There are few things as intriguing to me as discovering, through happenstance, the importance of things that we take for granted. Most of the time, this means people – and knowing my past articles, you’re already steeling yourself for an introspective look on something I’ll likely try to convince you is meaningful beyond my own self-absorption.
Let me give you an example:
I had the relatively unpleasant experience of being without water last night; I arrived home around midnight and went to get myself a glass of water, and found only the most miniscule amount of residue water imaginable trickling from my tap.
(And the tap drips – Drip drip drip drip drip drip drip drip.)
Kudos if you know that lyric.
Ok, fine, so I can’t have any water to drink. Let me hop online, maybe play a little EQ before bed and see if I can finish that tailored bag quest for my monk. Light up a smoke, reach over for my beverage… Ah, damn, that’s right, no water. Well, let’s see what I have:
Big freakin’ stacks of Coke.
No, I didn’t go to the fridge to get some blow – but I also didn’t go looking for an extra twenty ounces of caffeine, either, and unfortunately sans water there wasn’t much else for me to drink except for two swallows of Hi-C that should have been removed from my refrigerator long before now.
(There’s another thing – a refrigerator.)
Ah, the damn soda dripped on the counter and my hand, dammit, lemme wash that off… Oops.
Same thing when I went to flush the toilet.
And brush my teeth.
And woke up wanting to take a shower.
At least I was prepared for that one. Somehow, calling my employer and telling them I couldn’t come in because I was unable to shower did, however, verge on a level of silliness that I’m still learning to cope with.
Years from now, it’ll explode during my midlife crisis. You just wait and see.
Let me give you a better example:
In some shape or form, civilized man has always had”heat” available to him. That’s one reason I prefer winter to summer – you can always pile on more clothes (or people, if the PTQ wasn’t exciting enough for you) or light a fire or get all jiggy wit’ it just to generate some caloric energy.
(Quick show of hands: How many of you actually know what a calorie is? It’s weird. I’m not the most scientifically-oriented fellow, and I still occasionally have trouble wrapping my mind around the definition. Heh – I can’t see your hands.)
However, being able to effectively cool down is more difficult. There are only so many layers of clothing you can peel off unless you start flaying your skin like some glorious onion, and anyone who’s had to suffer through a summer without A/C in their car or dorm room or apartment or workplace knows exactly what the misery quotient is then.
We take A/C for granted – until it’s not there anymore. My parents sometimes regale me with stories about their adolescence; they’re only 60, and thus still seem young to me, their childhood still within my mental reach, silly as that may seem. They didn’t have air conditioning. Not by choice – it simply didn’t exist. What? A world without air conditioning? That’s catastrophic! Head for the shelter, kids, and don’t forget the canned food and shotgun, there’s an assault goin’ down on Ruby Ridge and we ain’t gonna be the ones caught by surprise.
How did they survive? We’re so accustomed to basing our existence over moving from Comfort Zone A to Comfort Zone B. What did they do without having it handed to them?
Rumor has it that they would sleep outside. They’d gather up sheets and pillows and go lay out on the back porch, because it was cooler outside than inside the brick-and-mortar constructs of the city of St. Louis, in a world where a family could do so without fear of being assaulted or burglarized -which is, all things considered, probably the most amazing part.
In other words, they’d Deal With It.
There were a handful of options, and they chose the best one. Air conditioning wasn’t even a concept to the majority of individuals, in the same way that television wasn’t, or radio. Mom and Dad didn’t sit around wishing there was a magic box that would make their house cold. Nope, but they sure did put bowls of ice in front of their electric fan and improvise a system of their own.
Word, g, would I lie to you?
Welcome to the Magic portion of the article.
The Invasion/Odyssey Standard environment is life without air conditioning.
As with all other environments, cards should be measured on their own merit relative to what exists around them. If I read another set review that has a card listed as”a poor man’s [whatever],” I’ll certainly scream. The number of times that something’s been listed as”weak, but good in this environment” seems disproportionately frequent to me, as if Internet writers need to make excuses for considering a card playable.
“Well, see, I don’t really want to play this card, because it’s not as good as that one card a few sets ago, but in this case, even though it’s merely okay, it’s acceptable.”
