Tribal Thriftiness #15 – So Where Do All Those Uncommons Come From?

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Thursday, March 20th – The best way to build decks without relying on twenty-dollar rares is to use commons and uncommons that are key to your strategy. But aside from opening packs, where do you get all those key uncommons? Believe it or not, Wizards has been giving you a way to get them for years – the preconstructed decks.

Now that I’m a few months into writing this “thrifty” column, I thought I’d go back and look over the columns I’ve written so far. One thing I noticed is that, while I do pay attention to rares, I have a tendency to assume that everyone should have a playset of the uncommons, especially the big uncommons. For instance, I probably start every Elf decklist with four Imperious Perfect.

Is that realistic? Is it possible for a player on a limited budget to pick up key uncommons in multiples?

My friends, I say to you – Yes You Can. (There, that should please Bennie at least.)

Wizards of the Coast, at least recently, has given the thrifty player good opportunities to pick up key uncommons in a neat, tidy package, at a price that’s reasonable. Since their debut in Tempest, preconstructed decks have offered not only fixed, known uncommons, but also a basic structure showcasing one of the set’s mechanics… and from there, a player with limited resources can get the beginnings of a well-designed deck. True, the rares are at times forgettable, but the commons and uncommons have historically been a pretty good reflection of the Constructed environment.

So let’s take a walk through the history of the preconstructed deck, paying special attention to key commons and uncommons that could be found. This will, undoubtedly, be part one in the series, ‘cause man, there have been a lot of Magic sets.

Tempest Block

Tempest was the beginning of preconstructed decks. At the beginning, each deck offered three rares, and that didn’t change throughout this block. And from the beginning, Wizards was willing to put good commons and uncommons into the decks. “Deep Freeze,” the Blue-White control deck, had two Dismisses and three Counterspells, starting a burgeoning control player off on the right foot. In fact, a control player might also buy the “Slivers” preconstructed deck, netting another Dismiss and a Whispers of the Muse, as well as the remaining Counterspell and two Power Sinks. The “Slivers” deck also included Black removal in the form of two Diabolic Edicts and two Dark Banishings. On the flip side, a player who bought the “Slivers” precon could couple its assortment of Slivers with the four Muscle Slivers found in the Green-White aggro “The Swarm” deck, which also included two Overruns. “Flames of Rath,” the Red-White direct damage deck, had a full complement of Kindles and Mogg Fanatics, as well as a pair of Disenchants.

Stronghold’s preconstructed decks continued the themes presented in Tempest’s decks. A control player loved the options that “The Sparkler” could give them: a Whispers, two Propagandas, three Mana Leaks, plus other countermagic if they were still looking for permission spells. It also contained a pair of Capsizes and a pair of Shocks. “Migraine,” the mono-Black weenie deck, had the full set of Dauthi Horrors and two Dauthi Slayers, Shadow creatures that made an impact in Constructed. It also contained three Megrims and two Bottomless Pits, a combo that a lot of Johnnies tried to make work. Unfortunately, “The Spikes” (centered around, obviously, Spike creatures) had two Spike Feeders, but not much else, and “Call of the Kor” (centered around, obviously, en-Kor creatures) only had two Warrior en-Kor, which saw some play in White Weenie.

In Exodus, I personally owned “Widowmaker.” I loved Necrologia (seeing as how I wasn’t around during Necropotence, and at that time they still were out of my price range), and this deck had two, as well as two Forbids, four Merfolk Looters, and a number of control cards like Counterspell and Diabolic Edict. “Dominator” also had two Forbids, as well as a full set of Counterspells and three Mana Leaks. “Groundbreaker” certainly gave you the tools to be a cheesy land-destruction player, with three Rain of Tears and four Stone Rains, as well as three Shocks and three Diabolic Edicts to get rid of whatever came down prior to your land destruction. “White Heat” was undoubtedly the loser in this bunch, only made better because it had Paladin en-Vec in one of the rare slots.

So you could definitely find a lot of Tempest Block’s good commons and uncommons by purchasing a handful of the precons. Even Goblin Bombardment turned up in two of them. The only thing that was missing was maybe the uncommon Slivers in Stronghold, but you can’t fault them for that – they were dual-colored, and they had just done a Slivers precon in Tempest. It also would have been nice to see the pro-color Soltaris.

