See, now here’s the problem. After writing”My Penance,” I feel a bit obligated to stay within a specific style. I had intended to use StarCity as a forum for writing more personal articles – but now if I do that, I may look like a hypocrite. So just for the record, I reserve the right to be a hypocrite. On the other hand, you reserve the right to hit the back button.
When I do write articles for StarCity in the future, they may contain some personal stories, or strategy, or most likely a little bit of both. Certain articles don’t really belong on Sideboard or Magicthegathering.com, because I try to act as a journalist, which I feel is most appropriate for my position with those websites. Every now and then, I may have a deck idea, or a funny story to tell from being on the road, or a tournament report. This is where it will show up.
Which brings me to the joys of finals. For most college students, it’s pretty harsh as is. You need to memorize a ton of useless information in multiple subjects, while writing final papers. Want to know what makes it even worse? When you fly out to Nice to cover a Pro Tour right before finals. I had told the Sideboard I would not be available for most Pro Tours during the school year – but when the offer came my way, I just couldn’t say no. Besides, I had never been to Europe before, and it was certainly an exciting opportunity. The only obstacle in my way was getting two weeks of work done in one week, so that I could fly out to Nice and spend the week concentrating on the coverage. I spent most of the previous weekend writing two papers, and decided to write my final English paper Monday morning. My flight was Tuesday night, so I would be able to drop off the paper in class during the morning, and head off to the Pro Tour with everything taken care of.
Here’s where things got a bit tricky. I just bought a new laptop, and I’ve been using it as my main computer. I received a Trojan virus on Monday morning, and like an idiot, I ran the .exe. A little while later I realized what happened, and spent the next five hours trying to get it out of my computer. I had a flight to catch in about 24 hours, and the laptop I planned to do work on was infected. By the time I cleared the virus off, it was 3 a.m. Fine, not a problem. I stayed up until 6 a.m. writing my final English paper, and while it was a bit taxing, I was able to go to sleep happy with the knowledge that all my work was done.
I got four hours of sleep, headed off to class… And found out I had actually wrote the paper on the wrong thing. Oops. I told my professor I would email it to him from France, and spent the whole flight there writing it.
So I arrive in France in the morning, a bit messed up from the lag combined with my double all-nighter. No, I did not sleep at all on the plane. Regardless, I was very excited during the taxi ride to the hotel, looking at the houses and streets in Europe for the first time. As a guy who comes from New York, the sight of houses on hills and their very different architecture was absolutely breathtaking. I arrive with Randy Buehler, Aaron Forsythe, Mark Rosewater, and Thomas Pannell, and hear”Meet back down here in thirty minutes.” I had a whole day to kill, so I showed up not certain what the plan was. The other four guys were debating whether to go to Monte Carlo, or walk around the streets of Nice. Their vote was locked at 2-2, leaving the decision to me. I didn’t really know the difference, told them I didn’t care, and flipped a coin for it. The fates decided we would hop on a train and head to Monte Carlo.
I’ll spare you all the elaborate details, but I will say that Monte Carlo is incredible. It’s the second smallest country in the world, and it’s inhabited by many people who have more money than I will ever see in my time on this planet. Everything is very expensive, and service is expected. Aaron Forsythe and I walked around for about an hour, and bumped into a Haagen-Dazs. We began to order, and we were told to sit down if we wanted to eat there. So, we sit down, and there’s a menu on a table. A waitress comes over to take our order. For ice cream. A guy from Queens and a guy from Pittsburgh are ordering ice cream at a table, from a menu, to a waitress. Unreal.
The part of Monte Carlo that really blew me away was the docks. There were a ton of expensive boats, one of which even had a helicopter on top of it. The ocean extended as far as I could see, and houses were built upon mountains that faded into the mist in the sky.
Anyway, here comes the relevant part of the story. On the way back, our group’s discussion turned to Battle of Wits. Now, you have to understand that I was the odd man out here; the other four guys all work for Wizards full time, while I’m just a freelancer. I’m the guy on the outside, so these peeks into what goes on inside Wizards are always intriguing. Plus, I remember being in middle school and reading Rosewater’s column in the old Duelist, where he would hint at which cards would be in the new set. I’d flip to his column first, read a preview, and get really excited.”Holy crap, a 12/12 for one mana in Mirage? That thing is gonna be insane!” If you had told that kid that six years later he’d be walking around Monte Carlo with Mr. Rosewater and that Buehler guy who just won a Pro Tour, he’d tell you that you were insane.
Point A is definitely a long, long way from Point B.
Anyway, Randy says to me something along the lines of,”You have no idea how happy we were when you won that tournament with Battle of Wits. When we made the card we were like, ‘This is a card that won’t look like much, but someone, somewhere will win a tournament with it. It will look cool, other people will try it and lose, and that’ll be about it.'” I was flattered that something I did fulfilled a R&D prophecy, and put the discussion in the back of my mind somewhere.
