Like many teenaged boys, my right hand was my best friend. When I wrote essays for school, my right hand did the hard work of forming the letters. When I ate, my right hand guided the fork straight to my mouth. And when I played videogames, my right hand worked the joystick with such mastery that all the guys were amazed.
Yessirree, my right hand has brought me a lot of pleasure over the years.
But like we all do with our good friends during adolescence, I willfully ignored my right hand’s personality quirks. Oh, if I’d been paying closer attention, I would have seen the signs… But I was too busy fooling around with my hand to pay serious attention to its flaws.
My right hand has no impulse control whatsoever.
I never realized how thoroughly my left hand kept right hand in check, but now that I’m playing Magic Online I realize how downright impetuous my right hand is.
For example, I’ll get a hand that looks something like this:
“Hmm,” I’ll say. “I don’t know whether that’s a keeper or not. It’s a little light on action, but the Terrarion gives me an extra card, and if I get into a pinch the Phalanx will get me life….”
“SHINY BUTTON!” my right hand cries. “CLICKY CLICKY!” And the next thing you know, I’ve mulliganed into a much worse hand of six.
Or there’ll be some finely-tuned combat where everything — and I mean everything — comes down to hitting a creature with a Last Gasp before damage goes on the stack. I watch as my opponent declares his attackers as I thought he would, and I block very carefully…
“CLICKY CLICKY!” my right hand screams.
“Dammit, right hand,” I yell. “We had that game in the bag! Why did you click the stupid “OK” button? We were waiting for that button!”
But by then, my right hand is off and prancing around on Entertainment Weekly’s site, looking up pictures of Lindsay Lohan. It doesn’t care.
I’ve scorned my left hand for years because it’s clumsy, but now I realize it’s slow because it thinks. In a real game of Magic, the left hand is holding the cards back from the right hand, acting as a balancing weight; when I play real games, I never accidentally blitz past the phase I was waiting for. My left hand is the hand of sober judgment.
But on Modo, my right hand is a terror. “I’M BORED!” it shouts. “GET TO MY TURN! SCREW YOUR STUPID END-OF-TURN EFFECTS!”
I’m trying to hold it back. But the damn thing just doesn’t want to win games.
Anyway, so what’s this week’s deck look like?
Hmm. Surprisingly weak for White, which is usually at least a consideration. Admittedly, all of the cards are strong cards — the only card I’d be reluctant to maindeck is the Votary — but five cards aren’t enough to build a main color on. Especially when only three of them are creatures.
Worse, it’s not a particularly splashable color. Most of the good cards are good in the late game, which is great — I’d almost always be happy to draw a Fetters, Light, Equenaut, or Griffin — but three of the great cards have double-White in the mana cost. That puts the heavy-hitter White cards right out of the contention.
I should add that Fetters is a particularly annoying card in Ravnica League play. That’s because after you add two packs, anyone playing white has at least two of the little buggers to play with, making White even more annoying to play against. They’re bad enough when you stumble upon one in Sealed play, but seeing a guaranteed two or three is enough to make you want to hit someone.
With your right hand.
If this was a flavor, it’d be Vanilla Green. I mean, it’s not bad by any means — I’ll always play Skysweeper, Fists, the Greater Mossdog, and Transluminant, and Nullmage Shepherd’s always a house. (I love popping Signets end of turn just to starve people of mana.)
Also, my right hand has never opened a Wurm before, and I really would like to play with it. Everyone else seems to be unzipping these Convoked monsters, and they seemed like they were having a lot of fun with them. I suspect there are few ways you can go wrong with a 5/5 trampler, except maybe getting mana-screwed.
Interestingly enough, I’ve heard Perilous Forays is a bomb… But I can’t bring myself to believe it. Sure, it puts land into play when your creatures die, but you have to waste a turn to cast it, and then you have to keep two mana open to use it. I’ve never played against it so I can’t say for sure, but I suspect this is much overhyped.
