The Kitchen Table #250 – Semiquincentennial Celebrations

Read Abe Sargent every week... at StarCityGames.com!
Thursday, September 11th – I have built hundreds of decks during my time as a writer here at StarCityGames.com. What I intend to do today is very simple. I am going to take some of the cards off my top 10 favorite cards list, and build a deck around them. Do you know that despite my regularly professed love for Scarwood Bandits in this column, that I have never built a deck around them? That ends today.

Hello my friends, and welcome to my 250th weekly article on StarCityGames.com! It’s not actually my 250th article for SCG, since I published 59 dailies on the website, so it’s really my 309th article, but my 250th weekly, and that’s worth celebrating.

For previous celebrations, I have counted down cards that are underused, I’ve done retrospective articles, and more. Today, I want to just build decks. That’s all I want… to build decks.

I have built hundreds of decks during my time as a writer here at StarCityGames.com. What I intend to do today is very simple. I am going to take some of the cards off my top 10 favorite cards list, and build a deck around them. Do you know that despite my regularly professed love for Scarwood Bandits in this column, that I have never built a deck around them? That ends today.

I also solicited your favorite cards. This article has always been about more than me. This is not Abe’s Personal Blog homepage. This is the only article dedicated to the casual on the best Magic website out there. Every fan of the casual is a part of my column… whether you read it regularly or not, whether you play tournaments or stay home, you are a part of this column.

Sometimes I think I fail to get that sufficiently across. Let me take a moment and thank every single person reading these lines. I appreciate and am moved by your interest. I am just a guy from the heart of coal-mining country in southern West Virginia, where the closest stop light was a half hour in any direction. My entire county had just four incorporated places; Whitesville, Sylvester, Madison and Danville, and they were all on one end of the county or the other, with me growing up right in the middle of unincorporated Racine, where the only government was the volunteer fire department.

Of the people who were in my class at Sherman Junior High (before I moved to the big city of Charleston, WV), a large percentage had been held back, or would be. Less than half would graduate. Only a small percentage would go on to college, and only two (to my knowledge) got any degree after their Bachelors, and the other one got a Masters in Forestry. When I moved to George Washington High, in Charleston, almost everyone graduated (over 95%), and over 90% went to college or another institution of higher learning, and just under half got a degree after that, from law to social work to medicine.

I grew up in a place that turned unique boys and girls into cookie cutter men and women, and I am one of the few that has left. As much as I adore my heritage, I also know that I was one of the lucky few to establish a life outside of the county and the world there.

That I have published 250 weekly articles on the biggest website (outside of the game’s own website) and people have read my works enough to keep me in print staggers me. I still have a “Ah Shucks” mentality about writing, and I try to respond to everyone who writes in the forums asking me a question or commenting on my article, because I cherish anyone who would feel passionate enough about one of my articles to take a few moments out of the busy day and actually write about it.

I received an e-mail out of the blue a few months ago from WizKids, and as I have mentioned once before, I am now writing a HeroClix column for their website called Home Turf. Do you know the honor that writing for a company brings with it? In a year in which I pursued a dream, and then lost it, and tried my hand at writing fiction only to find my skills lacking, and then to apply to housing job after housing job (which is my career) only to have institution after institution break your heart after inviting you to campus and bringing you in a finalist, writing about the games I love has been my one true honor. Writing about HeroClix for WizKids is truly the pinnacle of my writing (so far), and it all happened to a boy from Boone County who grew up on the free and reduced meal program.

Even if I do not express my gratitude in every article, every paragraph, or every sentence, you had better believe that I feel it.

So today, on my Semiquincentennial, allow me to take a few moments and thank you, the reader. You have kept reading my articles through the years. I have had some good ones, and I’ve had some that are less than stellar.

Since I am taking a look back at my writing history, allow me to also provide to you a list of my favorite articles. Feel free to peruse them at your leisure.

This is one of my submissions pieces from before I was offering Featured Writership. I had written a few weeks of card evaluations over at pojo.com, as part of their Card a Day feature. They offered me a trial run as a featured writer, and I took their offer to The Ferrett and said, “here is what they have, and here is what I want.” The Ferrett chose to make me an offer at StarCityGames.com and promote me from submissions writer to featured writer, and he chose to do it on the strength of my competitive tournament articles, not my casual ones. The irony that I was hired as a tournament writer (which I was doing a lot of at the time) definitely strikes me as funny when I think of it.

