The Weekly Shift Sift: Zoom Zoom Zoom

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StarCityGames.com!I am typing this at sixty-five miles as I zoom through the winding mountains of Pennsylvania, headed back home to Ohio after a weekend spent with my family. (No worries, my wife’s driving.) But I’m thinking of a card pool that I could not break, and wondering what lessons I can derive from it…

I am typing this at sixty-five miles as I zoom through the winding mountains of Pennsylvania, headed back home to Ohio after a weekend spent with my family.

No worries, my wife’s driving.

I’ve got an electrical outlet that plugs into the cigarette lighter, which means that I can type for as long as we’re driving. I’ve also got a DVD on to pass the time, and said DVD is being broadcast out through a small triple-A-powered Belkin radio transmitter so that we’re listening to the first season of House on our car stereo.

The only thing I am lacking for productivity is an Internet connection. And I do have wireless. I play a little game with myself wherein I have the “check for open wireless zones” tab open on my computer, and occasionally I get a whiff of some open network where I could theoretically piggyback on someone’s Internet access. But of course, since we’re zooming past at sixty-five miles an hour, I’m out of range before I can hit “reconnect.”

Oh, I know I could get a network card from my cell phone company that would give me wireless access wherever I was. But I don’t want that. I want to steal someone else’s connection as I whiz by on the freeway, and to do it for long enough to check my email and play a game of Magic Online.

Alas. It shan’t happen. But I like the idea of a wireless network so massive that I could snag it from rural Pennsylvania.

In any case, that means that today’s article is written without me having my usual MODO tools to work with. So watch out! Here comes the card pool from hell!

Solid Playables: Castle Raptors, Flickering Spirit, Weathered Bodyguards

Ugh. The White here has a handful of strong cards, but not much depth, relegating it to a splash — but I’m not even particularly thrilled about that. I mean, I suppose you could argue that it’s worth splashing for Castle Raptors and Weathered Bodyguards, but a generic flier (although beefy) and a late-game guy who prevents all damage for a bit don’t seem like they’d fill any gap in any deck that I’d pilot.

I’m not sure whether I should have put Zealot il-Vec on here as a solid playable. He’s good for an early drop and to take out opposing 1/1s, but beyond that it gets tricky… I’d consider a “solid playable” to be defined as “a card that I would not cut if I were in that color,” and I’d still cut a Zealot if I had to.

Same with Amrou Scouts. Great card, if I have the Rebels to work with. I don’t here, so bye bye, scouts!

Solid Playables: Aether Web, Durkwood Baloth, Havenwood Wurm, Jolrael, Empress of Beasts, Nantuko Shaman, Search for Tomorrow

This is kind of like White in that it has a handful of strong cards, but unlike White I’d be willing to splash. I could use Jolrael and its great finishing power, and an instant-speed Wurm is nice in the late game.

But Jolrael is double-Green mana — never good for a splash. Search For Tomorrow is something you want in the early game to find your splash color, not a late-game deck thinner. And while I enjoy a Suspended Durkwood Baloth on turn 1 (or, sometimes, 2), with a splash color we’re not going to be able to suspend him early on, making him a hard-cast spell… And whoops, we’re back to double-Green.

Not really runnable as a main color, not workable as a splash. I’d say Green is right out.

Solid Playables: Basalt Gargoyle, Goblin Skycutter, Greater Gargadon, Keldon Halberdier, Lightning Axe, Magus of the Scroll, Orcish Cannonade, Ironclaw Buzzardiers

Since the previous two colors weren’t all that great, I was hoping that Red would be workable as a main color… And thankfully, it is. Basalt Gargoyle can be an awfully tough card when you’re playing against Blue, since it will be bounced multiple times to tie up your mana, but in other colors it can either be a nice air-clock or a solid defender while you work on someone’s life total with another item. It requires a commitment to Red, but that’s not a bad thing.

Greater Gargadon, however, rides the fence here. I like him in theory, since he basically turns every dead creature into an eventual clock, and if your opponent isn’t killing your creatures to try to stave off the Gargadon then you’re winning almost by definition. But when he arrives, he’s a lowly 9/7 without trample, meaning that if your opponent has chump blockers of any stripe then you’re lost without a cause. I’m putting him as a “solid playable,” since he’s sort of like a consolation prize for losing dudes, but I might go with a Red deck without him if I had sufficiently good Red.

Keldon Halberdier, I’ve come around on, mainly because I’ve come around on the suspend mechanic in general. He’s not invulnerable, but he is sufficiently good to warrant the investment. Goblin Skycutter has worked out better in Red than I’ve thought, since it usually is death to most things in the skies (except in Blue), meaning that your opponent usually wants to get it out of the way before casting anything that flies. He’s not great, but he serves a fine purpose.

