Rushing River both takes a turn more to cast and stunts your mana growth in the process.
Here are the reasons I prefer Rushing River, however: First, Withdraw costs two blue mana to cast while Rushing River requires only one blue mana. Thus in a two-color deck, it is easier to find the mana for Rushing River. Second, if you want to sac a land, Rushing River ALWAYS returns a second permanent. Withdraw is only good throughout the game if your opponent is playing with Chimeric Idol or Troublesome Spirit. Rushing River, on the other hand, becomes BETTER later in the game as you accumulate excess land. Finally – and this one is big – Rushing River returns "nonland permanents," not just "creatures." I won a game by bouncing two Tangle Wires my opponent had dropped to buy himself time. Rushing River makes me less fearful of Saproling Burst, Story Circle, and other icky enchantments. Besides, it’s a MUCH better name for a card, don’t you think?
In this deck, Rushing River puts excess land to use. The deck doesn’t require a lot of land (except possibly for Crypt Angel) and can function on one less land usually without missing a beat(ing). I imagine other decks will figure out similar rationalizations and start using the River, too.
Recoil – Recoil is almost the epitome of "disruption." Anyone who has played against Recoil knows how painful it can be. It’s one of those cards good in the early game and grotesquely great in the late game. That it’s an instant just further serves to mess with an opponent’s head. I did manage to play against one Warped Devotion deck, and Recoil is just silly combined with that card. There is a heavy load of black mana in the deck because I really like to cast this as soon as possible if it’s in my hand. Recoil early, Recoil often… That, um – well, I’m sure it’s somebody’s motto. It should be, anyway.
Wash Out – This card is becoming a staple for a lot of decks so I probably don’t have to sing its virtues. (And me singing isn’t pretty, I assure you.) Wash Out is one of those cards good against all things beatdown and most things mid-range. The only time Wash Out looks bad sitting in your hand is against the hardcore control deck, which these days are relatively rare. The one thing that makes me nervous about this card is that it’s the deck’s only answer for Blastoderm. Having an answer for Blastoderm on a 1:1 basis with no card drawing seems pretty scary to me. I guess that’s what sideboards are for, and at this point that Cloudskate is looking awfully Vodalian Zombie-esque.
Salt Marsh – Most decks, even if they are pseudo-aggressive, don’t like to waste a turn on lands that come into play tapped. But the only thing this deck drops on the first turn without Salt Marsh is Cloud Sprite, so now the deck has both more reliable mana and eight turn-1 options. The question often becomes what to do with that first turn if you have both options in your hand… Go Island-Sprite, or wait a turn with the Marsh? It’s a good question, and one I haven’t entirely figured out. I’ll say for now that it depends on the other cards in your hand, which is my mysterious way of sounding like I know what I’m talking about.
Underground River – I don’t know a U/B deck that wouldn’t use these (hello, double-negative! How are you?). It is now common wisdom that two-color decks can afford the life loss of four painlands. More life loss than that – by using, for example, City of Brass – and theories begin to diverge. But here, it would just be silly not to use four of them.
Swamp – As I said, I have gone a little heavy on the black mana given the ratio of spells in the deck (there are only eight black spells – and the Angels come out late-game – to twelve black mana sources). This is because I want the option of Recoil as soon as possible. Also, a good portion of the sideboard is black, which means there are likely to be more than eight black spells in games 2 and 3. As a final note, I find it always less stressful to have both colors covered by basic lands. Somehow I keep thinking my opponent will slap down a reprinted Wasteland I hadn’t noticed on the spoiler and clean my clock.
Ha! I said "clean my clock!" Who says that?
Island – Someone in the tournament Boiled me fairly effectively, and I realized I had forgotten what it was like to play with Islands. River Boas are annoying. And at one point I had to scream "FISH! Er, I mean… MERFOLK!" on a Tsabo’s Decree or else I was going to die quickly. But despite these drawbacks, there is something satisfying and evil about leaving two Islands open on an opponent’s turn. An Island and a Salt Marsh don’t have quite the effect; it needs to be two Islands. Two Islands are pure power. The effect is Pavlovian, sending most people into fits of nervous tics as they ponder what to do. Thus, I have included enough Islands to frequently leave two open… Even if all I do is shrug confidently and say "sure" as they ask permission to Wrath my creatures.
That’s the deck. As for the sideboard, I can go through it pretty quickly:
Withdraw – Which replace the Cloudskates against All Things Creature.
Perish – Which replace the Cloudskates (catch a theme here?) against All Things Green.
