Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #111: It’s Not What You Do…

Some deckbuilding basics this week. Some of you definitely need a refresher course. People are posting Kamigawa-based decks in the forums, including a few combo decks. Some are good. Some — well, we need to talk.

Some deckbuilding basics this week. Some of you definitely need a refresher course. People are posting Kamigawa-based decks in the forums, including a few combo decks. Some are good. Some – well, we need to talk.

The first rule of tournament Magic is that you don’t play solitaire. You don’t goldfish. You play an opponent. That opponent will be doing everything they can to screw you up. You need to think about that. Hard.

For example, CaptainRobo posted a cool little combo deck to the forums. It went infinite with Forbidden Orchard / Lifespark Spellbomb and Intruder Alarm. It looks like it goldfishes well – on a God draw, it could win on turn 2. The downside was that it needed the following components: Intruder Alarm, an animated Forbidden Orchard and certain cards in hand. The combo could be disrupted by a host of cards, including countermagic, discard that hits combo pieces, artifact kill, enchantment kill or something like Worship or Ivory Mask. Cranial Extraction will also destroy the deck by removing critical pieces.

When you build a combo deck – actually, when you build any deck – it isn’t enough to have the deck do what it is supposed to do. You have to have the deck do what it is supposed to do no matter what the opponent is doing. For pure speed decks, that means dealing twenty before the opponent can react. For combos, it means going off before countermeasures can affect the deck – and before you die, before time expires, etc.

When building decks, you have to look at the cards that destroy your deck, then decide whether those cards are likely to be played. If they are, you need a fallback plan or a method of sideboarding that negates the problem cards. If neither of these works, then you may have to live with the fact that certain cards are an automatic loss. Autolosses are not necessarily reasons to dump the deck – it depends on how common the card is. Many Type One decks still killed with Stroke of Genius years after Obstinate Familiar was printed, because OF has always been unplayable. On the other hand, maindeck artifact kill in Mirrodin Block and Type Two did indeed kill Isochron Scepter decks.

Let’s look at this principle in practice. I’ll look at some deck concepts that might be considered for the next big Type Two format – State/Provincial Championships, and the cards that hurt them. Some of these decks are playable, some probably not. I’ll start with a maybe not.

I mentioned the Rats deck in my set review. The concept looks okay – a combination of cheap evasion rats, discard and good removal spells (but not the Marrow Gnawer, which is too expensive for non-casual play). Ravenous Rats, Distress, Nezumi Shortfang and even Mind Sludge all wreck the opponent’s hand. Nezumi Cutthroat and Nezumi Graverobber are 2/1s for two. Shortfang empties hands, then becomes The Rack. Cranial Extraction wrecks certain decks. The deck has an abundance of creature removal spells (Terror, Rend Spirit, Rend Flesh, Echoing Decay, Dark Banishing, Befoul, Vicious Hunger, etc.) to choose from. You can also play a big-effect spell as a finisher: Kokusho, Death Cloud, Greater Harvester or Seizan, depending on your preference.

The deck would be based around a lot of 2/1 or 2/2 creatures. That makes it vulnerable to direct damage, -1/-1 effects and Pyroclasm type things. Direct damage will be played: Big Red, R/G and Affinity all pack some. Pyroclasm will be played in Big Red, some Tooth builds and other decks. That could be a problem. Everything but a flipped Shortfang dies to Pyroclasm, and Flamebreak kills Shortfang whether he stands on his head or not.

That makes Pyroclasm and damage effects something to worry about. If Big Red were a rogue deck, you might take Rats to States hoping to miss seeing Big Red – but that doesn’t look realistic. The second option would be to play around the damage. One option might be Sword of Fire and Ice – which makes the rats larger and gives protection from Red. That is possible, but since Big Red packs artifact kill, it may not be enough. This one could take testing – the combination of fear dudes, the card advantage of the Sword and discard effects might be enough to outrun Big Red – although discard still does not stop a Pyroclasm ripped off the top.

The other problem is that the Rat deck would be mono-Black. That means it does not have answers to enchantments or artifacts other than Oblivion Stone. That is only a problem if decks play enchantments or artifacts – think it might happen? A few enchantments could be bad, such as Ghostly Prison and Karma, but they should be relatively rare, and you might be able to count on discard to handle them. Artifacts, on the other hand, are strong and will be played in masses. I doubt that Affinity decks, with 4/4 Myr Enforcers, are going to have serious problems with a 2/1 Fear dude that cannot block. Rend Spirit is not enough.

So, after review, the Rats deck has major problems with two of the top archetypes. That’s probably the kiss of death. No Rats for you, Willard!