Magus of the Scroll is as good as he looks, when he survives. That’s not often. But it’s not like that removal wouldn’t have gone to use elsewhere, and the ability to dominate the late-game with him when you’re down to a card is quite nice.

I don’t know about Ghitu Firebreathing. It’s probably got a space, but I never draw it when it’s in my deck. I mean, never.

Solid Playables: Dark Withering, Faceless Devourer, Gorgon Recluse, Mana Skimmer, Mindstab, Phthisis, Urborg Syphon-Mage, Viscerid Deepwalker, Viscid Lemures, Withered Wretch

A reasonably strong pool for Black, even as it has its usual problem of “ludicrously overpriced if it’s not discarded, cheap if it is.” I mean, Dark Withering is about as much as you’d ever want to play for removal, and without the Madness I wonder whether it’d get played at all. But this has some nice creatures and a decent mix of evasion.

Still, Mana Skimmer is annoyingly good. Urborg Syphon-Mage is not world-breaking, but it is both an expensive Madness outlet and a slow route to victory; my dreams of winning through churning with the Urborg alone never work, since two damage a turn almost never races with any solid clock your opponent can provide, but it’s still worth running.

Phthisis is still not something I’m thrilled to suspend, since you can work around it in ugly ways, but it has its place and will occasionally just flat-out win you the game. Faceless Devourer less so, but it’s a cheap shadow critter that occasionally picks up a Looter en-Kor, which is nice.

I know there are folks who look at Drudge Reavers and see a regenerator. I look at it and see something that requires five mana to hold off larger creatures, making it marginal.

Skulking Knight? Hey, buddy, you might move up next week. A lot of people are rooting for you. But I’ve never seen my Skulking Knights do more than three points of damage before some stupid Blue or White effect sent them spiraling into the bin.

Solid Playables: Brine Elemental, Crookclaw Transmuter, Fathom Seer, Slipstream Serpent, Snapback, Spiketail Drakeling, Wipe Away

This is pretty darned good Blue; a lot of tricks, solid creatures, and even the marginal guys (Spell Burst, Drifter il-Dal) aren’t terrible. The problem, like with so many great dates, is that this demands perhaps a tad more commitment than we’d like. There’s a lot of double-Blue casting costs in this set, meaning that we go with Blue exclusively or lose the best of it.

The more I play against Crookclaw Transmuter, I should add, the more I hate it. It devours Skulking Knights, eats unprotected Stuffy Dolls for breakfast, blocks in the air for a turn, and turns “safe damage” into “lethal” if the power and toughness vary. Bleah, I tell you.

Eternity Snare? Not bad at all, but it is expensive. Thus, I’m willing to cut it sometimes. Likewise, I’m convinced that Fool’s Demise has to be good in some deck, but I never find it in a deck that I need.

Gold and Artifacts
Solid Playables: Stonebrow, Krosan Hero

I like Stonebrow in Limited. And I wish I could splash him into my deck. But as I mentioned, the Green isn’t workable as a main color and isn’t really splashable, so in the absence of a zillion tramplers I’m going to pass.

Assembly Workers? Ooo, we have a pair. But even with two of them to make a 4/4 blocker, I’m not convinced they’re worth running. Check that; I’m not sure they’re worth bumping other, better cards out of the deck.

So here’s the problem: At the time I built this deck, I didn’t get the strong “Three colors are good” message from Grand Prix: New Jersey. Thus, I said, “Self, we have two deep colors and a near-total absence of any mana fixers whatsoever; why not try to run with just two colors?” And thus, I brewed this abomination from the depths of hell:

8 Island
8 Mountain
1 Basalt Gargoyle
1 Brine Elemental
1 Calciform Pools
1 Crookclaw Transmuter
1 Dream Stalker
1 Drifter il-Dal
1 Eternity Snare
1 Fathom Seer
1 Goblin Skycutter
1 Greater Gargadon
1 Ironclaw Buzzardiers
1 Keldon Halberdier
1 Lightning Axe
1 Magus of the Scroll
1 Ophidian Eye
1 Orcish Cannonade
1 Slipstream Serpent
1 Snapback
1 Spell Burst
1 Spiketail Drakeling
1 Thick-Skinned Goblin
1 Viashino Bladescout
1 Viscerid Deepwalker
1 Wipe Away

The thing is, this deck played really well for the first six turns or so; it was a hyper-aggressive Red/Blue beatdown whose goal was to lay a couple of early creatures, get in for a lot of damage, and then finish them off in some way. And that’s precisely what it did in the early game; usually, my opponent was down to ten or so by turn 6, if not less.