Tsabo’s Decree – Which replace a Wash Out, Crypt Angel and two Recoils (because the Cloudskates are already making way for Withdraw) against All Things Rebel, Elf, Fish… er, Merfolk, Zombie, Goblin, and even Kavu.
Which reminds me, are Goblins back? Planeshift sure tried to force them into a respectable species again, but I’m not so sure. Let’s see…
Right. Back to sideboards for Dark Skies. There are those three other slots, which probably should be Chill although I can’t promise this is the best decision. Teferi’s Response might protect the mana a little. Maybe Gainsay too, but I think WotC messed up by not making this a cantrip.
Cards I tried in the deck and couldn’t bring myself to use: Cavern Harpy, Crosis’ Catacombs, Doomsday Specter, Fact or Fiction, Nightscape Familiar, Sleeper’s Robe, Stormscape Apprentice, Stormscape Familiar, Troublesome Spirit, Vodalian Zombie, Warped Devotion. The reasons for not using these are obvious in some cases and a little trickier in others. How’s that for being vague?
Clearly it would be premature for me to start spouting off about how Dark Skies is the "next great deck." As with most things I create, it will probably never make its way to NetDeck(tm) status. Besides, didn’t I already say I’m not here to get you to the Pro Tour? And the deck isn’t even all that original.
A deck around Nemata, Grove Guardian… Now THAT would be original! Something like…
Would this deck get mana flooded a lot? Sure it would! But on the times it didn’t, can you imagine what it might do? Can you IMAGINE?!?!?
But "Dark Skies" isn’t original like that. It is, however, a fairly solid deck with few obvious weaknesses. It doesn’t roll over and die to any one particular card, which is nice. Its win ratio likely goes up as the environment becomes more aggressive, and right now the generic environment consists of Fires, Skies and Rebels. And its black mana allows for some neat sideboarding options.
Oh look. Another topic.
I am exerting ridiculous amounts of energy to avoid doing another "30 Decks in 10 Days" thing for Planeshift. Rest assured I have a lot of decks (hrm – that may not have been forceful enough; try "A LOOOOOOOOOT OF DECKS") noodling around in Apprentice. But those articles were exhausting, mostly because I vowed to play each deck before writing about it. I worked really hard for something I’m not sure many people noticed or understood. So no more 30 Decks for me, even if I do have… oh, 35.
To distract myself, I am going to spend some time thinking about the card "Death or Glory." Yep, Darwin Kastle triggered more than a few thoughts with his innovative Type II deck. Tickled my frontal lobes, he did. Talk like Yoda, I do.
Did anyone out there put his deck together and try it? Wow is it fun to play. It’s also very fragile, and why he didn’t use Blinding Angel I will never know. Nevertheless, Darwin has inspired me to spend a week or so hammering out some uses for DoG (ripe for fun deck names, no?), which I’ll share in my next article.
In the meantime – and I say this with a very shaky voice – if you have any Type II Death or Glory ideas in any color combinations for the upcoming Standard, e-mail me at jay.moldenhauer-[email protected].
There are a lot of caveats that come along with that statement.
1) I have not been putting my email address on articles because I am mostly swamped at work where I do my email. So there is a teeny weeny chance I will not respond, even if I do use your ideas in the article. Rest assured I will give you full credit, however, and that I will TRY to respond.
2) I’m not asking to discuss ANY new Type II decks – just the ones involving Death or Glory. I’m also not trying to be snotty… Just trying to make my wife’s glares a little less justified. I absolutely love to trade ideas about new decks, but my time for Magic is brief at best. That said, you could tuck my email address away and send me your deck in a few weeks and I probably wouldn’t make the connection.
3) There are no bad ideas. If my "30 Decks…" thing shows anything, it’s that I have the potential to make some pathologically horrible decks. Send along any decklist you can come up with that uses DoG and I promise I won’t laugh at you. Even a little.
4) The winner gets nothing. Why? Because who said anything about winners? We’re all winners in life and we have smiles to share as prizes. I’m just trying to generate ideas here.
5) For clarity’s sake, let’s say the deck should be for the UPCOMING Type II season. Use Planeshift cards with abandon.
You know what will be really depressing? If I get a single e-mail from someone named Burt. And Burt’s e-mail reads "Mister Doc, What does Death Bomb do? -Burt" That would be depressing.
Believe you me (which is just a wacky, wacky phrase), if that happens I will begin my next article with a very long pity party. I don’t want to see that, and neither do you. So, for my fragile ego’s sake, think out of the box and start making "DoG" decks. It’ll be fun. I promise.
Until next time, have fun and make decks.
"doctorjay" on IRC