The Beautiful Struggle: Weird Science for CCB Draft

Funny things start happening after you get a few drafts under your belt with a new set. New avenues seem available. It’s easy to convince yourself that you are privy to the real tech, that some cards which everyone else thinks are crap are super-playable, and other heavily-hyped cards seem not so good. It’s too early to say whether every strange draft idea I have seen in the CCB format will prove itself worthy. But there are a couple of decks that I have drafted, or seen drafted, that really fascinate me and have proven to be at least playable if not good. This article is dedicated to those new draft ideas including one I like to call… Ninjank!

Funny things start happening after you get a few drafts under your belt with a new set. New avenues seem available. It’s easy to convince yourself that you are privy to the real tech, that some cards which everyone else thinks are crap are super-playable, and other heavily-hyped cards seem not so good.

Sometimes this turns out for good; witness the birth of the Dampen Thought deck a couple of months after Champions of Kamigawa became available. Sometimes it doesn’t work out so well; my Limited rating is still recovering from the first few times I tried to draft Sunburst.dec after the release of Fifth Dawn.

It’s too early to say whether every strange draft idea I have seen in the CCB format will prove itself worthy. But there are a couple of decks that I have drafted, or seen drafted, that really fascinate me and have proven to be at least playable if not good. This article is dedicated to those new draft ideas.

Let me warn you now: the strategies behind these decks are still evolving. If you decide to draft them, you have to be willing to be inventive, take some risks, think outside the box, yadda yadda yadda insert lame corporate slogan here. If the packs don’t cooperate or things go wrong, you also could simply come off looking like a giant scrub with a crap deck. If you want to draft solid decks, just read Tim Aten and ignore the stories where he tries to assemble Kaldra or play Genju of the Realm or whatever. Now that the disclaimer is out of the way…


Everyone understands that shadow warriors are really cooooooool, but there’s an issue with the ninjutsu mechanic: ninjas are not great for your tempo. You spend X mana on a guy, spend a little more mana on tricks or extra men to make sure the guy gets through, then replace the guy with your ninja for a little more mana. Unless the ninja in question was Throat-Slitter or Ink-Eyes, however, you gained absolutely no board position in so doing. Sometimes the card advantage from Okiba-Gang Shinobi or Ninja of the Deep Hours will make up for that, and sometimes it won’t.

So how do you get around that? Well, one sure-fire way is to make X as small as possible. If you’re replacing a lame one-drop with a ninja, that’s some lost tempo, but it’s not so bad since the little guy you picked up wasn’t deciding the game anyway. Thus was born the U/W Junk Ninja deck.

Drafting the deck

Your whole plan turns upon an odd paradox – Devoted Retainer is good because he is bad. When you lead with turn 1 Retainer, your opponents most likely can’t trade their one-drop for him and won’t want to trade their two-(or higher) drops for him. Thus, when you start swinging with Retainer on turn 2, he’s probably getting through, which enables the common Blue ninjas that you are planning to first-pick in the Betrayers pack.

Sounds simple, right? The hard part is, it takes an extreme amount of discipline to make the picks that give a good version of this deck. Sometimes you will see packs where, if you intend to draft this deck, you’ll have to first- or second-pick Devoted Retainer. If I were drafting this strategy, I would probably ship Oyobi Who Split the Heavens in order to get a Mistblade Shinobi, which is a good way to drive one’s teammates to the loony bin.

The common Blue ninjas are huge in this deck. Really huge. They are the straw that stirs your drink, the grease for your engine, the bran muffin that keeps your deck regular. You first-pick them over a bunch of cards that are regarded as “better.” You pick Split-Tail Miko over ninjas, because he discourages blocking almost as well as Kabuto Moth does. You’ll usually have enough spirits and arcanes to take Waxmane Baku over ninjas, but sometimes not. But for this deck, every other common in Betrayers is inferior to the pajama-wearing tricksters.

Ninja Hounds of Konda

What Does The Deck Look Like?

I had a really great list that an opponent 3-0’ed my team with in a recent team-draft. It had both Mistblade Shinobi and Ninja of the Deep Hours, which were enabled by a group of amazing men including double Devoted Retainer, double Isamaru, Hound of Konda (he opened one, and I passed him one – d’oh!) and also double Kabuto Moth.

