The Beautiful Struggle: Crazy Subway Guy

One of the editorial secrets here at StarCityGames.com is that we know our readers love bad decks. No no, don’t try to deny it – you guys are absolute suckers for them. Therefore it is completely without reservation that we present Mark Young’s latest article, which is filled to the brim with a series of Type Two abortions. Do these decks have potential? Oh, most certainly. But are they ready for prime time? Well, you make the call…

In case you’ve been tuned out of this site over the last few weeks, here’s a list of some of the folks who have been writing for Star City Premium in that time: the reigning Player of the Year (Gabriel Nassif), arguably the best drafter on the planet (Anton Jonsson), arguably the best PTQ player on the planet (Patrick Sullivan), arguably the best Magic theorist on the planet (Zvi), something like 5-10 of the best Vintage players on the planet, a guy whom I consider to be the all-around best American player (Osyp), a group of accomplished pros including Aten, Flores, Clair, and Ellis, and finally the most popular Magic writer, ever, without question (Jamie Wakefield).

So, if you’re still reading me at this point … why? I stand in the shadows of those folks the way an ant stands in mine. Hell, even if I were to start beating some of those guys, I’d still be lost in their shadows, if only because I’m so damn short. If this site were “The Simpsons,” I’d be Ralph Wiggum. If Knut wanted to stage a re-enactment of “Pulp Fiction” with Premium Writers, I’d get stuck playing either the Gimp or that hillbilly who takes a shotgun blast in the package.

Having thus been placed in the Crazy Guy on the Subway role – y’know, the guy in the back of the subway car who talks to himself and assumes people are hanging on his every word – I decided to open up the vault and present to you some of my wildest deck ideas, stuff that I had previously filed under “hopeless” as soon as I remembered Arcbound Ravager was in the format. Now that we’ve all been awakened from the Ravager Affinity nightmare, it seemed like a fine time to sleeve these decks up and give them a brief spin.

These decks all share one thing in common: they’re all four colors or more. What can I say? I’m a sucker for multicolor Constructed decks (which is ironic, since I have a really hard time building a three-color Sealed Deck, even if the card pool clearly calls for it). What with all the great mana fixing in the Standard format – and only about half of it being Green – there’s no time like the present to indulge my favorite Magic-related vice.

Now, I am not trying to say that the decklists you are about to see are the best possible ways to execute these ideas. If you think your pet deck does the same thing as one of the decks I present below, only better, don’t hesitate to post it in the forums. As in my White Weenie article Getting Jittery, forum response can only make the decklists here better. Most of these decks are experimental anyway; I’m just trying to throw some s*** on the wall and see what sticks. Just a less-stinky version of the same thing lots of Crazy Subway Guys like to do.

The hard lock.

Just Bring It!

This deck dates all the way back to the Sunday side events at Nationals 2004, the first tournaments in which Fifth Dawn was legal for both Mirrodin Block Constructed and Standard. Although most people were more concerned about Krark-Clan Ironworks or the fact that Cranial Plating was an able replacement for Skullclamp, there were stories going around in the Block PTQ about a deck that could simply put you in the ultimate hard lock: Bringer of the White Dawn + Mindslaver.

I immediately created my own version of the deck, and there was a very brief period of time where teammate Rick and I thought it might be viable, as it laid a heavy smack down on the Tooth and Nail deck we were testing with. Of course, as soon as our Affinity deck made an appearance, it was never to be seen again. Until now:

4 Wayfarer’s Bauble

4 Chromatic Sphere

4 Pentad Prism

4 Solemn Simulacrum

4 Serum Visions

4 Thirst for Knowledge

4 Condescend

3 Mindslaver

3 Bringer of the White Dawn

2 Bringer of the Black Dawn

9 Island

3 Forest

3 Swamp

3 Mountain

3 Plains

3 City of Brass (was Mirrodin’s Core in the Block version, of course)

The Idea: Bucking the trend of most people’s Sunburst deck ideas, I wanted to go with Blue as the main color instead of Green. Of course, Blue was going to play a role anyway, since Thirst for Knowledge was (and remains) the best way to get a Slaver into the graveyard, but it seemed to me that you didn’t need Green cards as badly as I had first thought you would.

