First off, I just want to say that while the topics addressed here might apply to them, when I say”underpowered” decks, I don’t necessarily mean”budget” decks or”unpowered” decks. I’m simply referring to decks that don’t try to do anything unfair or may not have the capability to do things that are totally broken.
So even though I dropped after only round 5, Waterbury was still a lot of fun. I met a ton of people – there was a cloud of people around me the entire time. They were either introducing themselves to me, asking me to sign stuff, or wanting to talk to me about everything from their homework, to what”simulacrum” means*, to the semiotics of Cutie Honey**. Since I know that I won’t remember anywhere close to all the names, I’ll abstain from listing names, but oh man, it was a lot of people. I had to sneak out under cover of darkness just to go to the bathroom. I do have to admit that this time I was not approached by any jovial Southern gentlemen who told me how they love to read my articles while they soak in the bathtub.
Here is what I played at the latest Waterbury:
I would probably change it to something like this for the next time:
4 Tropical Island
3 Sword of Fire and Ice
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Black Lotus
1 Sol Ring
4 Survival of the Fittest
4 Root Maze
4 Land Grant
3 Back to Basics
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Time Walk
Round 1 I played against Rob with Fish, another underpowered deck. These games played out like most games do when an underpowered decks is up against another deck that is more powerful than it, and the underpowered deck has lost its element of surprise. In game 1, he had more or less the Fish God draw: Turn 1 Volcanic Island into Grim Lavamancer, turn 2 Mishra’s Factory into Cloud of Faeries into Standstill. It didn’t matter though, because I had a card that more or less won the game right there: a permanent. I cast Wild Mongrel and raced him to zero. Game 2 was even worse because I had a turn 1 Survival of the Fittest, which is very difficult for Fish to win around. Rob attacked into my board of just Survival and land with his double Curiosity’ed Cloud of Faeries, to which I responded by Madnessing out the Basking Rootwalla in my hand for Wonder, ditching the Wonder for a Troll Ascetic, and ambushing the Cloud with my 3/3 Rootwalla.
While I was also an underpowered deck, in this matchup I actually had the more powerful deck for once, as I had bigger creatures and better draw effects. While it’s no Balance, per se, Wild Mongrel was more than powerful enough to win the game for me by itself. It just took a few turns for me to win, as opposed to the immediacy of something like Balance. And while it lacked the pizzazz of something like a turn 1 Fact or Fiction, my Survival still garnered me plenty of card advantage nonetheless.
In round 2, I played against Dan with a metagamed R/G aggro deck. Game 1 was a great, back-and-forth marathon that I eventually won with such platinum hits as Genesis/Ticking Gnomes and using Sword of Fire and Ice to kill my own Viridian Shaman so I could Genesis it back to kill another artifact. While that was the more fun, skill-testing game, the more important game for purposes of this article was game 2. Like with the Fish matchup, I was probably the more powerful deck here, but I had mana trouble in game 2. He had the Strip Mine for my basic Forest and a Lightning Bolt for my Elf, leaving me with only a Mox Sapphire for mana for mana turns. After a long time, I finally drew a Forest to get back into it with Survival, but I died to Magma Jet chained into Magma Jet a turn before I could alpha strike for the win. Time is called while we shuffle for game three, leaving us with a draw since, either of our decks can win in three turns. We do both agree that I probably would’ve taken game 3 given sufficient time. This is one of the reasons that I want to somehow fit in a maindeck Wonder.
This brings up how underpowered decks are often all about delaying tactics. First off, part of the reason that more powerful decks are well, more powerful is because of their acceleration. A turn 11 Darksteel Colossus is not a big deal. First off, you probably should’ve won by that point anyway, but on the off chance that you didn’t, you will have had plenty of time to have counters or say, Swords to Plowshares in hand to deal with it. It’s much more deadly when it’s brought out turn 1 or 2 through a combination of Moxes and Tinker. Since underpowered decks are usually lacking in acceleration (or have weaker acceleration), if they can delay broken spells or effects, they stand a much greater chance of either having won the game before one hits or by forcing it to be cast at a more”fair” time when it might not be enough to reverse the momentum of the game. My poor mana situation was like a built-in Time Walk here. Dan didn’t need to use anything like Null Rod or Root Maze in order to delay the casting and usage of my (relatively speaking)”powerful” spells.