Urza’s Block

Urza’s Saga saw Wizards shift from putting three rares into a precon to only putting two in, but they made up for it by increasing the number of uncommons from nine to thirteen. It didn’t help Urza’s Saga precon decks, though, as Wizards decided to get a little obtuse with the themes of their precons. A Pestilence deck with Urza’s Armor? Really? A deck centered around the Opal enchantment-creatures? A cycling deck that focused on reanimation? (I guess I’m a little spoiled by Onslaught’s cycling.) Even “Special Delivery,” based around Echo, didn’t have the best Echoing uncommon (Albino Troll), instead opting for two Cradle Guards and two Acridians.

If you wanted the Cradle Guards, it was actually better to wait until Urza’s Destiny, when you could get the same two Cradle Guards in the “Crusher” precon, along with a Treetop Village, a singleton Rancor, and two Mother of Runes. You could find another Treetop Village in “Time Drain,” as well as a Faerie Conclave, a Confiscate, an Opportunity, and two each of Frantic Search and Miscalculation. “Phyrexian Assault” had two Bone Shredders and two Ghitu Slingers, and a Phyrexian Plaguelord in the rare slot, but not much else, and “Radiant’s Revenge” was the one always left on store shelves. Mobile Fort! Yeah!

Another Mother of Runes was yours for the taking in Urza’s Destiny’s “Enchanter” theme deck, along with two Thieving Magpies and a Quash, another Confiscate, and another Opportunity. The other two Thieving Magpies lived in “Battle Surge,” making a complete set, but not much else. “Fiendish Nature” was also sub-par, with only three Yavimaya Elders, three of the pseudo-cycling Heart Wardens, and a Rancor to be had. “Assassin” might be the overall winner now due to a pair of Duresses tucked inside; it also contained a set of Ravenous Rats, another Bone Shredder, and two Dark Rituals.

The Duresses, which are commonplace now, were available in precons, as well as a few cards here and there, but it appears that the Urza’s Block precons were less than the high standard set by Tempest, even though they had more uncommons. But I think that might be a little unfair. We have a memory of Urza’s Block being ridiculously overpowered, but it was mostly due to the rares, I think; the uncommons tend to look vastly underpowered and lackluster. Looking through a listing of the block’s uncommons, the only thing that really stands out that’s not already listed here is Goblin Lackey.

Masques Block

Masques Block starts out with the premise that you will be using Rebels and Mercenaries, and the precon decks do not disappoint. The “Rebel’s Call” theme deck has quite the Rebel chain: three Ramosian Sergeant, two Ramosian Lieutenant, two Ramosian Captain, two Ramosian Commander, chaining into quite an assortment of Rebels. Even the rares, Ramosian Sky Marshall and Cho-Manno, Revolutionary, play into the theme, and would see play in Rebel decks. The Mercenary deck, “Disruptor,” was less focused on the fetching side of Mercenary life, and instead played more as a land-D/discard deck, with only two Snuff Outs as possible Constructed candidates. “Deepwood Menace” had two Kris Mage (played in early Sligh-style decks) and three Vine Trellis, as well as two Desert Twisters, two Squallmongers, and two of Bennie Smith beloved Saber Ants. “Tidal Mastery,” the inevitable control deck, had two Counterspells, two Afterlifes, a Story Circle, and a Thwart. No Brainstorms though.

Nemesis brought along the legitimate “Mercenaries” deck, one focused on a fetching chain, but none of those really made it into Constructed. The deck did contain one of the Rebel-slaughtering Massacres, though. “Eruption” picked you up three Seal of Fire, but not much else, and “Breakdown” picked you up a pair of Blastoderms and three Waterfront Bouncers. “Replicator” was the real winner – four Blastoderms, two Stampede Drivers, two Seal of Doom… not to mention the Saproling Burst in the rare slot.

Prophecy’s “Slither” precon netted you a set of Silt Crawlers for your Snuff-o-Derm deck, as well as a Chimeric Idol. The Lumbering Satyr for alpha-striking in the mirror match was in “Pummel,” as well as two Blastoderms, if you weren’t already to a full set. “Distress” had the Avatar of Woe, but not much else, although I played with Chilling Apparition back in the day. “Turnaround” had three Spiketail Hatchling and two Waterfront Bouncer, as well as three Ribbon Snakes, putting you on the path to a Blue Skies deck; it also had a Daze and a Foil, not to mention the Mageta the Lion in the rare slot, which you could probably trade for the rest of the creatures in Blue Skies back when Counter-Rebel ran Mageta for the mirror match.