Since more than half of your mana base is non-Blue, it’s child’s play to have two counters on Pentad Prism when you play it. Although throwing down a Bringer on turn 3 is only slightly more likely than a lucksack’s pipe dream, all of your scrying, Thirsts, and Chromatic Spheres make a pre-turn 5 Bringer a reasonable plan.

The Good News: Your artifact-based mana acceleration gives you reasonable game against most land destruction, sometimes even the “Kiki-Jiki + Sundering Titan” type; only Death Cloud is serious trouble as it empties out your hand also. Very few decks in the format can race your nut draw, and even substandard draws can quickly turn nutty after just a single Serum Visions.

The Bad News: Mono-Blue Control was not viable in MirBC, but it sure is now, and it is almost impossible for this decklist to beat. The Bringer deck’s threat-light construction means that, if it has to, the Blue deck can ignore 90% of the cards it sees as long as it is able to counter the other 10%.

Hell, sometimes the control deck doesn’t even need to counter; if it can steal a Bringer with Vedalken Shackles that also ends the game in short order. I gave this deck up after MUC won four test games in humiliating, blowout fashion. In one game a lone Blinkmoth Nexus went all the way and the multicolor deck did not resolve a single spell.

Possible Improvements: Well, obviously you could go with Green as your primary color. Engineered Explosives may need to come into the main deck, to deal with such problematic permanents as Shackles, Umezawa’s Jitte, Samurai of the Pale Curtain, and so on. But most of all you simply need some cheaper, non-Bringer threats, because mono-Blue is going to be a player at Regionals and you can’t just stick your head in the sand and hope you don’t face it.


Of all the decks here, I imagine Cogs has the best reputation. Chad Ellis and Mike Flores both had their own lists on this site during Block season, and it made the occasional PTQ top 8 here and there. The splash was not quite as big at States – I was not able to find a case of Cogs making better than Top 4, but Star City’s States old deck database was not the best and I may have run a poor search – but it was present, and it did make some provinces stand up and take notice. I went with this list:

4 Auriok Salvagers

4 Trinket Mage

3 Wayfarer’s Bauble

2 Engineered Explosives

1 Avarice Totem

1 Tel-Jilad Stylus

1 Scrabbling Claws

1 Pyrite Spellbomb

1 Aether Spellbomb

1 Necrogen Spellbomb

1 Meloku the Clouded Mirror

4 Mana Leak

4 Hinder

4 Thirst for Knowledge

4 Echoing Truth

12 Island

8 Plains

2 Swamp

2 Mountain

The Idea: Same as with all the Cog decks from Block season – simply tutor up whatever you need in the current situation, and recur as needed with Salvagers. Countermagic helps deal with problematic spells like Arc-Slogger or Cranial Extraction, and the combo of Avarice Totem + {Stylus or Echoing Truth} gives you a way to dominate the long game.

Before you send a protesting forum post, I have to admit, I stole that Totem/Stylus thing from Mark Gottlieb. If there’s one thing us Crazy Subway Guys are good at, it’s taking credit for ideas they didn’t actually have.

The Good News: There are not too many tutors in Standard more useful than Trinket Mage (which is really sad, considering all the great tutors that just finished their swan song in Extended). Most of the aggro beaters in this format, like Slith Firewalker and various White creatures, are easily handled by Engineered Explosives. You have Meloku, which tends to cover up most potential mistakes.

The Bad News: Good Lord, does Tooth and Nail blow you out. I included the Avarice Totem combo specifically for that matchup – and it will occasionally catch the Tooth decks by surprise, as many of them don’t run Leonin Abunas in the maindeck anymore – but even if you steal their Sundering Titan, it will nuke enough land that you won’t be able to steal a second guy. All T&N has to do is chain their Tooths with “giant guy + Eternal Witness” and victory will be inevitable.

Plus, there’s also just a certain lameness in this strategy. What does playing this deck give you that you don’t get from playing Mono-Blue Control? Card advantage via recursion, perhaps, but mono-Blue will fill its hand up with gas to a similar degree if it can keep a Thieving Magpie on the table. Tutors, sure, but none of your tutor targets will put the fear of God into an opponent holding such commonly-seen cards as Death Cloud, Arc-Slogger, or Troll Ascetic. The fact is, when compared to almost every other control strategy in the format, this deck seems slow and underpowered while still suffering splash damage on Boil.

