The Kitchen Table #143: Casual Eye for the Competitive Guy

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Many of the tournament-worthy decks we see to day would be crucified in a casual or multiplayer environment. They are too focused on one goal, or one opponent. Today, Abe takes a look at some of the more powerful decks in Standard, and adapts them for the casual scene. Wanna beat down like the pros? Then this is the article for you…

If you like compelling games and Magic, then you’ll be interested in this forum game I created based on a few Magic: the Gathering cards from Guildpact. It’s loosely based on the game Mafia, played by many as a party game. It just started a few days ago, and you can follow along if you’d like. One caveat – this is my very loose, very liberal interpretation of the world of Ravnica. I’ve not read the source material beyond the card, nor do I want too. This is just my own thing. I have a few players… you may enjoy reading it and following it until it ends. You can come join the fun here.

A few days ago I was speaking online with a few people, and one person mentioned that they missed the old deck doctor articles. “Wouldn’t it be great,” he said, “If there was a casual writer who occasionally helped out casual decks?” I’m fairly confident he was hinting at me.

Is this something that you folks would like to see? You could send in decklists, and every so often I’d do a Deck Clinic article, smoothing them out, trimming the fat, and turning them into nice casual decks. If this is feature you are interested in, then let me know in the forums.

I am going to be honest. I haven’t done the next Underused Cards entry for two reasons, and one of those reasons you can help me with. The first reason is that it is tough writing. Previous articles in this series have taken three or four days to write, when a normal article takes me one.

The second thing is something you can help me with. I haven’t been able to select thirty cards, five in each category. Feel free to e-mail me or post ideas in the forums, because I could really use the help. As a reminder, in order for a card to be underused, it has to not get the play it deserves in casual games. You can determine it, in part, through the card price in the secondary market.

Begin Mini-Rant

I have a bit of a mini-rant today, which The Ferrett indicates increases the casual readership. I just think it increases the number of posts an article gets, but what do I know? The Ferrett has been in this business longer than I by far.

So here’s my issue, and it’s around a fairly simple Coldsnap rare. Field Marshal.

Doesn’t this seem a bit wrong to anyone else? Casual gamers who like their lords (creatures who pump or otherwise affect a certain creature type in a positive way) already have tons of soldier enablers. All Field Marshal does is give soldiers +1/+1 and first strike.

I find this to be a very poor card in several ways. First of all, we already have soldier lords in print (see Daru Warchief, for one). Second, if they are going to print a soldier enabler, at least make it something interesting. Darien, King of Kjeldor is a soldier enabler, but he does something interesting. That’s new. Lovisa Coldeyes is just a generic lord, but she pumps three creature types, which is unusual and awesome. And two of those types have never had a lord before, so that is also new.

I have neither a problem with Lovisa nor Darien, but the Field Marshal is so overwhelmingly “been there, done that” that I almost want to hurl the card away from me in anger. I was never upset at printing One with Nothing, but I am with Field Marshal.

I am cognizant of the fact that some players like tribal decks, and they don’t mind Field Marshal at all. Remember, my first issue with the card isn’t that they printed a soldier enabler per se, but that they printed such a repetitive one as this.

My second issue, however, does take a crack at the idea of printing another soldier enabler. There are six mono-White rares in Coldsnap. Just six. Now, if they decide to toss in a tribal rare as one of those six, I have no problem with that. However, they printed two soldier enablers in Darien and Field Marshal. That’s one third of the White rares that enable the same theme deck.

Darien is clever enough to be used outside the tribal soldier deck, but the Field Marshal will never be. Mark Rosewater pointed out in an article that Coldsnap needed to have as many commons as possible in order to be draft-friendly. That means they cut down on the number of rares each color received. With just six spots available, Field Marshal is a bad choice to print. If it needed to be printed, you could easily have done so in a later set, where the room wasn’t tight. Instead, it got printed here.

With just six cards, here is what we already have in White – your obligatory Angel, another Wrath variant, one soldier enabler, a bad rare (Woolly Razorback) which resembles Elder Land Wurm, and a card on theme for the set (Cover of Winter).

Now, with five spaces taken already, what made them say, “What we really need is another soldier enabler!” Sometimes, you do not need more cowbell.

