Yawgmoth’s Whimsy #135: How Useful is Testing on Magic Online?

It is getting harder to find new topics that are worth writing about – and, more importantly, give me an excuse to play a lot of Magic. I think I’ve found one, though: I want to see how useful testing in the casual rooms on MTGO can be. Specifically, I want to compare the Casual Play Constructed room, the Tournament Practice room and actual MTGO tournaments with each other, and with real life.

I have now written over 200 articles on Magic. It is getting harder to find new topics that are worth writing about – and, more importantly, give me an excuse to play a lot of Magic. I think I’ve found one, though: I want to see how useful testing in the casual rooms on MTGO can be. Specifically, I want to compare the Casual Play Constructed room, the Tournament Practice room and actual MTGO tournaments with each other, and with real life.

This also lets me write mini-tourney reports, and gives me the excuse to play a lot of Magic. Hoodie Hoo!

The first step is to find a deck. I have only been playing online since February, and I played mainly in Mirrodin and 8E/9E Limited events and leagues. My collection has a ton of one and two-ofs – and very few four-ofs. I have also done a fair amount of Ravnica Limited, but I have exactly one dual land – although I do have three Privileged Positions and three Bloodletter Quills in my 50 odd Ravnica rares. In other words, my collection has a ton of holes.

Choosing a deck will be tricky.

I also don’t want to write about Standard. Flores does that. Romeo does that. I don’t want to rehash their decks – but I don’t have anything new that works well enough to compete. Besides, my Mirrodin stuff is useless in Standard.

That leaves Extended. Everything I have is Extended legal – although a lot of it is one-offs I got for Singleton formats. Extended is also pretty well followed right now because of the PTQs, and the format is really diverse while being rational enough that Cabal Therapy is good.

Of course, I don’t have cards for most of the Tier One and 1.5 decks. I have the cycling lands for Slide, one Early Harvest and 2 Heartbeats for Desire, nothing but the Genesis for Loam Tog, and no Ichorids. I have zero Lightning Helixes, Savannah Lions, and just two hounds, so Boros is also out.

On the flip side, I do have many of the cards for a G/B aggro deck, similar to the one I played at the last PTQ. For reference, here’s that list, along with what I own (including some last minute purchases) in parentheses:

Four of a Kind = Proof of a Tuned Deck

4 Birds of Paradise (got them! Yay!)

4 Dark Confidant (2)

4 Troll Ascetic (4)

3 Withered Wretch (4)

2 Viridian Zealot (2)

2 Wild Mongrel (4)

2 Phantom Centaur (4)

2 Llanowar Elves (4)

1 Elves of Deep Shadow (3)

4 Cabal Therapy (4)

4 Putrefy (zero)

3 Call of the Herd (zero)

2 Sword of Fire and Ice (1)

2 Umezawa’s Jitte (2)

1 Chrome Mox (zero)

1 Polluted Delta (zero)

5 Swamp

6 Forest

4 Overgrown Tomb (1)

4 Llanowar Wastes (1)


3 Pernicious Deed (zero)

3 Naturalize (sure)

3 Duress (4)

3 Smother (3)

2 Phantom Centaur (4)

1 Withered Wretch (4)

Quick checks: the Calls, Tombs and moxen are all well over $10, and I’ve spent pretty much all I can on MTGO for now. The Pernicious Deeds are about $100 each – not gonna happen. However, I do have one Genesis, one Living Wish and one Ravenous Baloth – all possibilities. I also opened Vinelasher Kudzus (along with Bob) in both of my first two Ravnica leagues, so Kudzu might be a replacement for the Calls. It’s not perfect, but that’s life.

One Putrefy won’t cut it, though. However, I need practically every uncommon and rare in the G/B precon, and that has 2 Putrefies, so I’ll order that. Now I really have spent all I can on this deck.

The mana is still a mess, since without most of the dual lands and the painlands, I will need some land fetchers. Since no one plays Night of Soul’s Betrayal, Sakura-Tribe Elders will probably fill the bill.

Okay, here’s version one.

4-of-a-Kind Online

4 Birds of Paradise

2 Dark Confidant

4 Troll Ascetic

3 Withered Wretch

2 Viridian Zealot

2 Vinelasher Kudzu

3 Phantom Centaur

4 Llanowar Elves

2 Sakura-Tribe Elder

1 Eternal Witness

1 Hypnotic Specter

3 Cabal Therapy

2 Putrefy

1 Sword of Fire and Ice

2 Umezawa’s Jitte

1 Sword of Light and Shadow

1 Living Wish

1 Windswept Heath

7 Swamp

9 Forest

1 Blinkmoth Nexus

1 Tendo Ice Bridge

1 Overgrown Tomb

1 Llanowar Wastes


3 Naturalize

3 Duress

3 Smother

1 Phantom Centaur

1 Withered Wretch

1 City of Brass

1 Genesis

1 Bane of the Living

1 Ravenous Baloth

1 Eternal Witness

This is clearly unfinished, but it’s time to start trying it out. It’s off to the Casual play – Constructed room for some playtesting (emphasis on play.)