Very noble of you to make such a concession.
When you look at the cards available, throw out what you’ve seen before, because it doesn’t matter. Keep the strategies, ditch the prejudiced viewpoint. Stating that a card is similar to one in the past is one thing; however, basing card valuation strictly on cards that came before it, when talking about Limited and Standard, just seems silly, yo.
One-drops are air conditioning.
There are few effective first-turn permanents nowadays. Of course, there are a handful; many are well-known, such as the ever-underappreciated green mana contingency, Birds of Paradise and Llanowar Elves. I’d enjoy seeing an environment where neither of them existed, just to see what would happen. Hey, if you can neuter black’s mana acceleration to the point where it doesn’t exist anymore, why not do the same to green? Imagine if a second-turn Werebear was green’s strongest acceleration play, in addition to cards like Harrow or Rites of Spring – but no Elves, no Birds, none of the staples. Have you ever sat around with your friends and discussed the most powerful cards?
Show of hands if anyone mentions Birds of Paradise or Llanowar Elves.
Heh – I can’t see your hands again.
Elves are a common. They’re so common that people ignore them, take them for granted. The Elf and Bird Club (TEBC) is so effective that any cards attempting to duplicate their effects are doomed to failure before they even see print. Please refer to Utopia Tree. I think that The Man has tried to make some solid replacements, but they don’t seem to work out. People try the Vine Trellis and Quirion Elves and say, nah… They’re two mana to cost. Nantuko Elder? The handful of 3/3 elves that generate mana – though they take four to get out? Who’s going to accelerate to get to a neo-fatty that’s going to be spending his time… Accelerating? It’s like having dessert before the main course, which makes you wonder why you cooked the pot roast in the first place.
The cards that have successfully found their way into decks beyond Limited are those like Rofellos and Priest of Titania, both of whom offer a potential benefit that warrants the 2cc and provide something beyond tapping for A Mana.
Wall of Roots not only stopped weenie rushes, but had the ability to essentially tap twice each turn, particularly in Survival decks.
These went above and beyond – but they still take focus, and a deck that can exploit the superacceleration factor.
TEBC, however, just fits in green. Unless you’re playing Extended’s three-land Stompy (am I exaggerating? Nah), which doesn’t care about a one-drop unless it’s going to hit for four or five on turn 2, TEBC is one of the things we see and live with every day, and never really stop to consider as”Wow. That’s freakin’ amazing.”
Imagine if they didn’t exist.
Imagine if they didn’t exist for about four years.
Man, we’d have all sorts of Werebear tech up in here.
Personally, I’m a fan of the Werebear, which is a very clever card – and a Druid – because it is both strictly inferior and superior to existing cards simultaneously. There are no other 4/4 critters for 1G – thank the gods – but there are also better accelerants and better creatures to be spending your mana on when you lack Threshold. What’s Werebear’s place? I don’t know. But I’d be very curious to see what life would be like if that were the best available option for green acceleration in Standard.
This isn’t a rallying cry to disband TEBC; not at all. It’s merely that I sometimes wish I could take Magic and experiment with it, the mental equivalent of a sterile, frictionless vacuum, and see What Would Happen.
Life without Dark Ritual, Birds and Elves, Disenchant, or Counterspell. Percolate on that for a bit, boo.
Be thankful for what you have. Stop taking those cards for granted and give them a bit of veneration, buy ’em a mental drink, and the next time you see someone playing green say,”Forest, Elf, go,” break out the old wink-and-gun like you’re Tom Cruise in Cocktail and say,”That’s one of the best plays in Magic.”
Then, feel free to bitch about the way that mana acceleration has been drastically imbalanced towards green, now, and that black had better start catching up.
You ever wonder if Wizards has a plan about the Dark Ritual thing?
More percolating: Consider this. Three mana for one black at instant speed was abusable in ways that Elves and Birds weren’t, simply because they are permanents and thus can be affected by many more cards than the Ritual, which can only be countered.
I don’t believe Dark Ritual should be out of Extended, as I’ve said before. Taking a wider perspective, though, it has to be out – because if Ritual remains in, then Wizards would potentially be unable to”fix” black acceleration.