Now that exchange has come back to me. Why? For starters, Baby Huey made Top 8 of a Grand Prix with Battle of Wits. He was the only person to play the deck, and was successful. What that says can be open to interpretation; however, the issue that really intrigues me is Battle of Wits in the new Extended. Simply stated, it has potential to be Tier 1, and perhaps even the best deck in the format. Here are a few reasons why:
- Academy Rector
- Enlightened Tutor
- Mystical Tutor
- Vampiric Tutor
- Insidious Dreams
- Diabolic Tutor
- Death Wish
- Golden Wish
I think that a blue/black/white version of the deck is most efficient, but for argument’s sake there are a few more options as well:
Looking at that first list of tutors, we’ve got nine to work with. I’m not so sure I like Golden Wish because it’s a bit expensive, but I’ll leave it in the math for now. As a warning, I’m pretty bad with math – so for all you statistical theory guys who want to shoot holes through my calculations, go right ahead. I’m just working with good old common sense.
9 tutors x 4 copies = 36 ways to get Battle of Wits.
Now, add three copies of Battle itself, and you get 39.
244 divided by 39 = 6.25
So through these pretty rough numbers, we can say that one in every 6.25 cards should allow you to get Battle of Wits. Granted, it’s not quite so straightforward: Mystical Tutor needs to go get another tutor, and Academy Rector requires a trip to the graveyard. Still, you get my point. In my Standard version of Battle of Wits, I have a total of sixteen Tutors and Battles, and that number is more than doubled in Extended. When you have sixteen ways to get”I win,” the deck is just a control deck with an unfair win condition. However, increase that tutor count by more than half, and now you’ve got a combo deck on your hands. Replace some control elements with efficiency, search, and speed, and now you can tune the deck to get”I win” into play as fast as possible.
So for speed, you can choose from the following:
Here’s the really scary part. With all that tutoring capability, the deck should be able to annihilate narrow strategies very easily. Against aggro decks, you can tutor up your silver bullet Crumbling Sanctuary, and that’s the game. Other options are of course available, but the metagame is fairly new. Just keep in mind that if there’s a deck that loses to one specific card you can run it, tutor it up without a problem, and you’ve got the game won. This is one of the major advantages of playing a large deck. For example, in a sixty-card deck, it wouldn’t make sense to run five narrow silver bullet cards. In a 240+ deck, those cards will rarely come up, and you can grab them at will. Not a bad deal at all.
Besides using silver bullets as one-ofs, the deck can also tutor for cards that will only be good in a specific situation, such as Wrath of God, Capsize, or Upheaval. True, Upheaval/Psychatog is pretty broken – but Upheaval, Mind Stone, Diamond, Diamond isn’t too bad either. If things go wrong, the deck will almost certainly use Morphling as an alternate kill. You can do other cute things like splash green for Oath of Druids, and Oath up Terravore, Cognivore, or Psychatog. Needless to say, some of your options are very complex.
Perhaps the most complex part of the deck is the Wishes. I haven’t quite figured out the most efficient way to use the mechanic with the tutors. For example, there is the matter of”chaining” tutors with Wishes. Perhaps there is a card in my sideboard, but not in my deck that I want to get. Will I tutor for a wish? Maybe I should put one tutor like Insidious Dreams in my sideboard, so I can Wish for it when I don’t have a tutor? When you consider these issues, building an optimal sideboard and maindeck that works well with the wish and tutor mechanics is very difficult. The main goal is to build the deck to the point that you can efficiently get whatever card you want, whenever you want it.
Here’s a very, very rough decklist. I’m certain I’m missing a ton of relevant cards, and I haven’t even bothered with the sideboard or the land count yet.
4 Academy Rector
4 Enlightened Tutor
4 Mystical Tutor
4 Vampiric Tutor
4 Insidious Dreams
4 Diabolic Tutor
4 Tainted Pact
4 Death Wish
4 Grim Monolith
4 Dromar’s Charm
4 Power Sink
4 Fact or Fiction
1 Wrath of God
4 Seal of Cleansing
4 Sky Diamond
4 Marble Diamond
4 Innocent Blood
4 Diabolic Edict
4 Chainer’s Edict
3 Battle of Wits
1 Crumbling Sanctuary
1 Mana Short
4 Deep Analysis
4 Powder Keg
4 Sleight of Hand
Hopefully, the ideas I’ve presented here can help you figure out the best way to build it yourself. The bottom line is that Battle of Wits has potential to be very dangerous in the new Extended. If people start playing it at PTQs and even the Pro Tour, the card will either need to be banned, or a cap will be placed on deck size. I don’t think judges want to deal with multiple people playing large decks at every tournament, because of the headaches it creates. It will be a few more months before the Extended changes take place, but I just wanted to put this idea out there for people to think about.
Once Onslaught is released and Extended becomes more relevant, I will certainly playtest the deck quite a bit. I encourage you to do the same, and at least respect the level of power the deck will have in this new format. If you don’t, you may find yourself on the other side of the table and the best 3UU kill card in Magic.
And no, I’m not talking about Morphling.