And Chord of Calling, well… I’ve played two decks with it in, and never been impressed. The Chord’s a Tutor effect, which is always nice, but in practice it’s only good for combat surprises (instant blocker’s gonna getcha, or so John Lennon said), breaking stalemates, and creatures with big comes-into-play effects. Problem is, there aren’t any particularly great comes-into-play effects in Ravnica — at least, not that you’d want to waste a card on — and at three green to start with, you’re going to have a difficult time springing it on someone during combat without a little convoke help, which means that you’ll be tapping creatures you’d usually prefer to be blocking with. That leaves breaking stalemates, teleporting in huge critters at the end of someone else’s turn, and even then it’s expensive.
I’m not saying it’s a bad card, mind you, but it doesn’t pull me into Green on its own any more. It’s amazing in the late game, but a dead draw in a fast creature rush.
And the Red is also not amazing. It’s got some classics, like Galvanic Arc, Commando, the Fangtail, and the Brute. I discussed my increasing love of Rain of Embers last week, so you know how I feel on that one, but the rest of them are severely eh.
Dogpile took me out of a game from twelve life once, so I’ve been secretly convinced it’s a bomb card… But really, I think it’s a little too situational in most decks to warrant a space. (Interestingly enough, at three mana I’d probably be much more likely to maindeck it, but four just seems so clumsy.)
1 Belltower Sphinx
1 Compulsive Research
1 Ethereal Usher
1 Leave No Trace
1 Muddle the Mixture
1 Peel from Reality
1 Stasis Cell
1 Tattered Drake
1 Tidewater Minion
1 Vedalken Dismisser
Now, for once the blue is actually the best of all the colors we’ve looked at so far. I loves me some Belltower Sphinx, for reasons that only Sir Mix-A-Lot would understand. Likewise, Ethereal Usher can play havoc with someone’s combat math, and the Vedalken Dismisser can become downright broken when combined with some bounce. “If only we had a Mark of Eviction,” he said, but we don’t. And Tidewater Minion can turn a lot of tides away from your face.
I completely underrated Peel from Reality when I first saw it, but that’s because I was thinking of it as a “Bounce an opponent’s creature” with a drawback instead of “Bounce your creature” with a bonus. In practice, Peel from Reality’s almost exclusively used to whisk your creature out of the way of an incoming Putrefy, bouncing something else incidentally. For two mana, that’s a hell of a deal.
I am also severely in love with cards like Quickchange, because hey. They draw you a card. And I like changing color, on those rare occasions it really matters. But alas, for every time you change a color to turn a Wojek Siren to your advantage, there are twenty times the damn thing sticks in your hand and you eventually burn it just to try to find a card that, you know, does something.
Still. Given that I’ve been on the butt end of several Flights of Fancy lately, why couldn’t I open one now?
Black is very nice, seething with removal… But where are the critters? Sure, ya got Brainspoil and Last Gasp and Ribbons — which is particularly exciting with the whole “Blue mana” thing I’m leaning towards at this point — but Roofstalker Wight and Sadistic Augermage have the words “Filler cards” written all over them.
Woebringer Demon is surprisingly effective, but you frequently have to work it right. Amateur players will work overtime to keep their Woebringer in play, basically killing their whole offense in an attempt to keep a nice beefy 4/4 alive. But here’s the real text on Woebringer Demon:
Play only when your opponent is tapped out and reasonably low on creatures. Your opponent sacrifices a creature and skips his next attack phase.
Seriously. Think of it as an expensive removal spell combined with an expensive wall — since nobody wants to kill it before your turn comes around — and then let it go at the first opportunity. Oh, if you have some Saprolings to feed it, go nuts, but don’t work too hard to keep this sucker alive.
Only three Selesnya cards, but all three are winners. Pollenbright Wings is one of those cards that doesn’t work as often as you’d think it would — you want to save it for a reasonably big creature, since smaller creatures tend to run into Last Gasps and Disembowels before it has a chance to stick — which, combined with its expense, makes this more of a late game card. But what a late game card!
Nice solid Green/Black here, but nothing spectacular. If Green and Black were amazing, we might use the G/B to glue them together, even if Bloodbond March is a Constructed card.
Weenies, weenies, weenies. The Guildmage is nice, but the Recruit is nothing, leaving us with the Trumpeter and the Skyknight. Given that Sealed games tend to run long and the Boros cards are nigh-useless in the late game, I now refuse to go with anything less than a full-out Boros deck.
