The Kitchen Table #157: The Casual Metagame #9

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Good day! Welcome back to the series that investigates Magic Taxonomy. In today’s entry in the series, I’d like to investigate how to maximize your own deck’s ability to respond to various decks in the Magic Deck Framework.

Good day! Welcome back to the series that investigates Magic Taxonomy. In today’s entry in the series, I’d like to investigate how to maximize your own deck’s ability to respond to various decks in the Magic Deck Framework.

In this series, I introduced a Framework of Magic Decks, divided into five Archetypes that are then subdivided into a number of Subtypes. I divided the Framework along some pretty classic lines, and then spent six additional articles investigating the various Archetypes and Subtypes in significant detail, including sample decks to illustrate the concepts.

In last week’s article, I began the analysis. Last week looked at how to identify an opposing deck. It then touched briefly on how to defeat a deck, once identified. However, the meat of that topic is not in game, but in deckbuilding.

Today, then, we’ll discuss deckbuilding in the context of The Casual Metagame. Before we get into that, however, I have a quick note about an unrelated thing.


For those of you who know me, it should come as no surprise that Magic is not my first love. It’s up there alright, and it has been my passion for years. However, another game has the claim to my throne. Want to know what it is?


When other guys were getting their geek on in high school playing Dungeons and Dragons, I really started in college. On the other hand, I was involved heavily in BattleTech for several years. Every Friday, after school, a few of us would head to a friend’s house, play BTech for hours, and then collapse on the floor and sleep the remainder of the night away.

I can’t even describe in words my excitement at finding that there was a free, java-based client out there that simulated BattleTech. The name of the game is MegaMek. You can find and download the game right here.

There are even online leagues where you can play against others. The one I am in is MegaMekNet. There’s also been a recent push by a small game company to re-brand and reprint the old BattleTech game, so that years after its supposed death, it is risen from the dead. That company is FanPro.

I’ll end this aside now, but if there are any other BattleTech fans out there who have converted to Magic, I want to give you the same info that has turned my life around in the last month.

Let us return to the normal article.

Deckbuilding for The Casual Metagame

One of the important points that I feel that I need to make up front is that some decks are already better able to handle the metagame. In the Casual Metagame, there are a horde of possible decks, including the 32 identified Subtypes and their decks.

Now, in tournament Magic, an odd phenomenon will develop. You’ll notice that decks will morph to be able to win against the top decks. Very specific cards will be played against these deck. Oxidize will be maindecked, or Char will get additional play because of its lethality to Meloku and so forth. When you expect to see a lot of Jittes, then you will play Jitte answers, often maindeck.

This warping of the natural environment occurs because there are only a few viable tournament level decks – at least, after you go 2-0 there are few archetypes left in the field. Although there may be tournaments or formats with a greater degree of variety (like States), formats usually become fairly predictable at the top, and decks will change to reflect this.

Incidentally, this is one of the things that many casual players point to when they reflect about tournament level Magic. Some casual players will claim that this uber-metagaming is unhealthy and certainly unnatural. Magic should just be played as is. I find it funny when some of those players play something like Silklash Spider because it blocks Akroma.

The casual metagame is wide open in comparison. There aren’t three to five top decks. There’re aren’t even three to five top Subtypes. The field is open. Although some Subtypes might be a little more cutthroat than others, they are all varied.

So, in order to be able to handle this added diversity, a deck tuned to the casual metagame needs to be able to handle a wide range of unknown threats. Deck Diversity is the key here. Let’s take a look:

Compare, for example, the following two decklists. Note these decks are unfinished.

Sample Blue Control

4 Counterspell
4 Cancel
4 Rewind
4 Deep Analysis
4 Bottle Gnomes
2 Morphling

Sample Red/Green Beatdown

4 Wild Mongrel
4 Jackal Pup
4 Burning-Tree Shaman
4 Rumbling Slum
4 Incinerate

You will immediately note that the first decklist is more versatile than the second. With just twenty-two cards in the deck, the first decklist already has twelve cards that can counter anything. Add some bounce, like Capsize, and you can bounce back any permanents that are troublesome and made it through the counter shield to be countered the second time.

The first deck is already able to handle a variety of things. The second decklist is just a bunch of creatures and four burn spells. Despite the second decklist having two less cards than the first, it is still much less able to roll with the punches.

On the other hand, the first decklist is no great shakes. It still has weaknesses. For example, how would the first deck handle Genesis? Genesis is normally a great creature against control. If he gets killed or countered, then he turns into Recycle Bob. If he doesn’t, then he’s a 4/4 beater.