Imagine if they had printed, in that six slot, another Elder Land Wurm variant. Wouldn’t you think it was silly of them to print two Elder Land Wurm variants in the same set? No matter how much a few players may like Elder Land Wurms, there’s no need to print two of them, right?

I feel the same way with Field Marshal. We could have had a whole host of interesting cards. Maybe another rare on-theme would fit. This is the only set dedicated to that theme, after all. I can think of ten cards in my head right now, on-theme for the set, that make more sense to print than Field Marshal, and I’m sure Wizards had dozens or hundreds more. Why choose two tribal enablers and a third of your rares? It seems like poor rare management to me.

End Mini-Rant

I came across this article idea while taking a bath. It’s simple, really. I am going to take some competitive decks that are winning tournaments right now and edit them to make them more casual friendly. I might even make a few of them cheaper along the way. If this article is something that you like, I can do it again, much like I do the occasional Bad Rares articles and so forth.

Selim Creiche’s French Championship Runner Up Deck

Obviously, I am going to begin with the recent France National Championships, where Selim Creiche wound up in second place. Why am I not taking the first place deck by Sylvain Lauriol? Sylvain had a basic White Weenie deck that’s already playable in casual. Selim’s deck, on the other hand, needs some serious work.

Taking a look at this deck, we see a very sorcery-focused deck packing a quartet of Magnivores as its only threat, with a few Pyroclasms and Wildfires as sweeping removal.

If you take this deck to casual night at the kitchen table, you are going to get pounded. Here’s why.

  • There’s only seven land destruction spells. That’s barely enough to annoy someone.
  • You only have four creatures, and you won’t draw a couple of those, so a simple removal spell like Swords to Plowshares or Terminate or Rend Flesh is going to ruin your day.
  • You only have four cards that counter a spell to protect yourself, and none of those is a hard counter.
  • Your sweeping removal will ignore a lot of creatures. Some, like Dawn Elemental, will survive because they have protection. Others, like Silklash Spider, are just too big.
  • You only have four bounce spells, which isn’t enough to do more than irritate.

The basic problem with this deck in casual is that it is too focused on winning a metagame that does not exist in casual/multiplayer Magic. You’d regularly lose in a casual duel with this deck, but you’d always lose in multiplayer. The deck is not focused on anything in particular – four counters, seven land destruction spells, four bounce spells, four creatures, and so forth. As a result, this deck loses any power it had in dueling in a particular metagame.

What we need to do is choose a couple of elements of the deck and focus on those. Then build the rest of the deck around that.

The easy thing to focus on is the Wildfire element. You could easily play a Blue/Red Wildfire deck with Magnivores. However, this deck has just three Wildfires and no Annex and/or Izzet Signets. This tells me that it is a deck that uses Wildfire, and not a Wildfire deck.

The real focus of this deck seems to be around sorceries. So let’s focus on that, shall we?

Magnivore is staying. It’s a great creature for a deck like this.

You need more creatures. What are creatures that work well with sorceries? We could play an Anarchist or Izzet Chronarch. Djinn Illuminatus fits, and survives a Wildfire if those make the cut. We could even use a Mischievous Quanar to fork spells.

There are, however, two creatures from Guildpact that work especially well with sorceries. Wee Dragonauts is an ideal choice for the deck. They fly, which gives them versatility, and you can easily pump them with sorceries.

The other creature is Gelectrode. Having a damage-dealing creature that is also able to tap and retap is highly useful.

Although I want to include Wee Dragonauts, if I run Gelectrode I can’t really justify Pyroclasm. For now, I’m going to toss in Wee Dragonauts, and sit on Gelectrode until the deck is more fully fleshed out.

4 Wee Dragonauts
4 Magnivore

After looking at some creatures, the next thing I want to do is find some sorceries. One sorcery that I think is missing is Recoup. With discard via Compulsive Research occurring, Recoup can be handy. Plus, it’s essentially a double Regrowth for most of your deck. Both of those are very handy abilities. It does make the Magnivore a tad smaller, but the benefits are tremendous. I could also run Bosium Strip as a way to reuse sorceries, but I’m sticking with Recoup for now.