Next up, Affinity. This deck has been amazing in previous Standard formats, and in Block. It doesn’t lose anything in the rotation, doesn’t gain much, but it does have some new hate to face. However, Affinity has always been good because it has three routes to victory. It can beat with lots of undercosted creatures (e.g. Frogmites and Enforcers.) It can beat with a monster (e.g. one big Arcbound Ravager or Atog) or fly over with an incredible evasion creature (e.g. Somber Hoverguard with Cranial Plating.) Finally, it can combo-kill with Ravager and Disciples. To defeat the deck, you have to deal with all three of its paths to victory.

Let’s look at the new hatred first. Wizards has printed a clear Affinity hoser in Imi Statue, a three-mana artifact that acts as a Winter Orb for artifacts. This could, once it hits play, slow down Affinity decks. It will certainly stop beats from a mix of Frogmites, Arcbound Workers and Ornithopters – but that is hardly enough. If an Affinity deck is beating down with a Somber Hoverguard wearing Cranial Plate, even Kill Switch (no artifacts untap) would not stop Affinity from winning. Imi Statue also slows down the untapping of artifact lands – but that isn’t enough either. Affinity decks should be running almost full sets of Glimmervoids and Blinkmoth Nexi, and they can do quite well on only a few lands. Moreover, even if the Imi Statue does slow the Affinity beats significantly, eventually Affinity will draw the Ravager and enough Disciples to just win. Sacrificing tapped artifacts works just as effectively as sacrificing untapped ones.

Affinity also faces some other hate. Red decks will play Hearth Kami – a 2/1 for 1R with X, sacrifice, destroy target artifact with converted mana cost of X. Hearth Kami will typically trade for a Frogmite and a land – and possibly more.

Samurai of the Pale Curtain could also affect Affinity decks. The Samurai replaces going to the graveyard with removing from the game. If the Samurai is in play, Disciple of the Vault’s ability will not trigger.

Even Black gets Affinity hate in Horobi, Death’s Wail. The 4/4 flier makes modular a drawback, since any artifact creature targeted by modular counters is destroyed. However, Affinity decks could counter this by going back to their roots – and running some parts of Chiss-Goria in the sideboard. Horobi dies when it is targeted, and while the Teeth and Scales don’t do all that much, they do target.

Of course, all this hate does not destroy Affinity. As I said, Affinity has three paths to victory – beatdown with hordes of Frogmites and the like, beatdown with huge monsters and comboing out with the Disciple. Each hate card only really stops one path. Few decks can stop all three. The closest to such a deck would be a White deck packing Imi Statue, Ghostly Prison, and Samurai of the Pale Curtain – and it could even pack Circle of Protection: Blue to stop Broodstar and Hoverguards. However, such a deck would have a really tough time against Big Red, or the other decks, so I wouldn’t fear it too much. That said, if I play Affinity at states, I would make sure I included Atogs and Hoverguards, and would at least playtest the Green splash with Naturalize.

It is too early to look at a lot of archetypes and at the sideboard cards that threaten them, so I will just look at the sideboard cards themselves. (Note: although I refer to these as”sideboard” cards, some, like Ghostly Prison, may make the maindeck.) The following new cards are potentially threatening to certain decks or archetypes. They may or may not actually be played – there are simply not enough slots in maindecks and sideboards to fit in everything.

Cranial Extraction

This card will strip a critical component from an opposing deck. One turn 4 – turn 3 with acceleration – it could be played early enough to have an impact. I see this card being a serious problem for Tooth and Nail decks – not because it would strip the Colossus, but because it would strip Tooth and Nail itself the first time, then something like Eternal Witness or Sylvan Scrying in later uses. Tooth and Nail gets awfully slow without it’s namesake. Cranial Extraction is also brutal against combo decks. Against other archetypes, it should be less of a problem: these decks can run a variety of finishers. For example, control decks are already debating between Yosei, the Morning Star, Pristine Angel and other win conditions – Cranial Extraction might be reason enough to run two of each.

Uba Mask

Uba Mask is a totally splashable piece of control hatred, as well as a potential wrecking ball against decks that want to develop mana before casting powerful cards. If deck could power this out early, say turn 3, a lot of copies of Tooth and Nail or Yosei will be removed from the game before the decks running them hit enough mana to cast them. Of course this hoser was intended to counteract a block mechanic (Splice), and of course it will be hit by the artifact kill all decks will be packing, but it is still a consideration. It is also an interesting combo with Nezumi Shortfang – or should I say Stabwhiskers the Odious. You can never draw your away out from under The Rack when you don’t draw cards.