This article sees me look through the Magic Online Terms of Service and tell the readers what was involved. It, along with an article on the new game by Geordie Tait, were linked to by gaming websites and got a ton of responses. I have received more e-mail from this one article than any other I have ever written.

This was my original rare drafting article, and upon writing it, wow, you would have thought that I smoke-bombed the tournament players’ locker room. I win through rare drafting, and it’s a topic I have touched on several times since then. Good stuff.

I’ve written a ton of April Fool’s Day articles over the years, but this send up of one Oscar Tan was, in my opinion, amazingly funny. Read the forum posts for a great laugh.

Until two years ago, I would have said that this was my best article, but now it’s my second best article. It is known as Revelations of a Magic Writer, and there is nothing I can say about it in this brief paragraph will sum it up. Either you have read it, in which case you need no paragraph to remind you of its topics, or you haven’t, in which case anything I say would be a spoiler.

This fun article, in which the reader takes a test in order to find out what kind of Magic player they are, is still a lot of fun, and reads well.

One of the first dailies ever written discusses one of my pet decks, Equinaut. It was one of the most influential dailies I wrote, because the deck was so popular I revisited it again and again in my articles. In fact, when thinking about topics for my 250th column, I debated between making decks or revising Equinaut, that’s how powerful this deck has become. In many ways, this is my signature 60-card deck.

This daily article, just two days later, began a theme that I somewhat continue today. I took my box of bad rares, pulled out one, and built deck around it. It inspired dozens of daily articles built around random elements, a handful of bad rare articles where I repeated the experiment, and several articles since then that incorporate random elements into my deck building process. With the Equinaut article, these two dailies are the most influential ones on my writing today.

This article investigates the nature of Joey’s Ice Deck, and tries to recreate a deck that a child, enthusiastic about Magic, might have built. It’s a fun article.

The Quest for the Perfect Token. Frankly, this is my best article, in terms of writing. It details my obsession with tokens and counters, and it’s pretty good. It eclipsed Revelation on my list of good writing. It is not my most influential work (which comes later), but it is good.

After rare drafting articles, you might thought the article that might most have riled the tournament crowd would have been my opinion article from a few weeks ago, but then you’d have forgotten this little gem, Casual Eye for the Competitive Guy, where I took tournament winning decks and changed them into good multiplayer decks. Wow did I get harpooned like a fish. How dare I change decks that won tournaments, and suggest that they might not be good enough for the multiplayer table! The article is good, the forums are better.

This is my biggest contribution to Magic… the Magic Role-Playing Game. People have told me is changes the way they play the game. I am proud to have written this article.

Other things I’m proud of… my Rainbow Stairwell article jumpstarted the renewed interest in the format as other writers picked up on it and started writing about it. I won a prize with Jedi Mind Tricks, one of my submissions pieces. The Ferrett once told me that my St. Patrick’s Day Format article was the best alternate format article he’d ever read. The addition of several good pieces of multiplayer theory to the general multiplayer theory pool, such as the Best Player Syndrome and the Hull Breach Problem. My first Peasant Magic article caused a stir in the Pez community that resulted in the creation of a Peasant Magic Council, of which I am a member, to be created and to fix the excesses of the format. I’m proud of the fact that I have defended Wizards a ton more than I have attacked them in my columns, defending Mythic Rares, Timeshifted cards, the DCI’s way of meting justice, the increasing quality of cards, and more. I think Magic has done a good job, and although there is room for improvement, they should be proud of themselves. I won two awards, one for Workhorse of the Year and one for my Magic Role-Playing Game. I am proud of what I have done over the years, because I have tried to impact you and make the casual world just a tiny little bit better.

Wow, I wrote more about my nostalgic days than I had suspected. Ah well. Now let’s hit up some decks! I’ll build a couple based around some of my favorite cards, and then I’ll build a couple from your suggestions last week.


Remember than you can tap Scarwood Bandits to steal an artifact for three mana, and the controller of the targeted artifact can stop it by tapping two mana. Untap your Bandits with a Seeker and try again. Or use it at the end of someone’s turn, then untap on your turn and give it another go.