Possible Improvements: If you want to run the above list as is, I would recommend four Cranial Extractions in the board, as your last best hope against Tooth. If you want to make a serious change to this deck, you’re gonna have to go places that even a Crazy Subway Guy might hesitate to tread.

For example, I did consider cutting Salvagers and Trinket Mage altogether and using the combo {Artificer’s Intuition + Myr Servitor} as the Tutor engine, while going up to three or four Stylus for Servitor recursion. Unfortunately, every list I tried seemed like a complete pile, lacking either countermagic, or non-artifact card drawing, or win conditions. If some brave soul out there wants to give it a shot, I wish you all the luck in the world.


Witnesses Up, Ho’s Down

With those two decks underperforming in a major way, I finally wised up and did the thing I should have started out with: I pulled the Forests out of my land box. You wanna play five colors, it’s best not to fight the power. A round of testing with fellow SCG Featured Writer John Matthew Upton had given me an idea:

4 Sakura-Tribe Elder

4 Kodama’s Reach

4 Darksteel Ingot

4 Solemn Simulacrum

3 Honden of Seeing Winds

2 Honden of Infinite Rage

1 Honden of Cleansing Fire

1 Honden of Life’s Web

4 Eternal Witness

4 Gifts Ungiven

3 Cranial Extraction

2 Obliterate

10 Forest

5 Island

4 Mountain

3 Swamp

2 Plains

The Idea: John Matthew tells me he’ll be revealing his Obliterate deck to you pretty soon. During our testing I suggested to him that he could try adding more Hondens as an alternate to March of the Machines, and from there I went to this build. Both of our decks have the same scheme: resolve Obliterate with useful enchantments on board. However, he tries to play more of a control game with Blue countermagic, whilst I am simply packing my deck chock full of land acceleration and trying to play Obliterate as quickly as possible.

The Gifts Ungiven are tech from reigning Maryland State Champion Sean Vandover. His own pet deck has been changing so rapidly over the past week that I couldn’t give you a list even if I had his permission (which I don’t), but the enduring constant across those lists is Gifts Ungiven. I’m sure someone will turn up in the forums recommending a lone copy of Revive, which does work well with Gifts, but trust me – having seen Sean play Gifts over the past few weeks, I’m sure that if you know your deck well and have a good read of your opponent, Gifts by itself is enough.

The Good News: You have inevitability in many matchups; if Time Stop and Darksteel Colossus were not in the format, you would have inevitability in all of them. The only creature that you can’t beat with a good acceleration draw and an Obliterate is Darksteel Colossus (well, okay, Darksteel Gargoyle, hard-cast Myojin, and Konda also, but who plays them?). This deck was running almost 50% against Mono Blue Control for this reason; the Blue deck can counter a lot of spells early, but unless it has a really absurd draw it eventually will have to tap low for Thieving Magpie or some other threat, and allow the five-color deck to resolve some key spells.

Red decks are more annoying; there’s always the risk that you will encounter a turn 1 Slith, turn 2 Arc-Slogger draw. But you do have plenty of guys that can block a Slith, and you have so much mana acceleration that a Stone Rain or two is not going to completely wreck you. Again, the long game is on your side; all you have to do is get there. Engineered Explosives in the sideboard would help out a lot with that.

The Bad News: Just as with every other list in this article, you’re pretty much a punk to the Sundering Titan + Kiki-Jiki combo. In fact, the Tooth and Nail aficionados out there may wonder why in the hell I am writing this article, since the deck that you believe to be the best in the format can completely blow out most of the decks I am listing. The answer is simple: I hardly ever see T&N locally. Although it did well at French Regionals, most of the players whose opinions I respect on Constructed don’t think much of it. So, while I acknowledge Tooth as a possible opponent, I’m willing to accept an unfavorable matchup there if I can turn things around in the matchups I do fear, like Mono-U and Big Red. You’ve gotta live dangerously if you want to be a Crazy Subway Guy.

Another real problem is that you have precious few answers for certain problem spells across the table. Spells like Cranial Extraction, Death Cloud, Mindslaver… all are very, very hard to answer. You run Extraction yourself to try and deal – originally those slots were intended to be the Black Honden – but obviously it will be hard to resolve it every time you need it.