Counterspell-based decks are facing other hate, including City of Solitude masquerading as a creature and a land that makes everything uncounterable, but those may not be quite as serious as the Mask. Playing a land that costs life isn’t bad, but it slows down creature deployment – meaning that it won’t work well in decks that need speed. It will work in decks that need to ram through one spell – provided that spell in not removed from the stack with Time Stop. Bosieiju, Who Shelters All may have limited appearances maindeck, but mainly live in the sideboard. Unless counterspell decks are really good (and I haven’t seen counterspell-based decks can really handle Affinity), having your land come into play tapped, then die when an opponent plays their copy, seems bad.

A quick comment on Drosan of the Falling Leaf: City of Solitude as an enchantment had one big advantage over Drosan – City of Solitude did not die to Terror or Wrath of God. That said, all three (Uba Mask, Drosan, and Boseiju) will provide some design constraints that could affect control decks at states. These cards, plus Affinity and Big Red running land destruction, make Blue control decks a difficult design problem. Maybe it can be solved, maybe not.

Ghostly Prison is another card that you should give serious consideration to when building your deck for states. It really should have been printed in Odyssey (up yours, Warchief), but we have it now. For those of you who haven’t played against Propaganda effects before, you have a lot to learn about annoyance. Ghostly Prison will slow down a lot of decks that try to drop a swarm of creatures and win before a Wrath wrecks them. It will also have an impact on Rude Awakening decks – although Rude Awakening decks should already be replacing some of its pure artifact hate with Naturalize.

Night of Soul’s Betrayal might cause certain decks some concerns, but it seems unlikely. Mono-Green beatdown, Rats, Affinity and Big Red all have a significant number of creatures that die to the -1/-1 effect. That said, I’m not sure anyone will actually play this. It isn’t quite strong enough, even though it would stop a lot of Blinkmoth Nexi. Stopping Nexi is nice, but it does not offset the sinking feeling of drawing multiple copies of a legendary card in your opening hand.

Shell of the Last Kappa

Okay, some sideboard cards are probably too narrow to see any play. This only affects spells that target you. Since the main spells that target you are going to be Distress and Cranial Plating or Fireball and maybe Consume Spirit, this won’t do all that much. Distress and Cranial Plating will hit before you can keep mana open to use it. The X-spells, on the other hand, will have X=0 when replayed. Not a bargain. However, if stopping spells that target a player is important, remember that Ivory Mask is Type Two legal.

Looking through the Eighth Edition list reveals a few other playable sideboard cards, which could affect certain decks. Land denial is still around: Choke, Flashfires, Boil and Spreading Algae are all legal. Mono-Black control decks are being discussed, but people are forgetting about Karma. [Well, not so much forgetting as there aren’t currently any good White decks running around that can cast it. – Knut] Discard-based decks might also want to remember that Guerilla Tactics is also legal. Red decks may not find sideboard room for it – but then, again, they might.

Ensnaring Bridge is still around. Although it isn’t always enough to stop Affinity, it can be rough on other decks that don’t expect it. Currently, enough decks run artifact hate to basically make this card unplayable, but that means most people forget about it. As a result, it might get some surprise wins in games two and three after opponents sideboard out their artifact removal. It might be something to think about when facing a rogue mono-Black or mono-Red deck.

Finally, remember that Blue decks are not dead – and that Bribery is still legal. I am always amused by the forum posters that recommend sideboarding in Acquire against Tooth and Nail – and then get flamed by people saying that experienced Tooth and Nail players always side out Darksteel Colossus for some non-artifact beaters. Fine – Bribery cost the same amount, and gets anything Tooth & Nail can get.

On the Food for Thought front: I just want to put in a plug for Tatsumata, the Dragon’s Fang as a win condition in control decks. Right now, it is too expensive and too vulnerable to artifact hate. In the future, however, it is the closest thing to Eternal Dragon U/W Control can get. If it isn’t disenchanted immediately, it can create a 5/5 dragon – and as many replacements as needed. It survives, in a manner of speaking, Wrath of God. Yosei doesn’t do that – you can Wrath and tap your opponent out, but it takes a ton of mana to Wrath, then cast enough creatures to have an impact on the one turn when the opponent is locked down. (There is one useful play on the turn after Wrathing away Yosei, but I’m saving that for now.)


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P.S.: some playtesting notes. It’s early days still. That means that people won’t know how to play many of the new netdecks, making playtest results against them suspect. The old archetypes, that everyone knows how to play, might have unrealistically strong showings – as will the pet decks that various people will design and tweak. In early playtesting, decks played well will stomp decks that get misplayed. Moreover, many peoples’ gauntlet decks will be close to pure manure. For that reason, take all the early results with a large grain of salt. (That’s why I’m not posting anything, yet.) That said, remember that playtesting beats theorizing every time.