Now, imagine we played these two decks against each other. With the second deck packing Genesis, how does the first deck win? Hope that Genesis doesn’t get drawn?

Here’s one important point… No matter how diverse your deck may appear to be, you need to squeeze every last drop of diversity out of it. Instead of playing Cancel, this deck could play Dissipate. It’s still a counter and it still costs three mana, but now, instead of just hoping your opponent doesn’t draw Genesis, you can have an answer that not only counters it but also removes it from the game.

It’s simple things like switching Cancel for Dissipate that can improve your deck. Against most cards, Cancel is just as good as Dissipate. There’s no real difference. However, there is a small section where Dissipate just ends up being golden.

Now, suppose our second decklist played Scragnoth. It’s a recent reprint as one of the Timeshifted cards in Time Spiral, so it’s been seeing more play again in casual circles. It will tear through the Bottle Gnomes that are being played for defense. Nothing Blue can touch it, and it can’t be countered.

Don’t worry though, because the control deck can again shave a card and get better in the process. Bottle Gnomes are good and all and they make great blockers from small guys, but a three-mana defender with just three defense? Not only can you do better defense-wise, but you can get much cheaper. Not only will this card be better defensively, but it also has more synergy with a counter deck that doesn’t want to spend mana during its main phase. What card am I talking about? Steel Wall. It’ll stop Scragnoths, early drops, and more. It costs just one mana, coming out on a turn when you don’t even have the ability to counter yet. (Note that Kavu Chameleon will punch through the Steel Wall, but it gets little play.)

Cards that cannot be countered are always the bane of counterspell decks. Suppose that our second decklist played Obliterate as a reset button. How does the supposedly versatile counter deck handle that?

Ertai’s Meddling doesn’t counter anything it is played against. Instead, it merely delays the spell for a number of turns. You can Meddling the Obliterate for long enough to win the game, or at least prepare by drawing extra cards, including lands. You’ll note that the Meddling will also delay things like Scragnoth and Genesis. It adds a significant degree of versatility to your deck.

So, remember that an important premise in building for the casual metagame is to squeeze as much diversity into your deck as you can. Even in decks that can already handle a variety of opponents, increasing your ability to respond can be vital to winning.

Let’s take a look at the new version of the as-yet to be completed control deck now:

Sample Blue Control Take Two

4 Counterspell
4 Dissipate
4 Rewind
4 Deep Analysis
4 Steel Wall
2 Morphling
4 Ertai’s Meddling
4 Capsize

Now, how does the second deck take this deck on? This deck has already been tricked out to handle most of the threats that Red/Green would throw at a traditional counter deck. Note that Kavu Chameleon can bust through Steel Wall but that it does not have Protection from Blue, making it less useful than something like Scragnoth.

One way to do this is with speed, but you can never out-speed a counter deck. We could, for example, play mana accelerants and then a three-drop creature like Troll Ascetic. The Troll Ascetic cannot be bounced and can still be pumped or equipped in order to kill a Steel Wall. However, this creates a dependency on the mana creature to arrive and that you go first. If you go second, then the counter player already has two mana available to counter the Troll. If you don’t draw a mana elf, it won’t work at all. This is too luck dependant to be a reliable answer.

What else do you have? While a control deck seeks versatility in its answers, you can be versatile with your problems. Not every NHBAggro deck will win every game through creature damage. Lots will get their opponent down in life then burn them out, as a common example.

So, you could have some instant burn to use when your opponent taps out. Fireblast is a good example. Another example is a permanent that deals damage. Something cheap, like Cursed Scroll (or Magus of the Scroll if you’d prefer) or Grim Lavamancer. Playing cards like these increases the damage you can put out to the control mage.

Frankly, a NHBAggro deck like this often needs to be more clever than the control deck. The control deck is naturally diverse, and only needs a few tricks to keep it going. This deck, on the other hand, may need to think outside the box.

How does the control deck handle Shivan Gorge? There are only a handful of lands that deal damage to your opponent, and two of those (Keldon Necropolis, Rath’s Edge) only work when sacrificing resources. Another only works when you sacrifice itself (Barbarian Ring). A control deck might rightfully pass up playing LD cards or Wastelands because so few can truly harm them. Shivan Gorge will only deal one damage a turn.

As the beatdown deck, you probably got in some early hits before your opponent stabilized. If you deal, say, ten damage, then the Shivan Gorge is a ten-turn clock. How many serious CTB decks can win in ten turns, guaranteed? Bounce is their usual answer to threats they couldn’t counter earlier, like a Cursed Scroll, but bouncing a land is meaningless. You’ll just play it and use it.