4 Recoup

Every good deck should have card drawing, and the drawing in the previous version of the deck is quite good. For now, I’m going to skip the Sleight of Hand and concentrate on the Tidings and Compulsive Research.

2 Tidings
4 Compulsive Research

This deck doesn’t need any land destruction, so I’m going to skip that completely. It does, however, need regular removal. Lightning Bolt may be better, but Volcanic Hammer fits the theme of this deck very well.

4 Volcanic Hammer

We currently have 22 cards in the deck. I really feel like the deck needs more removal, but we have the PyroclasmGelectrode problem. The deck also needs more creatures. Let’s solve our problems in one stroke.

4 Flametongue Kavu
4 Gelectrode

Sure, the FTK doesn’t play well with sorceries, but the deck needs more threats, and the Kavu is perfect for that. It’s also ideal removal without clogging up the deck with more.

Now we only have a few slots left. There’s no need for countermagic, since it doesn’t meet the theme. We have a solid amount of removal, sixteen creatures of various types, and some solid card drawing options. With the Recoups in the deck, I feel comfortable with Eye of Nowhere, since we can reuse them as necessary.

The last thing the deck needs is a spot of artifact removal for emergencies. We could use Aftershock. Aftershock would not only be effective emergency artifact removal, it would also be emergency land or creature removal. However, I decide to lean into a card that can pop a lot of artifacts in one go, so you can clean up the board with it.

4 Eye of Nowhere
2 Shattering Spree

After that, we just need some mana. Since we aren’t running Wildfire, our mana needs are much simpler now.

4 Shivan Reef
9 Island
11 Mountain

Let’s put it all together:

Now we have a nice, smooth deck for casual gaming with an Izzet theme to it. This deck is cheaper than the previous version by a lot (note the missing Steam Vents, Wildfire, Oboro, Minamo, and a sideboard that included Meloku.) The only expensive card added was a Flametongue Kavu, and you can get those here for as little as a couple of bucks.

Well that was fun. Let’s do another!

Guillaume Matignon Top Eight French Championships Deck

Let’s stick with the French Championships and take a look at another deck that we need to modify in order to get it to work in casual. Here is his deck:

When you take a look at this deck, you see some interesting things. It’s obviously a Maga deck. Drift of Phantasms will transmute for Maga, as well as Early Harvest and Heartbeat of Spring.

Meanwhile, between countermagic and tutoring (Muddle the Mixture gets Weird Harvest and Remand) and the Tops, the deck’s draws become fairly reliant. Then the deck plays a Maga and wins. In case you are worried about counter decks, you use Gigadrowse to tap them out first.

Okay, the deck should work against one player regularly, but there are a few weaknesses once you open this deck up to a competitive casual metagame.

For example, if you use Weird Harvest to get your Sakura-Tribe Elders, which looks to be its only real purpose [well, that and for the fetching of uncounterable tutors… – Craig], then you open yourself up to problems. What if your opponent pulls a Platinum Angel from their deck? Platinum Angels get some serious play in casual circles, about on the level of Phage. You can expect to see Platinum Angels on a regular basis. What do you do about them? It looks like all you can do is to tap them. That’s not very effective.

Other cards are perfect foils to your deck. Ivory Mask, for example, shuts down Maga, and it gets some play in casual decks. So does True Believer. What about pitch counters, that can be played for nothing? Gigadrowse doesn’t shut down Foil, Thwart, or Force of Will.

What do you do about creatures that either get past your defenses (shadow, for example) or are bigger than your defenses (Akroma, for example)? This deck currently rolls to shadow or big creatures. You do not want to drop a Heartbeat on the third turn and then watch your opponent Heartbeat into an Akroma.

Lastly, what if someone pops your solitary Swamp? From Strip Mine to Stone Rain, there’s a lot of ways to destroy lands, and you don’t want your only source of Black mana to fall.

As a result, the deck would seem to misfire regularly in casual games. I expect it would still post a winning record in casual duals, because it is still a solid deck… it just has a lot of holes that can be exploited.

In multiplayer, the benefit of Maga is that he’ll stick around after you off one player. He can attack the survivors. However, the ability to Gigadrowse people is less likely; the ability for others to perpetually block the normal, non-elusive Maga is high; and countermagic is much more likely to be played against you.

