“Help me Teddy-Wan, you are my only hope,” came the anguished cry from one Craig Stevenson this morning, when he realized that Michael J. Flores, Invitationalist, was likely to leave him in the lurch for Flores Friday.
“But Craig, my fine Scouser friend, I would hardly know where to begin. I cannot muster the bombast required for such an assignment, and the day is too far gone to hire a PR firm to do it for me. I do not have a book to sell, a deck to thieve, nor even a new piece of theoretical jargon from which to make fetch happen. The esteemed Flores wasn’t even in Prague, so I hardly have a new story about the master to tell. In short, I’m afraid you must count me out.”
“Please sir, think of the millions of disappointed Flores fans collectively gnashing their teeth,” responded the Scouse to the house. “Would you wish such a cacophony on your conscience?”
“Sigh. It is a grim future you see, and one that cannot be allowed to come to pass. I will do this for you, but you must help me – whatever shall I write about?”
“Well, uh… do you have a deck? A Regionals deck?” Craig wheedled. “Flores writes about decks a lot, and fans seem to love them.”
“I do have a deck, but I wasn’t planning to write about it until after Regionals. Fate, however, would seem to indicate that the time is now, so write I shall, but I wash my hands of this. If this fails miserably, you have no one to blame but yourself and the esteemed Mr. Flower.”
I think we are at the point in Magic writing where contrived intros should really feel contrived, terrible florid language and all. Regardless, I really did have a deck I had been working on, and I really wasn’t planning to write about it until either after Regionals or late next week, so if this screws up anyone’s plans, I apologize. [By the way, that was our conversation word for word. — Craig.]
Whoomp Up Side the Head, Said Whoomp Up Side the Head
“The next Madness deck” is a phrase abused nearly as much as “The next Michael Jordan,” “I mean…” or “It ain’t cheatin’ baby, she reminded me of you.” Therefore, I promised myself I would only use it in the direst of circumstances, like when I really really mean it (sort of like apologizing after using that last line). What if I told you that I might, possibly maybe, have stumbled across the next Madness deck while goofing around this week, and that you still had a week of testing left to get it ready in time for Regionals… would you be interested?
Back in Prague, BDM suggested Cytoplast Root-Kin was Constructed playable, and after drafting approximately 50 times over the week, both of us were intrigued with what graft could do in sixty-card decks. I nosed around, but all of my deckbuilding friends were either still in Prague or at the Invitational, so stealing someone else’s material was right out. I came back to the Greediest of Emms an hour later and asked him where to start. He said, “Why not Critical Mass?”
Boy, am I a sucker…
On the surface, this looks less embarrassing than it plays. The Sensei’s Divining Top engine is gone because the deck is more aggro than past versions. On the flip side, I knew I probably wanted a splash, and while the counterspells are nice, not being able to deal with any permanents made me feel like my creepy uncle did back when I was ten. Telling Time was terrible, but I needed card drawing somewhere… As for the creature complement, I was reasonably happy with it. The beaters are good (we’ll get to them in a while), and as we all know, Meloku can win games all by his lonesome. That said, I always felt like I wanted to be able to protect Meloku before I cast him (like I used to do in the old deck), so while very good, it felt like he could be better.
I think I may have killed some Johnnies in the audience with that line. “Meloku? *blood pressure rising* Betterrrrgh?!!”
Time for some tweakage. While I liked the Black of the Worlds-era Critical Mass decks, it a) didn’t help me draw any cards, and b) didn’t lend the deck much reach. Meloku as the only evasion creature was okay, since some of your kids on the ground act like the Abyss, but what do you do when you get stuck in creature stalls? I needed something that could affect permanents in the maindeck, so it was time to add Red.
It’s all about the wood, baby.
Knutson: the original version of this deck was embarrassing but it did have Meloku
Knutson: kodama is just better
Knutson: can’t believe I just said that
RHat: and 7/5 >>>>>>> 6/4
Remember earlier when I said that I wanted to protect Meloku when I cast him? Well, some creatures actually protect themselves, and they do it without having to spend mana. Is Northside really better than Meloku?
Maybe… *coy glance, batting of eyelashes*
Fine, certainly not, but the deck runs better with him in there, and if he’s grafted, most decks in the format can’t kill him. It’s still early in the deck lifecycle, so Meloku may still prove to be the right call (and if nothing else, the fabulous fop can always have a spot in the sideboard), but for now the Green man stays… As for the rest of the changes, they are both obvious and necessary. Char takes down blockers and opponents alike, depending on the gamestate, while Electrolyze is really just a cantrip that happens to kill all sorts of troublesome men including Butthead-impersonator Dark Confidant.
Excuse Me, Is This Deck Even Good?
Good question. I’m inclined to believe it’s very good or else I wouldn’t be writing about it today, but perhaps its merits are not obvious. Let’s walk through a few scenarios and see if we can shed some light on the kind of starts you can get.
Turn 1: Forest, Llanowar Elves.
Turn 2: Cast Vinelasher Kudzu, lay a land.
Turn 3: Lay a land, Cast Cytoplast Root-Kin, add another counter to your Kudzu. You now have two 4/4s on turn 3. It cost you three lands and three cards.