Since you are forcing people to keep their mana open anyway, why not run a set of Erratic Portals? You can use them to save your creatures, or bounce opposing ones, while also hammering someone’s mana.

The deck can get furious at someone‘s mana. At the end of a player’s turn, use the Bandits to take someone’s artifact. They spend two to prevent it. Tap the Erratic Portal to bounce a creature, then they spend a mana. Then untap, and repeat immediately, and they are forced to spend another three or get things stolen and taken. Add just one Seeker of Skybreak to the mix and now they had to spend 10 mana to prevent it, likely forcing them to lose an artifact or two (or even three).

Unlike many creatures that steal permanents, the Bandits can untap and keep going. That makes for an interesting situation and you build up your forces through stealing opposing artifacts. Privileged Position can help to keep your stolen artifacts and Bandits alive, by giving your other permanents shroud. The Position does not give true shroud, giving you the ability to use things like the Seeker on your creatures.

That Which Was Taken gives you the ability to make your key cards indestructible. I’d use it first on Privileged Position first, then on a Scarwood Bandits. With an untargetable indestructible Scarwood Bandits, you are not likely to lose them, and thus you keep all of the artifacts you steal.

Harmonize gives the deck a way of drawing cards and Eternal Witness can be used to return a key card after it is destroyed, or to re-use your card drawing spell. Sakura-Tribe Elder can chump block in the early game while fetching a land. Silklash Spider can block things like Akroma while also Hurricaning in the sky, taking down all flyers.

The result is a tricky little deck capable of stealing a lot of artifacts at the table, and then playing defense until you can win. There is a single copy of Titania’s Song in the deck. Steal enough artifacts with the Bandits, and drop this to enable you to win the game. Don’t use it unless you are prepared to win, and if it dies, use Eternal Witness to bring back your single copy.

You know what? I was intending to write a few decks for my cards, and a few for yours, but I’ll just stop at one of mine in order to give you more of the love that you properly deserve.

Now, some people mentioned favorite cards that I have already built around, such as Dong Zhou and Justice. So I decided to stick with cards that I have never built around before.

Someone mentioned Eron the Relentless in the forums and I decided to build around him. I was Best Man at Aaron‘s wedding last week, and building an Eron deck seemed appropriate after it was mentioned. I also tossed in the other two legendary creatures from Red in Homelands.

Then I sprinkled the deck with a variety of burn. The normal Lightning Bolt and Incinerate are joined by Pardic Arsonist and Ghitu Slinger in dealing some damage elsewhere. I then tossed in Mountain, Plains, and Islandwalkers to get some damage through most defenses.

Rolling Thunder may be the single best RX spell, although it technically costs RRX… but then again, Fireball is usually classified as a RX spell despite having extra costs. I put in a pair of Rolling Thunders for the late game. Joining them is a pair of Avatar of Fury, which can drop down for little mana later in the game and outclasses many flying creatures.

Vertigo can be used to drop down a blocker so that your Avatar of Fury can hit for a mad amount of damage. It can outright kill smaller flyers, and attackers that thought they were safe flying over your group will suddenly find themselves in a world of hurt as you block and kill them.

The deck sports 22 creatures, which is a sizable amount for a deck with 34 non-lands. That number does not include the four Ghitu Encampment, which can add to the body of creatures in the deck or give you something post-Mass Removal.

Dust Elemental was mentioned at least three times by different posters, so I thought I’d build around that. I also tossed in a pair of Stonecloakers to add to the self-bounce theme.

I tossed in four Swords to Plowshares in order to take out opposing creatures. I also added two Wrath of God to sweep the board and two Ghostway to either abuse your creatures or give you a way to dodge a Wrath of God with your critters. Lastly, I tossed in a pair of Jayemdae Tomes to give you a way to draw cards in the deck. Then the rest is all tricks.

As I said, there are several tricks in the deck. Temple Acolyte and Soul Warden give you life, and both operate well with the self-bounce Comes-Into-Play theme. Karmic Guide loves the self-bounce theme, giving you a Resurrection when it comes into play and also adding to your creature size.

