COLUMN: You CAN Play Type I #145
TITLE: Championing Kamigawa, Part IV: Instants
AUTHOR: Oscar Tan aka Rakso
I received a very novel letter from Erich Leibrock a.k.a. EdwrdBear:
Hey Oscar.. long time no ramble.. was wondering if you can help me with something.
I’m looking to build The Deck for formats other than Type 1. Here’s the funny thing. The current version I’m trying out is for Shandalar. Remember that OLD M:TG computer game that was based on 4E? Well, there’s nothing in it newer than The Dark, and so I grabbed Weissman’s 1995 decklist. Here’s the fun part: A lot of cards that existed on paper (such as Mana Drain) aren’t in the game, even though virtually every Restricted/Banned card (apart from Chaos Orb and Falling Star) are in the game.
Assume I’m building a 60-card deck for the game (I think that qualifies for 4x copies; if not, we’ll add a #61), and the game plays for Ante (you increase your card collection that way), so Ante cards are legal (Contract from Below > Ancestral Recall!!). The following link will take you to a folder that lists all legal cards in the game (one screenshot for each colour, artifacts, lands, and then a txt file for what the Astral cards do):
At this point, I replaced Mana Drains with Counterspell, Counterspell and Recall with additional Ancestrals, REB’s with Fireballs, and I think I left most everything else as is. (The original version I was basing it on you posted in an article here: http://www.starcitygames.com/php/news/expandnews.php?Article=2277 ).
My mission, should I choose to accept it, is to make a “more appropriate” version of The Deck for Shandalar, and understand how and why certain changes were made. I’m planning on trimming it down to three colours – UWx, with x yet to be determined. Suggestions and guidelines would be greatly appreciated. Thanks
EdwrdBear on EFnet
The interesting thing about the Shandalar programs, aside from the limited card pool, is that you can opt to have three of any card – including restricted cards! – if you have 40-59 cards in your deck.
My curiosity piqued, I took a look at Erich’s screen shots and listed the relevant cards:
Mox Sapphire and all Beta Moxen
Underground Sea and all Beta Dual Lands
Here’s what Erich did:
Well, I tried cutting it down to two colours – white/blue – and see what would happen, and here’s what I came up with:
2 Sol Ring
Cutting out Green was fairly simple; Regrowth comes out, and I had to choose between either Feldon’s Cane or Timetwister.. the Draw7 won out. Cutting Black was a little more difficult, as I’d lose Mind Twist (which became Balance, aka Wrath of God for half the cost, if I need it) and Demonic Tutor. With no search ability, the best I could come up with was more draw, so another Timetwister, as I already had 4 Ancestrals. Cutting Red was the hardest one, as I’d been using Fireball instead of REB that was in the original listing as an extra win condition or removal. As such, it was really hard to replace. After much deliberation, I finally decided to give 2x Aladdin’s Ring a shot. Then the mana fixing. Off-colour Moxen and dual-lands weren’t needed, so they came out. In their place came a second (for each) Black Lotus, Mox Pearl, Mox Sapphire, and Sol Ring, an additional Plains (the colours are split at 13 apiece), and an additional pair of Library of Alexandrias.
So, what do you think? I doubt it’s The Deck the way Weissman would have done it, but it’s a start.
EdwrdBear on EFnet
Interesting. So what would you have done?
You can see from Erich’s initial list that it’s extremely easy to put together an old version of "The Deck" and you’re just missing Mana Drain and The Abyss. I think I’d do it differently, though, and stock up on all the mana artifacts up to four Black Lotus, then cut the extraneous artifacts for the can’t-pass-up black spells all the way to Contract from Below. There’s hardly any penalty to playing with multiple colors here, anyway.
However, I would do it very differently. You notice several things. First, 3/40 is 7.50%, which is more than 4/60 or 6.67%. Thus, we need to build a 40-card deck.
Second, the original "The Deck" thrived in an old Type I environment that was slow. This isn’t it, though, because Mishra’s Workshop and all the key mana artifacts are unrestricted – down to unrestricted Time Walk – and while your computer opponents aren’t going to build them, a "The Deck" build would have to think about dealing with a Stacker 2 or Teletubbies build.