Ritual, in addition to whatever other black acceleration came about, would be more abusable than Ritual alone. Sure, it may take some heavy investment into acceleration – but green does that already, and sometimes Secret Force feels like a nasty combo deck.
And Wizard’s learned its lesson about nasty combo decks. Wizards can’t risk getting acceptable black accelerants into the game until those accelerants are on a level playing field with, you guessed it, The Bird and Elf Club. (I need to trademark that, or something.)
Simply put, I cannot accept Blood Pet as the be-all-end-all of 1cc black accelerants.
Please, Wizards, if you’re out there, do me a favor and print me:
T, Pay 1 life: Add B to your mana pool.
Send me a tell if that’s on target.
You don’t need to have many of these little guys. All you need is one. Let green have more varieties. Let green have the eight-man coalition o’goodness. Let green keep mana-of-any-color mechanics.
But man, let’s get black some air conditioning.
You know, so we can play those great expensive black cards like Morbid Hunger.
Expensive cards, you know, like rares, about forty of which I seem to want out of this set, which seems to be even more than I wanted out of Invasion, which seems to be even more than I wanted out of Masques, and that just seems peculiar to me, and it makes a suspicious man (or a delusional one) wonder if Tony Sculimbrene had it right. But if you want to read a thorough and enjoyable analysis of color trends, check out Ben Bleiweiss. I’m looking forward to the second half of it.
One of the primary decks I’ve been testing – and the deck that generates the most mindless fun for me – has four of those expensive cards, unfortunately, and for some reason I lately haven’t been in a mindset to spend money. Maybe I’m saving for Christmas, maybe I’m simply becoming a little more fiscally responsible. I just know that spotting a fistful of cash for four Call of the Herd simply because they’re good isn’t something that’s appealing to me, particularly with my addiction to Everquest, where those four Calls are equivalent to about five months of leveling my characters. The investment:fun ratio of my various hobbies somehow has begun to garner a bit more significance in my mind. Yep, I’m gettin’ old.
It’s all good, though. Trust me.
//NAME: Country Grammar
4x Reckless Charge
4x Call of the Herd
4x Wild Mongrel
4x Kavu Titan
4x Krosan Avenger
4x Flametongue Kavu
4x Blazing Salvo
4x Urza’s Rage
3x Mossfire Valley
4x Karplusan Forest
3x Barbarian Ring
3x Breath of Darigaaz
4x Price of Glory
4x Spellbane Centaur
This deck’s about speed; it’s the fastest goldfishing deck I’ve generated in this environment so far, in that if you aren’t able to put something out there in the way, a threat will get through, and typically, kill you faster than you can say polly-want-a-cracker.
Observe the handful o’goodness.
Turn 1: Mountain, Firebolt (18)
Turn 2: Forest, Mongrel
Turn 3: Land, Titan, Charge Titan (11)
Turn 4: Recur Charge on Titan, dump 3 cards to Mongrel (1)
Since it’s Standard, there’s usually a painland point they’ve taken by this point. If you’ve gone first, you may have Blazing Salvo’d their early drop and laughed because they took five damage to save it when you had a Firebolt in hand as backup.
Blazing Salvo is playa hate. It puts the onus on the person making the decision, and is typically a win-win scenario. Is this a card that you run four of as your only removal, professing the glory of three damage for one mana? Hell, no. This is a support card, this is a bullet for your .44; this is something that makes everything else a little bit sweeter because it’s backed up with loads of hurt.
The important thing to remember is this: Whatever they choose in the early game does not matter. Yes, in late-game situations when you’re both in topdecking modes, you may regret that it isn’t a sure thing – I’ll freely admit that is the card’s weakness.
Blazing Salvo, however, is named very aptly – because it generates early pressure, an opening shot that says”Hello, Opponent, what would you like your tombstone to say?”
It doesn’t matter if they take the five damage. It doesn’t matter if they don’t. You’re backed up by burn. Say you EOT Salvo their Birds and they protect it, and you subsequently you cast Firebolt to kill it. You’ve done this:
Kill target early critter. Do 5 damage to target player.
That’s a good deal. What, you want to be at fifteen life after I’ve cast one spell?
