I’m spending my week turning the horrible 40-card 8th Edition precons into amazing Constructed decks. I tuned Expulsion for Standard, turned Lifeboost into a killer Peasant Magic deck and converted Heavy Hitters into a smashing Vanguard deck. Today I tackle Sky Slam, which is destined to become a new Type Two archetype.
Here are the rules:
Start with an 8th Edition precon decklist. Up the lands to 24 and then increase the commons already in the deck to four to make it a 60-card deck
Play some, then add cards, using only:
1) The cards from the other precons, (nothing useful) plus,
2) Whatever I get in the five draft (one draft per precon), plus
3) Whatever I can accumulate by trading / selling cards from the precon.
The goal is to have the deck win at least 40% of games in some format. That may not be much of a goal, but I can’t draft worth a dam (okay, maybe a small, mud-and-sticks dam, but not a serious actually-stops-water dam.) Getting the other decks to perform has been tricky, and after looking at Sky Slam, the Blue “control” deck packed with goodies like Remove Soul, I’m not optimistic. Here’s the starting decklist:
1 (4) Sage Owl C
1 Spiketail Hatchling U
1 Fleeting Image R
2 (4) Horned Turtle C
1 Puppeteer U
2 (4) Wind Drake C
1 Phantom Warrior U
1 (4) Aven Fisher C
1 Fighting Drake U
2 Thieving Magpie U
1 Coastal Hornclaw C
1 Air Elemental U
3 Unsummon C
1 (3) Mana Leak C
2 Remove Soul C
1 (2) Dehydration C
1 Urza’s Armor R
17 (24) Island
Increasing the common counts brings this to 60 cards. Looking this over, I see just under thirty cards I would consider playing in a serious deck – and that includes the 24 Islands and the four Mana Leaks – and going to four Mana Leaks is almost cheating, since the precon only has one. I already own almost all of the cards in this deck, except for Phantom Warrior and Fleeting Image, which I don’t really want. I’ll sub in a Neurok Spy and 2/1 Moonfolk for base testing purposes.
Testing in progress….
It has a bit of a curve, some counter magic and evasion. It won a couple games, but it’s about what you would expect. The deck has some tempo and, by including four Mana Leaks, it has some ability to mess with opponents early. That combination can win games. However, it does not have a lot of early pressure, and cards like Horned Turtle are too defensive for a deck that does not have a really powerful late game play to work towards.
It needs help, so it’s time to draft some cards.
The draft: I was going to use a Mirrodin block draft for the Green precon, but got shipped a Wand of the Elements, then cracked Shackles and changed colors late. I played really badly, but my deck won me a couple packs anyway. I also hate drafted a Blue Genju and a Confiscate earlier this week, so they go straight into the deck. Finally, I will replace the dreadful Urza’s Armor with Thunderstaff and add one Spire Golem to the three I drafted. Here’s the result.
Sky Slam v2.0
2 Sage Owl
2 Spiketail Hatchling
4 Spire Golem
2 Horned Turtle
4 Wind Drake
2 Aven Fisher
3 Thieving Magpie
1 Air Elemental
1 Echoing Truth
4 Mana Leak
1 Genju of the Falls
2 Wayfarer’s Baubles
1 Veldalken Shackles
1 Wand of the Elements
I didn’t bother with a sideboard, which was probably a mistake. I played this in the Casual: Tournament Practice rooms, where I was often playing matches instead of single games. Having no sideboard simply meant that I had the time to get a soda between games.
Match 1: RickySelman with Proteus Staff / Grinding Station
He opened with lots of card drawing, while I got a Bauble, a few fliers and Mana Leaks. He played out a Myr Retriever and a Grinding Station, and milled me. He played a Proteus Staff, then Nuisance Engine. He made a token and sacrificed it to Grinding Station. I Confiscated the Nuisance Engine. He used Echoing Truth on the Confiscate, but I just recast it next turn. He did have time to make a bug, then used Proteus Staff to turn it into another Myr Retriever. I held back the Mana Leaks to counter if he fetched the other Retriever from the graveyard, but by then my fliers had killed him. Free Spire Golems are fine things.
Game two he developed slowly, but my fliers came out faster. He began using the Proteus Staff on my creatures, but just kept making one 2/x flier into another 2/x flier. It was like a slot machine, and when all three fliers came up Wind Drakes, he tried Echoing Truth. Truth was, I had a counter, and he died.
Match 2: jwlocklin with Snakes
He dropped a Sustainer and I dropped a Bauble, then a flier. He did very little, then dropped Seshiro when I had tapped out for fliers. He attacked and played Serpent Skin before damage. I Boomeranged the Seshiro in response. He did nothing much for a couple turns, while a Thieving Magpie got me Islands, and Spire Golems arrives for free on my side. When he finally tried to replay Seshiro, I had Rewind. He conceded from the match.
Match 3: Dym4132 with Blazing Shoal / Myojin.