The Dimir Guildmage is an interesting card, because few opponents really seem to use it in the way that I’ve seen it used best. They seem reluctant to use its “Discard a card” ability, but the best players usually sink every spare mana into stripping my hand, forcing me to make ugly choices: Do I blow my removal on this little vexing git, or do I risk losing it altogether?
I’m not saying to concentrate on forcing discards over casting actual win conditions, but a lot of the time my opponents are more concerned about casting all their creatures and holding back seventy mana just in case. Be aggressive; if you lose a creature, so what? You can just draw a new one the next turn. It’s not like I wasn’t going to burn that removal anyway. If I have three cards or less, force me to make a decision now.
I wanted to play with the Doppleganger, and we’re almost at the end here, so I’ll share a dirty little secret in advance: Yes, I went U/B. There’s a case to be made for going Selesnya, or even G/B/u… But really, part of the reason I’m playing in these leagues is to get a handle on how to play the cards, and I haven’t played enough U/B in this format to make it worth it.
That said, the Doppleganger was a house.
Yeah, being able to raid people’s graveyards at will was a nice bonus, especially with all of this black removal and graveyard-dumping hanging about — but it was exceptionally good in other black matchups, where I could use it to shut down dredge effects. It was also a lot of fun raiding my own yard — hey, I’ll block that 4/4, then make it a Belltower! I’ll make it a Woebringer Demon for a turn, then swap it into something nicer!
Sunforger’s good in any deck, but it’s particularly nice in a deck with a lot of evasion. Boros needs it to pump up its little weenies and whip out combat tricks, but a +4/+0 bonus on a 4/4 creature is a juggernaut.
Not a Juggernaut. That’s a 5/4.
Hey, look! These are lands!
In the end, this is the deck I built:
1 Belltower Sphinx
1 Compulsive Research
1 Consult the Necrosages
1 Dimir Doppelganger
1 Dimir Guildmage
1 Dimir House Guard
1 Dimir Signet
1 Ethereal Usher
1 Golgari Guildmage
1 Last Gasp
1 Lurking Informant
1 Peel from Reality
1 Ribbons of Night
1 Sadistic Augermage
1 Stasis Cell
1 Stinkweed Imp
1 Tattered Drake
1 Tidewater Minion
1 Woebringer Demon
In the end, the deck did okay — not great — going 3-2. (One of the losses ended in one of those situations where we were both drawing off the top in the clutch game; he drew better, so I don’t feel bad.)
I’m not sure if I made a mistake in the construction of this deck, because it only had thirteen creatures… But if there was a mistake, it was in including Sadistic Augermage over Clutch of the Undercity. I wanted a warm body in the three-slot, and I figured the drawback couldn’t have been too bad. Unfortunately, I never wanted to trade it in the early game when I was trying to get card advantages, and it’s obviously useless in the late game, so I’d probably have been better off with the mana-intensive Clutch.
Stasis Cell would have been a lot better had I not played against three Blue decks. Given the Blue bouncefests, this card’s value is notably decreased in the mirror match, though it’s excellent against Black/Green.
It’s also possible that with all the card drawing, I could have gone to seventeen land, since I kept running into land pockets. But since the whole game plan involved getting to my power cards at five mana, I didn’t want to chance it.
What Would Readers Do?
Last week, I asked you fine folk what you’d do in a situation that I myself was involved in. The situation was this:
It’s the second game, and your opponent is playing B/G/U. He’s rated 1650. It is his turn 4, and he has just attacked with a Shambling Shell and cast a Grifter’s Blade, making his board look like this:
He currently has five cards in hand, one of which is a Forest. His deck has a lot of bounce (and a Darkblast he recurred a lot the last game) and a few counterspells, but relatively few creatures… At least that you saw. He did, however, have a Halcyon Glaze that was your undoing in the last game.
What would you do?
Now, the interesting thing is that a lot of people focused on the Sewerdreg — but that’s a dead card right now, or nearly so, because you don’t have a second Swamp. You can’t guarantee you’re going to play it.
Which leads us to your four real choices:
- Cast Mortipede, with the intent of trading it with the Shambling Shell the next turn;
- Cast Mortipede, with the intent of Arcing it up the next turn;
- Blow your Disembowel on the Shell now, removing his offense;
- Or Vitae the Grifter’s Blade.