Turn 1: Breeding Pool, Llanowar Elves.
Turn 2: Land, Plaxcaster Frogling.
Turn 3: Land, Cytoplast Root-Kin, add a counter to your Frog. You again have two 4/4’s on turn 3, and you can protect both of them as soon as you untap.
Turn 1: Land, Elf
Turn 2: Land, Wood Elves, get another land.
Turn 3: Cytoplast Root-Kin
Turn 4: Land, Kodama of the North Tree. Add a counter to it via graft, and you have a 7/5 untargetable trampler in play on turn 4.
Notice that none of these scenarios references the deck’s burn, its smattering of countermagic (Remand might just be the best card in the format), or the fact that it also runs a pointy stick and has an assortment of fine men to wield it. These scenarios are brought about simply by casting and swinging with men. What’s not to love?
Additionally, look at the variety you get in terms of angles of attack*. Yes, you have acceleration that leads directly into the heavy lumber, but the deck also features gradual card advantage designed to keep the engine humming. Plaxcaster Frogling protects your men from spot removal, Remand protects them (for at least a turn) from mass removal, and the eight burn spells either clear the way for the lumbering hordes or they finish the job.
Assuming your opponent deals with all of that, what else do you have left? Oh yeah, Umezawa’s Jitte. The equipment that cannot be forgotten is practically an afterthought here, but what an afterthought it is. While your opponent is worrying about dealing with the plant beatdown, you can slyly slide a legendary artifact on the board and have your least valuable men pick it up and still carry you to victory. There are so many must-deal-with cards in this deck it’s scary.
* Fine, I lied earlier. I do indeed have new strains of theory to discuss that include newly coined phrases like the one above, but I didn’t want to cover it today. That article will be coming soon.
Is the decklist perfect?
Well, it came from me, so obviously not. If Pro Tour: Prague hadn’t happened, then maybe I’d have a fully-tested masterpiece to give you, but instead I just have an excessively synergistic decklist that needs testing. Premium readers keep clamoring for decklists with tech before the Regionals deadline, so here you go kids.
I am overly fond of Wood Elves (they get me more land and they carry a stick), but since all the hottest starts include Llanowar Elves on turn 1, you might be better served playing Birds of Paradise in that slot (six one-drops will practically guarantee you draw at least one in every opening hand, but I almost never want to draw two). Yes, they die to early removal and can make you very sad if your opponent decides to Pyroclasm, but with graft creatures in the deck they can also provide an evasive beater in the late-game, especially if you happen to have a Jitte in play. This is something that requires further testing.
My second quibble here is that I’m still not certain Kodama of the North Tree is better than Meloku. Yes, Northside provides better synergy with the build and is nigh-unkillable, but Meloku…
So do you go with synergistic facesmashery or unadulterated, evasive power? I’ll be testing both options for the next week, but I’m guessing we won’t have a real answer to this question until after May 20th.
Additionally, the mana is just a little off right now, so you might want to tweak it before you head off to battle, especially if you change any cards around. Electrolyze is the shakiest card in the deck, so if you are going to tweak numbers or drop something, that’s probably the place to start.
No Coiling Oracle?**
See definition, aggressive
** I love this guy in Limited though.
I’m definitely running Naturalize. I’m probably running some combination of Spell Snare, Mana Leak, and/or Voidslime. I’m also probably running some number of Flames of the Blood Hand and Pithing Needles, and maybe a couple of Melokus, but the rest is up to you. Without knowing exactly what the environment is going to look like, tweaking the sideboard is difficult guesswork, but you know that your men are likely bigger and better than every other deck, so you should probably focus more on control matchups and making sure you can beat Heartbeat. Then again, it is Regionals, and the bulk of the field always runs aggressive decks, so what do I know?
Talking to newly adopted son Ben Goodman suggests that Cytoplast Manipulator might be a hot one to bring out of the board against decks without a lot of removal. Talking to the voice in the back of my head suggests that I am crazy, and that Giant Solifuge once again appears sexy as all get out. Does anyone else see visions of oversized insects in silk teddies or push-up bras? Just me? I was afraid of that.
Let’s just say that these colors and this environment provide a massive amount of answers to practically any question you can pose – the trick, as on Jeopardy, is in knowing what the questions are.
The Part Where I Cover My Ass
Look, I was in Prague all of last week and haven’t had nearly enough time to work on Regionals decks as I would have liked, so it’s possible that this barely zygotic version of the deck is either bad or completely invalidated by other decks currently in development. If so, I apologize for wasting your time.
On the other hand, I was on teams that helped design both the first Madness and Affinity decks for Standard formats past, and testing this deck inspires chills not unlike they did. If that feeling holds true, I again feel the need to apologize, but this time to all the opponents of people playing this deck who were not prepared to deal with a baseball bat to the side of the head. Hell, if they get really pissy with you, you can always tell ’em Flores designed the deck instead of me. I won’t mind.
Expect our beloved michaelj to return to his normal spot next week, and expect me to have some sort of Regionals metagame report, though I’m tempted to just say it’s too tough this time and drink mai tais.
Until then, may your four by four animals come two by two on turn 3.
Teddy Card Game