In round 3, I played against Dave with the Italian U/R aggro-control deck. From an instructional standpoint, these games really don’t have much to use for teaching, as I got a quick Survival game 1 and a quick Sword game 2 and won quickly. I’m really just including this for completeness and because there was a great story this round. While we were sideboarding after game 1, he said”I mulliganed a great hand against you that game because I thought you were playing Tog.”
“I thought I’d been saying for weeks that I was going to play this Survival deck at Waterbury?”
“Yeah, but I also thought that I saw you playing Tog here today.”
“No, you didn’t see me. You saw him,” as I pointed across the aisle to a certain Brass Man, who was playing Tog. Dave turned and said”Oh crap! You’re right!”
I finally had to deal with combo round 4. I didn’t know that my opponent was playing Dragon ahead of time, so I kept a hand without Root Maze and promptly died on turn 3. I made sure to only keep hands with Root Maze games 2 and 3. I got to win game 2, since I went first and got enough time with Root Maze, Wasteland, and Survival to grab the win before needing to deal with Worldgorger Dragon, but I lost game 3 because I went second, giving him time to Unmask my Root Maze and go off fairly easily.
Trying to deal with combo is one of the most annoying parts of playing an underpowered deck. A lot of it will depend on your draw. They can outrace you, so you’re going to need disruption-heavy hands, and if you need to mulligan down into one like I did, you can simply get taken apart if your opponent has Duress or Force of Will. Another really frustrating situation came up when I was playing a test game against Death Wish Long. I had the turn 1 Root Maze and I followed it up with a Basking Rootwalla and Troll Ascetic, but the turn before my opponent would die, he showed me his hand and I was able to go off with it by chaining Dark Ritual, Yawgmoth’s Will, and Lion’s Eye Diamond into a large Mind’s Desire. Rather than playing the standard artifacts to build Storm, by focusing on the cards that weren’t affected by Root Maze, the combo suddenly became relatively simple to pull off.
On a greater level, it’s this disappearance of the surprise factor that can really kill an underpowered deck. I was usually able to surprise people with Basking Rootwalla or Root Maze about once in a match. After that, my opponents were prepared for them. Even though he didn’t need to, my Dragon opponent was ready for me with Verdant Force and Caller of the Claw. Fish seems like it is starting to have this problem. Part of this is a decline in the decks that Fish fed off of (namely Tog and 4 Color Control,) but a very significant part of this comes from the deck being understood. Even with his God draw, I knew that my Wild Mongrel would just win the game because he couldn’t deal with it. Old Man of the Sea coming out of the sideboard of base-Blue decks is probably even more devastating, and like Wild Mongrel, is a strong card on its own. There are also the commonly played all-stars like Tinker that can fetch cards that there aren’t many good answers for.
In my last round, I played against Dave with Control Slaver. Control Slaver is one of the decks that I focused Survival to beat. Game 1 went according to plan, where a turn 1 Root Maze slowed him down enough for a Troll Ascetic and a Wild Mongrel to win. In Games 2 and 3 though, I had two problems. The first was a lack of mana in game 2. Even though I had him under the Root Maze/Back to Basics hard lock, I sat there for about half a dozen turns with just a Mox Sapphire for mana and gave him enough time to be able to cast his game-winners like Flametongue Kavu. Game 3 played out in a similar manner, with my delaying tactics being reversed by cards like FTK and Tinker.
In the end, while I felt that my deck was a good choice for the metagame (although I would have had trouble winning had I gotten to the top 8 due to the three combo decks), it seemed like every game was an uphill battle and all my progress could be easily erased at almost any time by cards that my deck by its very nature just couldn’t handle. I think the top 8 was telling: 28 copies of Force of Will.
Next time, I’m playing DOOMSDAY. I got that card unrestricted*** and now I want to go nuts!
jpmeyer at gmail dot com
* An image or representation, or an uncanny resemblance
** Basically, I found really interesting how clothing works in that show/movie. Normally, your clothing denotes who/what you are, but that’s all. You wear a police officer uniform to let people know that you are a police officer, but if someone else puts on your uniform that doesn’t give them the power to arrest people or anything. Same thing with say, a king and his crown. But in Cutie Honey, when Honey puts on different clothes she does gain the appropriate powers, like fighting or driving or whatever. That and the underlying girl power message that you can do anything that you put your mind to. And also the fact that unlike most super heroes, Honey doesn’t mind changing in public.
*** I got quoted in one of Forsythe’s articles before on the topic of Doomsday and he used more or less the same words again in his recent column about the changes.