Cloudchaser Kestrel can kill an offending enchantment and gives you another flyer. I chose this creature over other options, like Nikko-Onna, because it can make a creature White, allowing Dust Elemental to get some hits in with its fear by making opposing Black creatures White. It was a nice adjunct to the deck, but you could run the Nikko-Onna with six other spirits in the deck besides them if you wanted.

Cloudgoat Ranger will make you some 1/1s every time it comes into play, and you can tap some of those to send it into the air, adding to the vertical nature of your offense or defense.

The single Voidstone Gargoyle is included in case a dangerous card is seen or on the board. As the danger changes, you can bounce it back to your hand and choose a different card.

I would use Dust Elemental normally to bounce two creatures and itself, but you can bounce three and start beating with the 6/6 feared creatures, especially when backed by a Kestrel.

With all of the cards you are putting back into your hand, I expected you to have a full grip, so I tossed in Kiyomaro, First to Stand. This creature enjoys a controller that has a lot of cards in hand, and can swing for seven or eight damage on your turn, all vigilance and lifelink if you have the cards to back it up.

I hope you enjoy this little Dust Elemental deck.

This deck is built around another suggested card – Arboria. Whenever someone does not play a spell or put a card into play during their turn, they cannot be attacked. What this deck does is drop an Arboria, and then never plays another card during its turn, making the player unattackable.

The key to the deck is Budoka Gardener. With it out, it can tap to put a land into play. This allows you to keep making land drops on other people’s turns. After you get to ten lands, it flips and can make 10/10 creatures to bring the pain. After Arboria itself, this is the most important card in the deck, so make sure you protect it.

There is protection here. Plaxmanta can be played to give your creatures shroud until the end of the turn. Venser can bounce something back if your other defenses don’t work. Draining Whelk and Mystic Snake can counter cards that are problems. This gives you answers for things from enchantment removal to Gardener removal.

The Scryb Ranger can be used to untap and reuse a tap ability, such as Budoka Gardener’s ability to make tokens or Inspired Sprite’s looting. There are only a couple of those here, so I only tossed in a pair of Scryb Rangers.

Beast Attack is a nice threat. Use it to make some 4/4 beaters, or when Arboria is out, you can play it to pounce on an unsuspecting attacker.

Fact or Fiction is your main card drawing spell, although Inspired Sprite can sift through your deck to find what you need, and is best used after you hit ten lands and can’t play anymore because your Gardener flipped.

The result is an interesting deck that uses Arboria to hide behind, while it can swing all out at various opponents, protected from Disenchanting by a clever wall of counters and protection. Note that once you get down to a duel, your opponent might figure out to hide behind an Arboria as well. This is where Venser comes in. When you can attack and kill, use Venser to bounce Arboria and swing for game.

And that brings us to the close of another article. I’m currently rocking over 4250 words, so I’d better head out. Thanks for reading! And thanks for submitting your favorite cards so that I could build a trio of decks around them!

Until later…

Abe Sargent

P.S. I noticed something about Orcish Mine the other day when doing research for a future article. I was looking through the Oracle for Orcish Mine and I found a problem with the Oracle. I believe the Oracle may indicate that Orcish Mine deals two damage to the controller of Orcish Mine instead of the land’s controller. Here is how the pertinent line from the original card text reads:

When the last ore counter is removed from Orcish Mine, destroy the land Orcish Mine enchants; Orcish Mine deals 2 damage to that land’s controller.

It’s obvious that, as printed, the Mine deals two damage to the land’s controller. Here is the modern day Oracle wording, however:

If there are no ore counters on Orcish Mine, destroy that land and Orcish Mine deals 2 damage to its controller.

What does the pronoun, “its” refer to? It could, grammatically, refer either to the land’s controller or Orcish Mine’s controller. I would normally refer a pronoun back to the closest eligible noun. Let me give you an example: Steve hit Jay and his face was hurt. Whose face was hurt, Steve’s or Jay’s? Well, it could be either, but since Jay is closer to the pronoun than Steve in the sentence, we might read it as Jay having the hurt face, and not Steve.

Similarly, I read Orcish Mine’s Oracle errata as probably dealing the damage to the controller of Orcish Mine, and not the controller of the land. Now, it could be read either way, but my guess is that tons of people are reading it the wrong way due to inexact wording. Just thought I’d let you know, in case you care.