In fact, we can extend those specific cases to say generally that the deck just isn’t interactive enough to deal with the format. I only played a few games against White Weenie, but the pattern was very clear: either the rainbow deck would get an explosive mana draw, or it would lose, because it does not have nearly enough ways to stop a group of Jitte-empowered flying mammals.

Possible Improvements: Engineered Explosives in the maindeck might be needed, just to deal with troublesome Jittes and Sliths. The fourth Cranial Extraction is an option (you’d probably want to up the Black count in the mana base if you did that). Beyond that, you’ll just have to wait for John Matthew’s article to see other ways to Obliterate stuff.

Super Duper Bonus Deck!

I wanted to take one of these decks to Dreamwizards for a spin, but they were not testing so great against the field that I was expecting there, so I had to resort to another option:

4 Birds of Paradise

4 Sakura-Tribe Elder

4 Humble Budoka

4 Troll Ascetic

4 Viridian Zealot

4 Eternal Witness

3 Thieving Magpie

4 Echoing Truth

3 Condescend

3 Sword of Fire and Ice

14 Forest

9 Island


3 Ninja of the Deep Hours

4 Viridian Shaman

4 Engineered Explosives

4 Plow Under

So, I guess not every deck in this article will be four colors or more (although people have suggested that I run Cranial Extraction and Worship in this sideboard). This deck is inspired by the Green/Blue Beats deck that made Top 8 at the Mid-Pyrennees Regionals in France, although I upped the count of untargetable guys so as to further frustrate the Vedalken Shackles-playing scum.

Please, spare me the jokes about running Humble Budoka together with Sword of Fire and Ice; I’ve heard ’em all before. In reality, I wanted to cut both parts of that anti-combo at some time or another. The Budokas almost went out for Isao, Enlightened Bushi or Genju of the Cedars, but the problem with both of those cards is that they are still is vulnerable to Vedalken Shackles, which the Budoka is not. Later I wanted to eliminate the Swords and replace them with Plow Under or Cranial Extraction, but I had The Fear. I just didn’t see how I could beat certain cards if they resolved, like Arc-Slogger or Meloku, unless I had Sword of Fire and Ice equipped to a guy.

This deck does really well against mono-Blue, mainly because it forces them to deal with you before they are ready. Any games where you get a turn 2 Ascetic will of course be a tremendous beating, but even a turn 2 Budoka will threaten to get in a very healthy amount of damage unless they are willing to play Thieving Magpie without counter backup. Most other decks can’t keep pressure on Mono-U in the same way, because as soon as the Blue deck resolves Shackles, creature combat becomes difficult. This deck does not have that problem.

Of course, by gaining that equity against mono-Blue you lose some against other decks. Tooth and Nail (again!) is a problem, as you have a hard time racing their nut draws, but Plow Under helps a lot in post-board games. B/G Death Cloud decks are trouble, particularly if they are able to play Cranial Extraction on your Trolls. If you are expecting lots and lots of Islands at the tournaments you are playing in, however, this deck is a fine choice. In fact, in a recent tournament at Dreamwizards, the deck went 3-1, beating a U/B Ninja build, crushing a Mono-U despite maindeck Bribery, and narrowly defeating a Mono Green beats deck on the strength of the formula {Witnesses + Echoing Truth = Blockers + Card Advantage}.

Ironically, the only loss was to a Five-Color Green deck designed to put the White Bringer + Mindslaver lock into play. I do not have that full decklist, and even if I did I do not have permission to post it here, but trust me when I say that deck is radically different than the Bringer build I led the article off with. So take heart: even though not all of the lists in this article may work, the “rainbow/sunburst/domain/whatever you want to call it” plan may yet shake things up at the Last Chance Qualifiers for Philadelphia.

Until next time, here’s hoping you can become a card game pro, like I did recently. (Well, okay, I took fourth place out of 12 people at a VS System Pro Circuit Qualifier two weeks back, which earned me 2 Pro Circuit Credits. You need 10 credits to actually play in a Pro Circuit tournament. Us Crazy Subway Guys love to exaggerate our accomplishments.)

This article written while listening to The Specials’ “Singles Collection.”

mm underscore young at yahoo dot com