But the entirety of my assault rested upon the backs of tiny, tiny creatures, which usually met some form of awful demise once my opponent got up any sort of 4/4 defense. Penumbra Spider? Wow, that’s game.

It might have been different if I’d had some sort of finisher spell, like Disintegrate. But all I had were spells that could do two damage at a shot, and that wasn’t quite enough to take my opponent down from six. I might be able to bounce a creature or two to get through for a phase or a bit, but then I watched my offense disintegrate (oh, the humiliation!).

I lost. Often.

It didn’t help that I had no way to deal with artifacts or enchantments at all, making sideboarding kind of ugly. I went an ungodly 1-6 with this pile, because I thought that it should work and thus kept trying it long after it was obvious that, well, it didn’t. Not good.

After New Jersey and its attendant lessons about aiming for power, I decided to go back and rework this to see whether I could do any better. It’s not the best card pool I’ve seen, since it’s lacking the bomb rares or the depth across colors to work with.

But how could I go three colors here? There’s precisely one mana-fixer, and it’s in a color I didn’t feel comfortable running as a maindeck. But we’d already established that lumping the strongest two colors together didn’t work, either, since it had gaping holes that could not be filled. So what could we do?

Unfortunately, splashing something into the Red/Blue deck simply would not work. It’d be tempting to go R/U/g, but the problem with the Red/Blue is that we have a lot of double-colors to work with (Spiketail, Slipstream, Cannonade, Bladescout) and cards that require me to lock down a color to be effective (Buzzardier, Drifter) to work with in the first place, leaving me prone to awful bouts of manascrew even without a third color to work with.

Thus, I’d have to choose. The color that works best on its own, I decided, was Red — I like Blue, but its creatures just aren’t as strong. And if we’re going with Red and leaving Blue on the sidelines and Green and White aren’t maindeck colors, that leaves Black.

But what to splash? Let’s look at the possibilities:

White: Castle Raptors and Weathered Bodyguards
Not bad, but given that Red/Black isn’t overly concerned with defense, I’m not sure that these two cards would flesh out the build we needed.

Green: Havenwood Wurm and Molder
The rest of the cards, as mentioned before, require a clunky double-Green, which we can’t afford. And while this deck could use a bit of beef to seal as a finisher, I’m not sold.

Blue: Crookclaw Transmuter, Eternity Snare, Snapback
Slightly better. I doubt that Transmuter would be that useful in the late game, but Eternity Snare and Snapback could handle some late-game issues or save a vital Urborg from destruction. And I’m not particularly thrilled about running Crookclaw main, but it could help with some whacky cards later on.

Thus, I went with this:

3 Island
7 Mountain
6 Swamp
1 Withered Wretch
1 Basalt Gargoyle
1 Calciform Pools
1 Dark Withering
1 Drudge Reavers
1 Faceless Devourer
1 Goblin Skycutter
1 Gorgon Recluse
1 Greater Gargadon
1 Ironclaw Buzzardiers
1 Keldon Halberdier
1 Lightning Axe
1 Magus of the Scroll
1 Mana Skimmer
1 Mindstab
1 Ophidian Eye
1 Orcish Cannonade
1 Phthisis
1 Skulking Knight
1 Snapback
1 Thick-Skinned Goblin
1 Urborg Syphon-Mage
1 Viashino Bladescout
1 Viscid Lemures

How’d it do? I’d love to tell you that it kicked ass after this retooling, but either this pool is too weak or I’m not a good enough player to work it into something strong enough. I went 2-2 in the next four matches, but it was a much closer 2-2; the Urborg’s madness came in awfully handy, destroying the best creatures while I worked over the opponent, and the surfeit of answers helped.

The only problem? A lack of evasion. Aside from the Devourer and the Buzzardiers, I found myself in long standoffs where we stabilized the board and it came down to my Urborg and/or Magus versus whatever he had in the air. Whoever destroyed the other’s clock the most efficiently won — which sounds like it would favor me, but when you consider that I have precisely one way of destroying any creature that’s 4/4 or greater (at least without combining damage sources), really, I got left in the dust.

Honestly? If you folks have an idea, lemme know how you think it should have been done in the forums. I’m open to suggestion.

The Weekly Plug Bug
Last week, my webcomic Home on the Strange revealed that Izzy was moving into a new apartment…. But she wasn’t telling her sorta-boyfriend Tanner about it, because he would ask her to move in with him and that was a level of commitment she did not want. In this week’s strip, she attempts to move an apartment all by herself, leading to the sort of cheap trick I suspect we’ve all tried at some point in our lives.

Signing off,
The Ferrett
The Here Edits This Here Site Guy