A simple White Weenie deck, with True Believers and one pro-Black creature, is virtually unbeatable. Meanwhile, your deck’s Heartbeat of Spring allows not just one player, but multiple players to accelerate and develop quickly. And Weird Harvest is unplayable. You don’t want to get two Tribe Elders and watch as someone else gets two Academy Rectors, sacrifices them both to Claws of Gix, and searches for Pandemonium and Saproling Burst.

In order to build this deck for casual play, we’ll need to focus on card that will help the Maga idea without helping other players too much, and while being able to take on multiple players simultaneously.

The first thing to focus on is the Maga. We need more than one. In fact, I suggest a full set of four, especially for multiplayer. You need more to get around countermagic, Stifle, and multiple players. Therefore, we should run a full set:

4 Maga, Traitor to Mortals

For mana acceleration, I think we best leave the Heartbeat behind. It helps others too much for this deck to handle. I also don’t like Gigadrowse that much, because you can’t hit everybody. I do, however, like Piracy, which will work for both cases.

Piracy allows you to tap opponents’ lands for mana during your turn. You play it, and then you can lock down their lands a la Gigadrowse while also getting mana, a la Heartbeat. It works on every opponent, so its great for multiplayer. This deck needs Piracy.

4 Piracy

After that, the choices become more muddled. One option is to stick with Black/Blue, run acceleration in the form of Signets, Medallions, or maybe Cabal Coffers. Another is to keep the Green plan going with Kodama’s Reach and Sakura-Tribe Elders. Either way, I need to make a decision.

I decide to run straight Blue-Black in order to increase the cards needed to defend against opposing decks. The first thing I want to do is run a few hard counters:

4 Counterspell
4 Forbid

This will add some serious defense to the deck. Next I’m going to want a few more ways to generate mana, so I’m looking at:

4 Turnabout
4 Cabal Coffers

We don’t need Early Harvest when we have Coffers. The Coffers can be untapped by the Turnabout. You can also use Turnabout as a Gigadrowse and tap somebody’s lands or creatures.

In order to get the Coffers to work, I am, unfortunately, going to have to make this deck more expensive. I know, I know, I was hoping not to do it, but you know how it goes.

Now I want some defense.

4 Rend Flesh

This will keep down the occasional True Believer and Platinum Angel. You can counter Ivory Masks or just attack the Ivory Mask player with a large Maga.

I like the transmute idea of this deck, but with four Magas, I think we can relax that. Let’s toss in some card drawing.

4 Fact or Fiction

After that, I want a basic Demonic Tutor, as a “just in case” card.

1 Demonic Tutor

Another restricted card that would work wonders in that deck is the Mind Twist. It can pull countermagic or any other solutions to your problem from a person’s hand. Of course, that’s because it will pull the entire hand.

1 Mind Twist

Lastly, we have a lot of mana, so let’s use it.

2 Consume Spirit

Now we need lands, and here is where I’m going to up the cost. Cabal Coffers works best with Swamps, but we need a solid amount of Blue mana for our spells. There are, of course, two lands that will help us out.

4 Underground Sea
4 Watery Grave

Then it’s just a few basics to round out the deck.

10 Swamps
6 Islands

Now we have a new deck. If you have Mana Drain, by the way, run them instead of Forbid.

If you like the idea of this deck, but you don’t have the lands to make it work, the deck won’t be as explosive… but it will still work. You’ll probably want to drop the number of Coffers to two, though, and toss in a couple of extra Swamps.

You could also run artifact lands, cheap artifact mana, and Tolarian Academy, but that will quickly get you kicked in the face in multiplayer.

You could play Braingeyser or Stroke of Genius in lieu of a couple of cards. That would also give you an alternate kill mechanism besides the Consume Spirits and Magas.

Let’s take a look at the deck in its entirety.

Today’s article was about taking current competitive decks and turning them into more casual friendly decks. I hope you enjoyed the idea. Remember, if you like it, let me know in the forums so I can see if there is enough interest to do it again. Also, remember to let me know about the casual deck clinic idea too.

Thanks for reading through eleven pages of Word!

Until Later,
Abe Sargent