You, as the NHBAggro deck, need to diversify threats, while your opponent diversifies answers. Sudden Shock cannot be countered, nor can it be Ertai’s Meddling’d. It only does two damage, but in addition to getting around diverse answers, it can also take out creatures that would normally be immune to small amounts of damage like Psychatog and Wild Mongrel. It’s good to include for this reason over and above the matchup with Counter Blue.

Once you modify your deck along these lines, you start to move to this:

Sample Red/Green Beatdown

4 Wild Mongrel
4 Jackal Pup
4 Cursed Scroll/Magus of the Scroll
4 Burning-Tree Shaman
4 Rumbling Slum
4 Incinerate
4 Sudden Shock
2 Shivan Gorge

As you can see from our two sample decklists, having valuable diversity can help prepare you for the unusual and unexpected. These principles work outside the two sample decks.

Few Black/White decks should go without Vindicates, if you have access to them. They are a ubiquitous answer to any permanent. Note, however, that you may still want instant enchantment removal for the deck that goes off with enchantments. If a deck drops a Pandemonium and casts Replenish with a Saproling Burst in the yard, you are going to want to have instant enchantment removal. Same for someone who plays Illusions of Grandeur and then tries to Donate it. Vindicating the Illusions on your turn is not an option.

If someone plays a permanent and then immediately tries to win with it, it’s likely to be an enchantment, although it’s certainly conceivable that it’s a creature or artifact. With an Anger and Filth in the graveyard and you having a Swamp from a dead Cyclopean Giant, your opponent may drop a Phage and swing for game. This stuff happens, so be prepared as much as possible. Mortify, for example, may not be as useful as Vindicate, but a couple in adjunct to Vindicates is a nice touch by adding the instant response.

Note that these instant responses to something about to kill you now are only needed against CCM Archetype decks, or the One Hit Wonder Hybrid Subtype. That’s why your assessment of their deck is so vital. If it doesn’t appear to be heading towards combo, you can use your Mortifies more easily in the early game if you are playing CTB and need them to pop creatures and whatnot.

What do casual decks try to do? In my best decks, I always try to be able to do most of the following:

Remove some or all of an opponent’s graveyard (Tormod’s Crypt, Planar Void)

  • Kill creatures at instant speed (Terminate, Expunge)
  • Play creatures that block early aggressive creatures, or that are early aggressive creatures (Wall of Blossoms, Steel Wall)
  • Kill enchantments, preferably at instant speed (Dismantling Blow, Orim’s Thunder)
  • Kill artifacts, instant speed here is good too (Shattering Pulse, see above)
  • An emergency land kill or two (Avalanche Riders, Vindicate)
  • Something that counters triggered abilities and activated abilities (Stifle, Trickbind)
  • An emergency board (typically non-land) sweeper for when I get in too deep (Akroma’s Vengeance, Nevinyrral’s Disk).
  • Kill something large and White without targeting from a Red or Black source (i.e. Akroma kill)
  • Kill something large and artifact and indestructible (i.e. Darksteel Colossus kill)

Why the last two? I find that if I diversify my removal to be able to take down Darksteel and Akroma, I can handle pretty much any other odd creatures thrown my way. Cards like Swords to Plowshares, Oblation, and the new Mangara of Corondor are great at this sort of business. In fact, you’ll learn to love Oblation.

Other good stuff to have, but not necessary, are ways to cause an opponent to lose life (to get around things like Worship) and either countermagic or hand discard for things like buyback.

You’ll note that often one card fills several roles, and that’s the key to your deck. Orim’s Thunder is so great because not only is it instant artifact or enchantment removal, but it also regularly takes out creatures as well. That makes it both great and card advantage. You’ll also note that something like the abovementioned three White removal spells will take out Akroma, Darksteel, and be instant removal of creatures.

In fact, Oblation is so good and highly recommended by me in my articles because not only will it handle Akroma and Darksteel and any other creature that’s highly annoying, not only will it take out any artifact including indestructible ones like Forge[/author]“]Darksteel [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] and Reactor, not only will it take out any enchantment, but it does so at instant speed. And you can always toss it on one of your minor non-land permanents in order to draw a couple of cards. It’s good stuff.

I hope you enjoyed yet another walk down the Casual Metagame lane. Remember, the key is diversity, diversity, diversity. Then you’ll do well.

Until later,

Abe Sargent