Imagine if there was a card saying,
Discard a card. Do 3 damage to target creature. Do 5 damage to target player.
I’m thinking that it’d be used, though please let’s not get into the”yeah, but it targets two things” debate, because it’s just an example, and I’m not in the mood. Capiche? Sweet.
The best thing, of course, is that Firebolt comes back. Remember that article on rethinking card advantage? How easy of a decision is it to Salvo, then Firebolt when you know you didn’t really waste that sorcery Shock of yours, and thus Firebolt and Salvo – two cards – will net you three effects?
My god, I’m still talking about Salvo.
The gist is that it’s win-win, and a lot of times when the first game rolls out, people are going to take the five damage, which is just kinda fun.
Multiple routes to a quick clock. Sounds like a recipe for success for an aggressive deck.
—A Handful of Burn
4x Urza’s Rage
4x Blazing Salvo
3x Barbarian Ring
You had me at hello.
The more I play with Firebolt, the more its 5cc flashback cost is not a problem; in fact, Wizards should be commended on a quality flashback burn card that’s good, not broken, because the potential for a mistake in judgment certainly did exist. Firebolt’s extra cost is rarely prohibitive, and because its base cost is perfectly reasonable at R, it goes to your graveyard without complication and then for half the game, you look at your opponent’s life total and say,”Yes, but you’re really at X life.”
I call that the Rage factor, despite the fact I just switched cards on you mid-thought without any more warning than a paragraph break. A brief bit about red, and why it’s often difficult for people to both play and play against, is that it is as much about bluffing and presentation as playing blue. The two colors are truly mirrors of each other in ways that are quite subtle.
Fireblast helped to redefine red in that it provided red with a strong bluff mechanism. As long as there are two mountains on the board, the opponent will always have to respect the possibility of Fireblast.
I stole this from Oscar Tan Burn/Sligh primer on Beyond Dominia; it’s him quoting somebody, but it’s the most effective and saves me a bit of explanation time. By the way, check out Mr. Tan’s primers; they’re wonderful reads. They’re long as hell and they give me a headache from staring at the screen, but incredibly thorough thought-out.
“As Alex Murison, a.k.a. MadEntity, wrote on the Dojo in late 1997:”Fireblast changes the rules of burn as Force of Will changed the rules of Countermagic. I heard many people lamenting Force of Will’s presence while Alliances was in, yet Fireblast changes the rules just as horrendously. If you have to tap out to burn the opponent away then the opponent can accurately predict whether he or she will live or not. Fireblast forces an opponent to rethink their position. ‘I’m at four life, can I afford to let that Incinerate through and try to counter everything else, or counter it and pray he doesn’t have a Fireblast….?’ Sounds similar to ‘he’s tapped out, God I hope he doesn’t have a Force, God I hope he doesn’t have a Force’ doesn’t it? Any card that changes the rules changes the way you must play, and Fireblast is the card that makes the modern Deadguy Sligh styles of deck so sickeningly effective.”
The Rage factor follows that line of thinking; it changes the rules.
Fireblast was first, but Rage is what clued me in originally to that thought process about red and the way it manipulates the game state as effectively as blue if properly built. Thus the moniker’s going to stick ad infinitum.
Rage factor is:”You’re actually at three less life than you think you are.”
Control players in particular have to play on your terms, not theirs – which makes whom the control, thank you very much? That’s right: Red.
Cue up Scott”Needs to Write Articles Again” Forster:
“A seemingly-innocent Shock to take them to six may have to be countered, because you might have double-Rage coming behind it. If they use their one counter on the Shock only to get smacked by a five -point Earthquake or something, the Rage has done its job even if it’s buried in the library. Put Rage and Fireblast in the same deck and it just gets ugly.”
When you force players to have to deal with you much sooner than they would like, you’re generating pressure, and pressure is good if you’re not trying to get them to the altar. It puts their strategy in a state of flux.
“My life total isn’t really at twenty, is it?”
You know Seal of Fire was one of the best one-drops red has ever had, right? I do. It’s a constant, glaring reminder that you’re actually two fewer than your scorepad or your calculator or your lucky bingo totem indicates. Or four. Or six.