Not so bad, perhaps, since Erich’s deck stocked up on Swords to Plowshares and Disenchants? Perhaps, but the opponent can get Contract from Below, too, and you’re not talking about your ordinary aggro-control deck.
More importantly, with the early shadow prices (see "Counting Shadow Prices") so brutally skewed towards tempo, card advantage isn’t even the most broken aspect of this Shandalar format, not even with unrestricted Contracts and Ancestral Recalls.
So what I’d do is kill the old "Disenchant problem" and replace all the conditional removal cards and Serra Angels with something else:
Oscar’s Shandalar "The Deck", October test deck
3 Mox Jet
3 Mox Ruby
What I’m trying to do is self-explanatory, and I basically replaced Serra Angel with Hurkyl’s Recall and support cards like Library of Alexandria and Strip Mine with Mana Crypt. Everything else draws cards, except the six counters left in to let you slug it out with another combo. The mana base should give you an 86% chance of getting a red source on Turn 1, and if you get a blue or black source, you can find draw. I wanted Mana Vaults in place of the Cities, but that seemed overkill.
I originally had a Braingeyser to kill with, but replaced it with a token Disenchant in case of an unlikely Titania’s Song or Kismet. You actually kill by recurring Timetwister and Hurkyl’s Recall to taste, then casting Ancestral Recall on your opponent a dozen times. You might end up doing this even with Braingeyser, anyway, since it might get flipped onto the ante pile.
Hope you have fun with both decks, Erich. This format you resurrected is all about tempo (see "Counting Tempo").
Championing Kamigawa, Part IV
In more current discussion, let’s go back to our two rules for sizing up new cards:
- Is the card more efficient than an established benchmark? (Or, do I get more bang from my buck?)
- Does the card do something no past card ever did, and if it does, is this new card playable?
And, for the more general discussion, refer to "Shadow Prices" (see "Counting Shadow Prices").
I always open set reviews with the creatures since they deal largely with Rule 1 and power-to-mana ratios. Then, I move on to sorceries and permanents, which often give new ideas a la Rule 2. Today, let’s go to Instants. For Type I, we usually look for something simple but cheap, with no frills and all business. It doesn’t have to be new, but every new twist or rehash at the right cost is worth looking at.
I didn’t have much to talk about with Fifth Dawn (see "Firing Up Fifth Dawn"), since the most exciting instant was probably Plunge Into Darkness. Unfortunately, you realize that it’s most useful with Academy Rector, which is strongest when it fetches Yawgmoth’s Bargain, which is strongest when you have life.
When we talk about Kamigawa instants, we just have to start with Splice. On the surface, it’s a card advantage ability that lets you pay an additional cost when you play a spell to sort of Buyback the Splice spell. This could be problematic, however, when you consider the Sneak Attack problem (see "Six Beginner’s Delusions You Meet in Heaven") since you have to play a bunch of Arcane spells to make use of Splice. Moreover, last week (see "Championing Kamigawa"), we concluded that the Arcane sorceries aren’t very appealing, with only Lava Spike and Eye of Nowhere priced below three mana.
There are fifteen Splice instants, and here’s what they do:
W / Splice W – Blessed Breath, Ward of Lights effect
1W / Splice 1W – Candles’ Glow, damage prevention
1U / Splice U – Psychic Puppetry, Twiddle effect
1U / Splice 1U – Dampen Thought, Put top four cards of library into graveyard
2U / Splice 1U – Lifted by Clouds, Jump effect
1U / Splice 3U – Consuming Vortex, Unsummon effect
5U / Splice 2UU – Reweave, "Target permanent’s controller sacrifices it. That player reveals cards from the top of his or her library until he or she reveals a card that shares a card type with the sacrificed permanent. The player puts that card into play, then shuffles his or her library."
1R / Splice 1R – Desperate Ritual, Get three red mana
1R / Splice 1R – Glacial Ray, Shock effect
2R / Splice 1R – Strange Inversion, About Face effect
4R / Splice 2RR – Through the Breach, Sneak Attack effect
1B / Splice 1B – Soulless Revival, Raise Dead effect
2BB / Splice 3BB – Hideous Laughter, Massacre effect
G / Splice G – Kodama’s Might, +2/+2 until end of turn
GG / Splice 3G – Wear Away, Naturalize effect
Looking at the list, nothing is particularly spectacular for Type I purposes, even assuming there are efficient Arcane spells for Type I.