As a purposefully underpowered block in the wake of Urza’s Ridiculosity, Masques Block still managed to put a lot of the good commons and uncommons into the precons, especially the Rebel chain, which saw a lot of play. There were a couple of cards that saw play that are missing, though: Dominate, Submerge (none of the color hosers go in), and the common Brainstorm are all sadly missing.

Invasion Block

Invasion will always hold a special place in my heart, as I have said many times. The Black-Red “Blowout” deck had a strong direction and a lot of cards that epitomized the Black-Red strategy: two Addles, two Vicious Kavu, one Annihilate, one Breath of Darigaaz, a full set of Ravenous Rats, and a Ghitu Fire in the rare slot. “Dismissal” had two Urborg Drakes, a Disrupt, an Opt, two Probes, an Agonizing Demise, a Lobotomy, a Spite/Malice, and three Recoils. “Heavy Duty” had two Armadillo Cloaks, two Wax/Wane, and two Angel of Mercy. “Spectrum,” the Domain deck, had five split cards (two Wax/Wane, two Assault/Battery, and one Spite/Malice), a Fires of Yavimaya, as well as three Harrows, three Tribal Flames, two Excludes, two Probes, and Sabertooth Nishoba in the rare slot. But that wasn’t the best part. Because Invasion’s dual lands were uncommon, they were out in force in the precons – “Blowout” has two Urborg Volcanoes, “Dismissal” has two Salt Marshes, and “Heavy Duty” has two Elfhame Palaces.

The rest of the Domain cards would come in Planeshift’s “Domain” precon: two Allied Strategies, two Worldly Counsel, three more Tribal Flames, three more Harrows, as well as Quirion Dryad in the rare slot. “Barrage” had two Flametongue Kavus, three Thornscape Familiar, two Sparkcasters, another Fires of Yavimaya, a Simoon, and an Assault/Battery. Sadly, no Invasion dual lands, which were apparently all tucked into “Comeback,” which offered a Salt Marsh, a Coastal Tower, and two Dromar’s Caverns, but no other decent uncommons. All right, I guess Slay saw some play. You could get Cavern Harpies for your Aluren deck. “Scout” had the same uncommon land makeup (one Elfhame Palace, one Shivan Oasis, and two Rith’s Grove), as well as two Thornscape Battlemages and Eladamri’s Call in the rare slot.

Of course, you would think everything would go all wacky thanks to Apocalypse, wouldn’t you? Wizards made a nice transition, even including a three-color precon so we could see how everything worked together. “Burial” may not have had the best commons or uncommons, but it did have three Elfhame Palaces and two Chromatic Spheres, and the rares were both good for once: Phyrexian Arena and Death Grasp. “Pandemonium” is the expected Domain-themed deck, and if you bought the other two, this one would complete most of your sets, with two Allied Strategies, two Evasive Action, and three Lay of the Land, which all saw play in the Domain decks of the time. It also had Penumbra Wurm in the rare slot. “Swoop” was the Blue-Green deck, and Wizards’ website refers to it as “bouncy” – like the “C” in those old Billy Crystal SNL sketches, I guess. One Wash Out, two Chromatic Spheres, and two Jungle Barriers don’t amount to much, but it also had Mystic Snake in the rare slot. “Whirlpool” was Blue-Red and had a Flametongue Kavu, two Minotaur Illusionists, two Jilts, two Chromatic Spheres, and a Fire/Ice.

With all of the uncommon dual lands present and accounted for, it’s hard to ask for more in a precon. Even Ordered Migration is in there somewhere. The only uncommon that I can remember seeing play that’s not present is Dromar’s Charm.

The Odyssey Continues

This column has gone longer than I thought it would, but I hope you are beginning to see that the preconstructed decks are a great way of at least getting started on collecting the commons and uncommons that support specific strategies. I’d like to continue this series, starting off with Odyssey, but I’m unfortunately late for this week’s deadline (I blame St. Patrick’s Day), so let’s pick up in Odyssey next week and go all the way through to Standard now, shall we?

Until next time…