But, I mean, come on. You’re not going to learn too much from a deck that mised double Isamaru and double Moth. Plus, I lost my notes from that evening. So instead I’d like to offer up a mediocre deck from a 3-on-3 team draft that I did a couple weeks later. My notes from that evening indicate that I was running…

1 Kitsune Diviner

1 Kami of False Hope

1 Ninja of Deep Hours

1 Kami of Ancient Law

1 Soratami Cloudskater

1 Kitsune Blademaster

2 River Kaijin

1 Kabuto Moth

1 Indebted Samurai

1 Soratami Mindsweeper (was usually boarded out for a Mystic Restraints)

1 Hundred-Talon Kami

1 Innocence Kami

1 Patron of the Kitsune

1 Hundred-Talon Strike

2 Psychic Puppetry

2 Consuming Vortex

1 Reach Through Mists

2 Indomitable Will

1 Toils of Night and Day

The die was cast from the very first pick, where I took Kabuto Moth over Teller of Tales with the idea of “hooking” the guy on my left in Blue (for those of you who don’t team-draft, that means I will give him one good Blue card, and then move into Blue myself, cutting him off for the remainder of the draft). However, neither I nor any of my teammates saw any Devoted Retainers or Lantern Kamis in the draft, which caused some trouble for me. Had I not picked up the Patron in pack 3, things could have gotten very ugly.

As it was, I went 1-1 in matches, and was 1-1 in games of the third match when the draft was decided by one of my teammates’ losses. That record seems very appropriate for this highly mediocre deck. My one-drops are super-lame, and double River Kaijin is not what you want to have in a deck designed for attacking. I seriously considered cutting the Kaijins for a pair of Wandering Ones, just so I could get some attacks in, on turn 2, before my teammates intervened on the side of sanity. If those two Kaijins were instead Devoted Retainers, this deck could have been highly busted.

Key Strategic Points

Having talked down the above decklist, I should now point out that it was very impressive in the games it won. Tricks such as Puppetry and Vortex, in concert with Innocence Kami and Kitsune Diviner, made it virtually guaranteed that I was getting in there for 3-4 damage and an extra card each turn. All you need is about 2-3 turns of that in a row, and the opponent’s life total will be too low for him to take the initiative back from you.

Generally, these decks want to avoid creature trades in the early turns. You’d prefer that every one of your opponent’s first drops is either afraid to block, or gone to waste as a result of your combat tricks. With the extra cards you will be drawing from Ninja of the Deep Hours, or the extra tempo you are buying with Mistblade Shinobi, the pressure to keep drawing and playing men should be on the opponent, not on you.

Underrated Cards

Well, Devoted Retainer, obviously, although among pro-caliber players I doubt he counts as underrated anymore. Lantern Kami is also good, as a Retainer surrogate. Phantom Wings is very hot in this deck, either to bounce an opposing man or to give your ninjas evasion. [See, Mark gets it. – Knut, who mentioned Krouner undervaluing WingDings yesterday] Finally, you want to take Hisoka’s Defiance fairly high, because…


…some popular Spirits and Arcane cards are bad news for you. A deck that can put down Moss Kami before turn 6 on a regular basis, or a deck that can splice the hell out of a Glacial Ray, could both get you in serious trouble. Nezumi Cutthroat and other fear creatures can wreck those mediocre versions of this deck where your ninjas, like the police, are rarely around when you need them.

When Drafting the Deck, Remember

This deck, more than any other I have ever seen, is based upon drafting cards that work well together. You make up your mind to draft it very early, and you don’t deviate, even if it means passing absurd bombs. If I were using this strategy, the only bomb that I would defensively draft in an 8-man would be Kumano, Flaming Yamabushi. In a team draft, the list of cards I would cut from the other team gets a little longer – Dragon Spirits and Ink-Eyes and such – but in the end your teammates will have to recognize that you will be shipping your neighbors some hot stuff.

Also remember that the deck usually wants 16-17 lands and a curve that tops out at four. Sometimes Kami of the Painted Road is okay in this deck, and if Innocence Kami or Teller of Tales fall into your lap, you’ll probably want to play them, derf. However, in most decks of this type the only five-plus-drops you want to be running are named Meloku, Hikari and Keiga.

Through the Ire

When you think a card is not so good, you often don’t learn the nuances of playing it for a while. The next deck comes from a good example: it wasn’t until after almost two weeks of using Ire of Kaminari as lame creature removal that I realized it can go to the opponent’s face! Once that occurred to me, it was only a matter of time before I saw Ire of Kaminari used as the lone win condition in an arcane deck, a la Dampen Thought.

In between the time I started this article and the time I sent it to Ted, the cat has kind of been let out of the bag on Ire. However, some of you still may not have heard about it, so let me explain the plan: simply stall with your tap and bounce effects, hoping to get a little damage in with burn spells or fliers. Eventually, all of that “Peer Through Depths splicing Puppetry” will send enough Arcane cards into the bin that Ire of Kaminari will be your own personal Urza’s Rage with kicker.