Worse, even if there were a small core of efficient Arcane spells, tempo isn’t counted linearly, and the combined effect would have to be extremely strong to justify waiting to pay the incremental mana cost (see "Incremental Thinking").
This is readily seen with Desperate Ritual, for example. Thinking about Dark Ritual, it’s obvious that the first Ritual you cast is the most powerful, since you need it early to start making Turn 3 plays on Turn 1. If setting up Desperate Ritual delays you even a whit, the additional mana loses value fast. And again, this is assuming you have something efficient enough that will make on its own, without the combo.
Thus, Wear Away is perhaps the most promising Splice, but even then it might not be useful because the Splice cost is so high. If you main deck Wear Away, you’ll probably just cast it right away against an immediate threat, and the double green cost hurts more than you think here.
Maybe Arcane will take off after the block is complete, or when they reissue a second series in a future block. By that time, there might be enough efficient, related spells to use together.
Reach Through Mists, Lava Spike, Wear Away, Peer Through Depths, and Quiet Delivery are probably your best bets for Splice delivery, but as discussed, we have to wait for at least the next set’s Splice options.
Otherwise, Reach Through Mists is useless. Whispers of the Muse is a world of difference over it for the same cost, and Urza’s Bauble costs one mana less if you want just deck thinning.
Although it digs slightly deeper, this has nothing on Impulse. Early on, you may be looking for land, and this was true since Visions. Or, you might be looking for an Ophidian, Back to Basics, Chalice of the Void, or some other permanent. You might think that limiting the Impulse to only instants is not a big drawback in a mono blue deck, but it actually is.
And, as mentioned, there’s nothing exciting to Splice onto it yet. And no, let’s not speak of the three-card The Unspeakable combo further.
Anyone who was playing Type I when Invasion was printed surely took a long, hard look at Gifts Ungiven and asked himself if it could be set up as a Fact or Fiction replacement, roughly similar to how Thirst for Knowledge has found a home in Goblin Welder decks.
Some people will make a comparison to Intuition, but I feel that’s the wrong place to start. Since Tempest, Intuition was used as a tutor that happened to stock the graveyard. Today, you see it in Hulk Smash (Accumulated Knowledge), Dragon and a handful of other decks that use the graveyard. In many cases, you fish out three copies of the same card and then use the copy that goes to your hand.
I doubt Gifts Ungiven was built for this role. First, to get the two cards you want, you have to pick two cards that are better for your opponent to dump. This isn’t a very good long-term plan since you lose what could be your two best cards, and you might not get the two cards you want, anyway, from a wily opponent who can guess what you need at a given point. Second, it’s hard to beat Intuition at its own game, anyway, and present decks don’t even use the maximum four Intutions.
Steering you back towards Fact or Fiction, I think deckbuilders should first break out of the mindset that you need to know and plan for what’s entering your hand. Counting card advantage, for example, you use abstract draw steps as units (see "The Ten-Second Card Advantage Solution"), and Ancestral Recall isn’t weaker because you don’t know what the next three cards in your library are.
The beauty of Fact or Fiction wasn’t the possibility of playing it in "The Deck" then flipping over Ancestral Recall, Yawgmoth’s Will, and three other bombs. At the time, I more often flipped over five lands and took three, happy to get them off the library.
The beauty of Fact or Fiction was simply the figure +2 CA, since you’d usually take a pile of two spells and a land, unless the other pile of one spell and a land had a bomb that was more powerful. Now, Gifts Ungiven is always just +1 CA, but it does guarantee that you’re not getting land, so we have to test it and assume it can work out close enough to Fact or Fiction’s +2 CA.
First, let’s set aside aggro and aggro-control. These are redundant decks that will have better things to do with four mana. The same goes for combo, since they’ll either want a specific tutor or something that draws a lot of things on the level of Timetwister or Yawgmoth’s Bargain.
That leaves control.
But again, you have to get the tutor mindset out of your system. For example, you might think about mono blue and tell yourself that Gifts Ungiven can tutor up counters because you can pick Mana Drain, Force of Will, Counterspell, and Mana Leak. Sure, but if you made it Mana Drain, Counterspell, Ophidian, and Back to Basics, would that really hurt you? I honestly doubt it, since if you cast Fact or Fiction instead and got any two of these spells, you’d use them and be happy.