Now, we don’t have Fireblast, and we don’t have Seal of Fire anymore, rest in peace, but we do have a nice run of Cards That Change the Rules readily available to us.
Now, you tell me how much life you’re at.
4 Rings + 4 Rages = Twenty uncounterable points of damage, eight of which is colorless.
Ooooh, I like that.
Better yet, the math is fun:
“Okay, I’m at ten because of early beats, thank Providence I stabilized, but hmm, he has a Firebolt in the graveyard along with six other cards, which means he can activate the Ring. Only one of those buried cards is a Rage.. So that’s… Wait a second – that’s nine points of damage if he’s holding a Rage in hand. Does he have another Rage? Maybe he has another Firebolt he’ll cast, which’ll put two in the graveyard, and he’ll pop the Ring and then pull out the Bolts to do eight to me. What am I going to do about those tramplers?”
Reasons like this is why Aegis of Honor needed to be printed. Make a deck with four Fireblast, Seal of Fire, Firebolt, Urza’s Rage, and Barbarian Ring, and you’re halfway to tournament-caliber burn, and I haven’t even put in Fanatics or Lightnings or Pups (shudder) or Goblins of any variety.
Back to Standard: I’ll tell you now, kids – pay attention to those flashback cards, and don’t let yourself be lazy on threshold effects. Do not forget about what may come back to haunt you. This is Odyssey. This is the first set. The powerful cards are surely yet to come. Get your mind right, and start developing habits that will serve you for the next two years now.
—Four Pounds of Threat
4x Wild Mongrel
4x Kavu Titan
4x Call of the Herd
4x Krosan Avenger
4x Flametongue Kavu
4x Reckless Charge
What a nice selection of cheap and efficient creature drops we have here. In addition to Mongrel, useful for Threshold and getting around those annoying protection creatures sprinkled throughout the environment, we have the very versatile Kavu Titan. Having reliable two-drops is a hallmark of this deck; if you note, there are eight cards at the 2cc slot, eight at the 3cc slot, and eight at the 4cc slot if you count a flashed Call of the Herd in addition to the Kavu. What that means is consistent creatures following a consistent threat/mana curve. There’s no fear about dropping an unkicked Titan. Drop the threat, use the threat, and don’t be afraid to let it trade with an opponent’s creature. You will have more – will they?
Flametongue Kavu was a late addition to the deck, and I’m not sure how I could have ever not included him. Mr. Tongue manages to negate Beast Attack by his lonesome, trading equally for the two tokens and providing a healthy dose of come-‘n-get-it.
Krosan Avenger is a card that few people have noticed; however, I like it. One, I don’t really care if it dies early – yeah, it’s 3/1, but it tramples, and trample is mighty hard to come by in this environment. While you might start to herald the glorious creature that is Llanowar Elite (cough), you realize that trample breaks creature stalls. Avenger can single-handedly keep you alive in the mid-to-late-game through his regeneration – but most importantly, he’s Ball Lightning in a can.
2GR – 6/1 trampler. Who might regenerate. And who might be 6/1 on consecutive turns.
Mmmm, I love those Druids.
Reckless Charge can be utterly ridiculous on tramplers. I’ve won with an 11/5 Titan plenty of times when the game looked locked up; Avenger has proven his worth as well. What makes this deck hard to stop is the way it manages to clear out blockers or opposing threats, particularly from opponents who stop a Charged critter simply because if they don’t stop it now, they’ll have to stop it when it’s flashed back the next turn.
You can start throwing in some fatties if you’re looking for Ass Tech, but don’t bring it over to my house. These are creatures whose power equates to casting cost; pushing the envelope to five-mana spells or more would be fruitless and start to drastically eliminate your ability to operate quickly and efficiently.
3x Mossfire Valley
4x Karplusan Forest
3x Barbarian Ring
Mossfire Valley is an experiment that seems to be working. I like the idea of the swaplands, and have found that two or three work best in a deck. I don’t like them in multicolor decks, but here they add wonderful redundancy. Putting four in would risk the double-Valley draw, which is in essence a virtual mulligan. I was quite disappointed to find they didn’t generate colorless mana, but that’s likely being greedy. Not that I’m ever greedy. No, really.