Now, Nevyn (a.k.a. “Mark Acheson”) had this to say, and I think it’s a cogent summary:
“It looks like the people on this thread tend to be skipping ahead to the arc debate without concentrating enough on what to do now. I agree that we shouldn’t be in a rush to play arc, but I don’t think that was the main question. The three options are: Play Mortipede with the intent to trade. Play Mortipede with the intent to hold it back so you can Arc it. Or kill the shell now.
“I immediately dismiss option B because planning to Arc up your Mortipede seems incredibly risky with the potential for Darkblast, other removal, counters, and bounce while at twelve life with only Mortipede on the board.
“That leaves A and C. C looks unappealing initially because you are using removal on Shell, which can recur anyway. However, I think that killing the shell now is the way to go.
“The biggest risk to playing Mortipede is Darkblast, swing you to twelve, and play a creature (or just as bad for your hand, sit behind a counter). Now you are behind the eight ball, getting into “mandatory blocking” territory, and you’re now unable to time your removal. But any removal on the Mortipede is bad enough. Even if he doesn’t do this, the trade plus counter on whatever five-drop he plays isn’t exactly encouraging.
“While the removal feels like a waste, it does leave him with no life pressure for next turn, allowing you to either put a clock on the table in Sewerdreg or drop Bramble Elemental if you feel you need to shore up the board first, depending on what he plays.”
Daghain, who’s qualified for the Pro Tour at least once in a Limited environment, countered with this:
“The fact that Galvanic Arc is removal (and very bad removal at that, going up against Grifter’s Blade and Shell) is incidental. It could be a Lance, for all it matters. It boils down to coming up with some sort of answer to a player who can topdeck a 4/2 every turn if he likes. Unless you have a way to block it without costing yourself a card, he will eventually grind you out by drawing repeated Giant Cockroaches as you draw land.
“One way to do that is to get Arc on the Bramble Elemental and trump his 4/2 with a 4/4 first striker and two chump blockers. Another is to destroy the Blade and hide behind a 4/4 until you can put on pressure with evasives like the Sewerdreg. A third is to use the Disembowel as a Repel and set up a board capable of racing as he dredges and recasts.
“I don’t think this is the right hand for the third option. Mortipede is trades with any blocker, and is a wasted turn waiting to happen if he has the Darkblast. There isn’t a second swamp for the Sewerdreg. Maybe you’ll draw into something, but I’d be leery of burning the best card in your hand just in hopes that you’ll draw something. I concede that it puts you in the best immediate board position; that’s what good cards do. But Disembowel answers most threats so readily that I’d rather have it in hand to deal with his second volley, whatever it is.”
In this case, I’d disagree with Daghain, even though I do so at my peril. I’m in a good situation over the next few turns, but I can’t afford to get to the point where a single Darkblast or Last Gasp is going to short-circuit my ability to maneuver. Given that he can recur infinitely, I don’t want him to start the +1/+1 counter chain immediately when he casts a guy the next turn and swings, giving his dudes a big up on me; blasting his guy now is a bit of a waste of a really good spell, but it keeps my tempo intact and allows me to potentially steal the initiative.
As it turns out, this was the thing to do. I held my Disembowel back for one more turn, waiting to see what he’d cast once he committed to his mana, hoping to destroy something good. That was foolish and perhaps a little greedy, but as it turns out he was creature-light; he cast a Civic Wayfinder, I destroyed his Shell, and I was able to take back the tempo because I could then attack with a stream of 4/4s and 3/3s. He burned removal, of course, but a single Shambling Shell isn’t good on its own and usually I was able to force him to make ugly choices.
…Or, well, I would have.
As it turns out, he was light on creatures, but my hand betrayed me. “He’s casting something?” my hand cried eagerly. “Cool! I wanna see what it does when it hits the table!” And so my Disembowel didn’t actually go off while the Wayfinder was on the stack; it went off after it had hit the table, giving him tempo, and completely giving me the worst of both worlds. He eventually killed me with the Wayfinder, thanks to my damned impetuous hand.
If I didn’t need my right hand so badly, I swear I’d whack it off.
Next week: Guildpact!