Again, you never peek at the cards on top of your library. Regardless of what you draw, you should have a plan.
Let’s go the "The Deck" which has the most diverse card selection of any control deck. If you pick Ancestral Recall or Yawgmoth’s Will, that will surely go into the graveyard, but if you show your opponent Mana Drain, Demonic Tutor, Exalted Angel, and Skeletal Scrying or any combination of support cards, I think you’ll have a workable plan. The cards you throw away might never have been drawn anyway, the same argument that makes Demonic Consultation one of the game’s most powerful tutors.
There should be a lot of subtleties with this card. First, there’s some of the Fact or Fiction bluff factor, where you trick an opponent into giving you a bomb over a counter only to find out you already had a couple of counters in hand. Second, there are some very cheesy plays with the graveyard, such as showing Strip Mine, Wasteland, Polluted Delta, and Flooded Strand, then playing Crucible of Worlds. Control Slaver, for example, might have a few more of those possibilities.
Of course, the big limitation is that it’s still just +1 CA for four mana, and if you argue that it can fetch card drawers, don’t forget that real card drawers can do the same thing. I’d test it in control and get a feel for how it compares to straightforward drawing like Skeletal Scrying.
But again, don’t use this and expect to get a tutor.
I’ve given up trying to explain to beginners that Memory Lapse is actually a strong tempo card, but maybe the fact that it was reprinted as a weaker version will help me.
This is actually a weaker Hammer of Bogardan, both in terms of damage and card advantage. Cursed Scroll does everything it does, but you just have to keep an empty hand instead of discarding your spells.
In casual games, it was especially satisfying to play Army of Allah and see a Crusaded White Knight and a Savannah Lions take down a couple of Erhnam Djinns. What I always wanted to do, however, was play with Righteousness and take down something like a Force of Nature with a wimpy little Tundra Wolf. Hell, I had an old classmate who wanted to do it with a Scryb Sprite.
Cards that are useful only for saving blockers are bad cards because straightforward removal is more effective. However, if you do get to kill four fatties in one blow, I’ll be rooting for you.
You might remember an obscure Tempest common called Interdict. It spawned a number of obscure rulings, and had me making sure that the old Interrupt window was closed before executing a Mirror Universe kill. Squelch is the enhanced update of Interdict – you can now Interdict a Genesis, woo-hoo! – and the functional equivalent of Bind.
That said, I haven’t seen a lot of Interdicts used when Stifle was, and I don’t think I’ll see a lot of Squelch, either. Decks that want them will prefer the lower casting cost to the cantrip, since they can draw off other cards. The cheaper cost fits Stifle’s roles of gunning for Polluted Deltas or Wastelands, being a Cunning Wish target, and stopping a handful of uncounterable win cards like Tendrils of Agony and Decree of Justice.
This is the CoK cute card, in the tradition of eye-catchers from Legacy Weapon to Spelljack. Basically, the point isn’t really to move on to your turn. It’s to counter everything your opponent has on the stack or attack phase, including uncounterable cards from Obliterate to Tendrils of Agony. On a lesser note, it also clears his mana pool.
It’d be an absolute laugh to resolve and you can keep one handy for a Cunning Wish sideboard. Realistically, however, you can just play your own threats and win the game before an uncommon uncounterable card like Obliterate gets played, or Wish for a cheaper Stifle instead.
Token desert note
This column broke Photobucket.com’s bandwidth, so Glenson Lim pointed me to another site. Here are the photos from last week’s column, since I got a few inquiries:
Showing you a few less common tourist spots this week, here’s a motherhood of statue beside Lanzhou’s section of the Yellow River, the mother of life for many Chinese.
Here’s one of the Five Wells from a nearby spot, one that inspired poetry.
Finally, here’s a donkey cart photo from the ruins of Tarpan City, accessible by an entertaining donkey ride through a small maze of hills and rocks.
Till next week!
Oscar Tan (e-mail: Rakso at StarCityGames.com)
rakso on #BDChat on EFNet
Paragon of Vintage
University of the Philippines, College of Law
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Author of the Control Player’s Bible
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