Game one, he mulliganed to four and never drew a land. He conceded on turn 5 or 6. Game two he hit me with some Lava Spikes early, and I dropped a few beaters with 2 Mana Leaks in hand. His third land, though, was Boseiju. I tapped out for a flier and he dropped double Spark Elementals, then Blazing Shoaled the one that got through for enough to put me at 2. I beat him to three, but he top decked Magma Jet. Game three I made a turn 1 Bauble, then sat on Mana Leak mana while dropping a Spiketail Hatchling on turn 3 and a Wind Drake on turn 4. When I countered his Defense Grid he conceded.
Game 4: Katkillad with Red burn
He had a pretty basic Red burn and beats deck, with a couple Fireballs and stuff like Lightning Elemental. I got two Thieving Magpies early and he could only kill one. The card drawing did him in – backed by the super cheap Spire Golems. Air Elemental helped out.
Game / Match 5: Dethfire with Snakes
My notes are getting spotty at this point. He was playing Snakes, and I am playing evasion creatures. My deck is faster than his stuff, provided he does not resolve a snake legend. I have lots of counters and bounce, and I can Confiscate his Seshiro, if necessary. I won easily.
Game 6: Cpt. Slaughter with 5 color Zuberas
He had Solemn Simulacrums, Tribe Elders and Reach to build a mana base, and Zuberas. He also drew three Devouring Greeds. However, I countered one, had a Horned Turtle holding the ground and pulled plenty of lands. Even with getting Greed drained for 16 points, my Spire Golems, Air Elemental and assorted other fliers were beating him down. Wand of Elements put in an appearance, and I overran him with fliers. His final turn was pretty impressive: Fecundity, Zubera, Zubera, Greed number 4 (which brought it to 16 points of Greed damage.) He drew three cards, made three Spirits and made me discard three cards, but I still flew over for 10 next turn to kill him. He had a cool deck, though.
Six and O, baby! Not that I faced a single Tier one deck, but my goal was to take a precon, improve it as much as possible with just what I drafted and make it playable. I think I can call this a success. (I have played some more since, and the deck keeps working. Curve, speed and disruption – it’s often all you need.)
If I were to work on this further, I would move the Dehydrations to the sideboard (and actually make a sideboard) and add some more Baubles and another Confiscate. Baubles are great because of the interaction with Spire Golems. Spire Golems are the biggest reason the deck is performing so well. Fleeting Image could also come back – I now have one, and it is a reasonable 2 power flier.
If I were to work on this further… So far, the version 2 decks have generally won right out of the box. I expected to have to spend a lot of time tweaking them, but it hasn’t been necessary. Which has worked out okay, because I am spending much more time working at work, and way too little time playing online.
One thing the deck could really use is card drawing. I have looked around for some easily obtained card drawing, and I think I would end up playing either Mask of Memory or Treasure Trove. Mask is great with the evasion creatures, but Treasure Trove is pure card advantage. I really can’t say which works better, because I have never draw either when they mattered. That’s part of the problem with single cards and limited playtest games – you never draw them often enough.
Right now, the deck has twenty fliers, not counting the Genju, and a fair amount of counters. It can, generally, keep and maintain tempo. It has to wi with tempo, it has no real answer to powerful late game decks like Tooth and Nail once the Tooth deck starts recurring critical spells with Eternal Witness. Four Mana Leaks and a couple Rewinds won’t stop that sort of thing.
That’s the same problem that the deck had when I tried to use more Horned Turtles and Fleeting Image tricks to stop early weenie rushes, then win with a big finisher. I did manage to get my hands on a couple Tidal Kraken, and could probably have traded for a Mahamoti Djinn or two. However, those cards are not enough of a bomb to justify the wait. Yes, they can win in a couple turns, but without having better cards and better card drawing, it is unlikely that the blue Kraken deck can avoid getting plastered by an opposing bomb long before it could win with Kraken. What makes the late bomb strategy worse is that I do not have any Spectral Shifts, while opponents would be bringing in Choke and Boil for games two and three.
Remember, precons are cheap decks, and cheap decks can have tempo, but generally cannot afford control.
I have looked hard at a couple other cards in the precon, like Sage Owls. Sage Owls are okay, and can help smooth draws early, but I would much rather play a Spike Hatchling on turn 2. However, that raises another interesting point – how much farther should I go in turning the precon into Mono-blue control? Obviously, Horned Turtle can stop Eternal Witness beats, but Vedalken Shackles does that job far better. For nearly every common in the deck, there is an uncommon or rare that is just better. For example, Wind Drake is a perfectly acceptable beater, but Kira, Great Glass Spinner is the same power for the same cost (it is a mono-Blue deck, after all.)
I think I’ll stop now. The deck is about as good a it can get, given what it is: a Blue tempo control deck based on fliers. It isn’t mono-Blue control, and it isn’t Rising Waters, but it has game against the field – at least the field in the Casual Play rooms on MTGO.
Tomorrow – I’ll start with the goblins precon, but go beyond just improving the creatures and mana curve. I’m going to try for a new archetype.