Drafting the Deck

The idea is similar to Dampen Thought – you want a ton of arcane spells to stall with until you can unload your kill card. However, the fact that you will need Red to cast the Ire adds some new wrinkles, depending upon the cards that you see during the draft.

If you see a lot of good U/R creatures, you may want to go for an aggressive build with fliers to whittle the opponent down, some arcane spells to stall the counterattack, and intending to kill with an Ire for 6 or so. Or, if you receive a lot of Ethereal Haze and Candles’ Glow, the deck could be a defensive Dampen-ish U/W that splashes a few mountains to finish with a couple of Ires for about 10 each.

What Does The Deck Look Like?

The first time I saw this drafted, it was by a teammate of mine in a different team draft…

Ire of Kaminari

Yamabushi’s Flame

Hanabi Blast

Glacial Ray

Torrent of Stone

First Volley

2 Consuming Vortex

4 Psychic Puppetry

Petals of Insight

3 Shimmering Glasskite

5-6 of some combination of Reach Through Mists and Peer Through Depths

…I don’t remember all the cards he had, but the filler were not very hot – Counsel of the Soratami or something. He was originally trying to draft Dampen Thought, but things changed going into pack 2, when he had crappy white cards and no Dampens, and he opened Ray and got a third-pick Hanabi Blast.

On the one hand, he was very fortunate to get the hook-up in Blue commons; Psychic Puppetry may not be a first-pick, but it’s still not easy to get four of them. On the other hand, he had only one each of Ire and Ray and no Eerie Procession to tutor them up. The deck ended up losing a very close match 2-1, said match taking so long that the draft was decided by the time it ended.

Key Strategic Points

Here’s what you gain instead of drafting Dampen Thought:

(a) Ire is an ill-regarded common for now, so it’s easier than Dampen to obtain;

(b) it’s less vulnerable to discard hate (Distress, Psychic Spear, Honden of Night’s Reach, etc) than Dampen decks are, since you can just randomly mise an Ire in the late game and kill the opponent on the spot;

(c) If you draft a mixture of creatures and splice cards, and then audible into this deck, the creatures are a better fit here than in a Dampen deck, because this deck is designed to win via damage.

Mmmm, tappisplicigoodness

Underrated Cards

Toils of Night and Day is hot. In a defensive deck, it’s almost a Fog even if you don’t get to splice anything onto it; in an aggressive deck it changes damage math out of nowhere (which is especially important here, since you are trying to win with an instant-speed Searing Flesh). The play “Toils splicing Psychic Puppetry” makes me feel all funny, like when I used to climb the rope back in gym class.

Like all splice decks, this one is very mana-hungry, and so Desperate Ritual is not terrible. Obviously, you’d prefer to be playing a card that affects the board, but Ritual is equally cheap to cast and splice, and it’s cool to surprise the opponent when they don’t think you have nearly enough mana to start a long string of spliciness.

I’ve overheard stories about Arcane decks using Stream of Consciousness to deck the opponent if the primary plan of Ire or Dampen doesn’t work out. In fact, if you have two copies of Stream, you’ll never run out of cards, ever. I’m sure these stories were exaggerated or just flat-out lies, and I would never try it myself, but hey, Stream is arcane and cheap so I’ll just mention it for giggles. That’s the kind of tech you see when the word “weird” is in the article title, folks.


It’s almost impossible for one Ire to deal 20 by itself, so if you get only one and few other damage sources, you could be completely screwed. Minamo’s Meddling and Quash in the format, and there are few things in Magic so annoying as losing a Limited game to awful countermagic.

The deck is even harder to play than Dampen, as you usually face more decisions as to what order your spells should be cast and spliced. It’s also difficult to draft, because in many cases you are drafting it “backwards” – you make early picks as though you will receive A, B, and C in the Betrayers pack, when of course there’s no guarantee that you’ll even get A.

When Drafting the Deck, Remember

Don’t overdo it on creatures. Depending upon your deck plan, a few Soratami fellows and Shimmering Glasskites are fine, and/or it might be nice to have a wall or two for defense. But every man you add is one less potential point of damage on your Ires, so during deck construction you need to be thinking about how much damage you expect your Ires to do.

Until next time, here’s hoping you can 3-0 a draft with a weird deck.

This article written while listening to The Slackers’ “Close My Eyes.”

mm underscore young at yahoo dot com