Barbarian Ring is all that, and is a great finisher. Again, I like three of them. Why? Because you want them mid-to-late, you don’t want to draw one and then kill yourself with it for the first eight turns of the game when you’re severely lacking threshold. Barbarian Ring or Cabal Pit should be in any deck that is running the appropriate colors; not only do they, in multiples, eliminate Iridescent Angel, but the uncounterable source of removal and/or damage is simply amazing.
The deck is shaded a bit towards red mana, simply because removal is more color-intensive than dropping your creatures. You want to have more red available, because your green’s going to be used for one thing: Drop. Drop. Drop. Red lets you charge twice in a turn, do the fancy red mage end-of-turn tricks, and sing Sammy Hagar every time you throw down a mountain.
No, wait, please, don’t actually do that.
3x Breath of Darigaaz
4x Price of Glory
4x Spellbane Centaur
Sideboard options are, as always mutable. Here’s what I’ve been working with; it’s primarily defense against, well, enchantments, counter decks, tempo decks, and weenie swarm decks. Ever since developing God, I haven’t been afraid of destroying my own creatures, and Breath of Darigaaz is usually a nice surprise when your opponent doesn’t think you’re willing to get rid of three of your creatures for four of his.
Crunch, we’ll make more.
This deck has trouble with first strike or big green fat that I can’t trample over – and even then, there’s a clock, because if I get a Avenger or a Titan Charged up, it doesn’t matter what they block with.”Sure, I’ll run my 5/5 guy Recklessly into your Spiritmonger. Feel free to attack next turn into my Avenger so he can regenerate and swing for the win.” Do the damage when you can, because if you’re going to die, do not let it be due to passivity.
Straight control decks are a bit of a problem for any aggro deck because of the risk of running out of steam or not drawing enough threats to pressure the opponent, but this one always seems to have enough to get through, even if it means simply riding a Titan to victory. I considered Blurred Mongoose, for reasons we all know by now, but can’t consider it better than Spellbane Centaur from the sideboard quite yet. I fear Aether Bursts and Recoils moreso than other targeted spells at the moment.
White Weenie’s the one I worry about – because as I always say, properly built White Weenie beats other weenie decks.
I really wish I could find another phrase for this.
Okay, White Beatdown. There.
White beatdown has an inherent advantage in first strike, Don’t tell me people won’t be using Longbow Archer and Glorious Anthem somewhere in there, and while Mongrels are great, it’s not every game you’re going to be willing to throw cards to it in order to kill off the first striker. Talk about card advantage, whew… It’s good to be white.
No e-mails on that statement – you know what I mean, dammit.
2/2 first strikers put a halt to too much of the deck and force you to rely on burn or creature sweeps – a la Tranquility and Breath of Darigaaz – in the subsequent matchups. Plus, the”see the pro-red guy” never makes you happy. If green had actual creature removal, imagine how frightening green/red could be.
But it doesn’t.
C’est la vie.
The deck may play a bit strangely at first, when the flashback and Threshold mechanics seem to contradict. They don’t – remember the Avenger’s importance is that he tramples and has a three power, and that the Ring isn’t integral to the strategy; merely a nice finisher or way to break out of stalls. Don’t be afraid to flash spells back and lose threshold should circumstances arise, because Call of the Herd and Firebolt are better, and more powerful, than your threshold effects.
Say it. Play it. Free Carl Jarrell.
That’s Country Grammar. That’s what I’m sayin’, that’s what I’m playin’, and that’s the fastest clock I’ve found. Regardless of whether it’s the fastest, it’s a good deck to test with and against and improve upon, it’s fun to play, and it’s consistent. The only card I regret not being able to fit in is Fire/Ice, only because I’ve found Salvo suits the aggressive nature of the deck more. It’s first on the waiting list, though, should I become jaded, which has been known to happen. Fire/Ice is my girl on the side. Don’t tell anyone.
States is coming, and no one quite knows what to expect. Find something consistent, find something you know, and stick with it, and be prepared to see just about anything, and when you see someone using that Odyssey card you dismissed as a poor man’s Jackal Pup, just laugh and shake their hand and stay cool, Sister Christian, because we’re only just starting.
-m / 00010101