The deck starts brilliantly. Turn 1, Forest, Birds. Turn 2, Vinelasher Kudzu, Swamp. Turn 3, Vinelasher Kudzu, Windswept Heath, sac for Overgrown Tomb, Sakura-Tribe Elder, sac for Swamp, beat for 5. Next turn, Living Wish for City of Brass, win. My opponent has done nothing but spin Divining Tops.

I have two Kudzus, and I drew them both by turn 2. Everything went perfectly. That clearly shows a lot about how this deck operates – or at least how a God draw operates.

I play two more games against really random, or really mana screwed, decks. I get fast starts, they did little if anything, I kill them.

I’m so good.

The Casual play Constructed room is generally all single games – rarely matches. I do hit one player wanting a match. Game one he has nothing exciting going early – just Kodama’s Reaches and one Seedborn Muse. I cast Cabal Therapy and see some big monsters – stuff like Living Hive. I get some early beats going with Phantom Centaurs, and when he drops Seedborn Muse, I have Putrefy. He’s dead quickly, and I have no idea what to sideboard. Game two, however, I get a slowish start and he accelerates his mana, then drops Call of the Wild and casts Congregation at Dawn for Living Hives and so forth. Aha! He soon has enough mana to use Call of the Wild three times a turn – including my turns, thanks to Seedborn Muse. However, I have some Phantom Centaurs and Trolls to hold off his dudes, but I can’t draw anything useful and eventually die to my own Dark Confidant. Game three, I have Naturalize in hand and explode all over him – it’s not even remotely close. Fun deck though, and I wish I had jotted down his name.

I play a dozen or so games and matches. I lose exactly one game – to a dude who opened played an Escape Artist on turn 2, equipped it with Elephant Guide on turn 3, then hit it with multiple Muscle Bursts and Giant Growths. I had the Sword of Light and Shadow on a Bird and was racing, but the turn before I would have killed him, he did the final eleven – exactly enough to kill me – with a Might of Oaks.

I play several more games, but none of it is notable.

The conclusions – I played only a couple serious decks, and I beat them all pretty convincingly. However, the mana was still screwed up. Tendo Ice Bridge was pretty marginal – I really want colored mana repeatedly. The Living Wish suite is a lot of fun – but maybe that is all it is good for. I am supposed to be playing G/B aggro – and Living Wish is not very aggro.

Finally, I realize that I really want Pernicious Deed. Bane of the Living is the best replacement I actually own – and, to paraphrase someone most of you will never have heard, “I know Pernicious Deed. Pernicious Deed is a friend of mine. And Bane – you are no Pernicious Deed.” Bane has to go. I may have to try Plague Boiler, but it seems so slow, especially for an aggro deck.

Withered Wretch, being double black, is hard to play. However, he is really good against a number of decks (including Reanimator, which I did face.) Eternal Witness, on the other hand, has yet to be relevant.

I need more lands, so I go out and draft some of my Ravnica packs. I bust a Temple Garden, Vinelasher Kudzu and Putrefy (all in different drafts), but my opponents do things like play Watchwolf, double Faith’s Fetters, then Congregation at Dawn for Tolsimir Wolfblood, Selesnya Evangel and Woodwraith Corrupter. I lose two Ravnica drafts 1-2 in the first round, so I draft a nice U/B Kamigawa block deck with 8 x/1 fliers, five Ninjas, 2 Shuriken, Kiku’s Shadow and Kiku herself – only to have an opponent cast Matsu-Tribe Snipers on turns 2 and 3 – then drop Sashi. Another 1-2 loss in the first round.

In the drafts I played over the weekend, all had 4-6 players with sub 1600 ratings, and only 1-3 players with ratings of over 1700. I averaged the ratings of the players I faced – the average was 1817. Luck and I are not even nodding acquaintances.

Okay, self-pity mode off. No one cares.

The Kudzu and Putrefy will make the deck.

Some quick modifications:

+1 Vinelasher Kudzu, – 1 Hypnotic Specter: The Hyppie is fine, but not exceptional , and double Black mana is still tough. Upping the number of Kudzus and the other mana problems probably warrants adding some Sakura-Tribe Elders. They are slow, but they pump the Kudzus and fetch Swamps.

+ 1 Putrefy, -1 Eternal Witness: Something has to come out for the Putrefy, and although it should probably be the Living Wish, I cut the Witness. The Witness seems either dead or a wins more card.

-1 Tendo Ice Bridge, + 1 Swamp: Ice Bridge is good once, then bad thereafter. I would rather have practically anything else. The deck requires very little colorless mana.

+1 Cabal Therapy, – 1 something: In the casual areas, Cabal Therapy is often bad, but in serious Extended, it is very potent. I know I played all four – I’m just not sure what I cut.

After the tweaks, it’s off to the tournament practice room for some more serious competition. The Tourney Practice room is supposed to have more tuned decks, play matches instead of single games, and have a higher quality of players. At least, that’s my experience and expectation. The purpose of this test is to find out, but it’s still deck tweaking time.

Match 1: Zahori with Ichorid 2-1

Okay, first match in the TP room and I’m facing a tier one deck, and probably the hottest one in the format. Game one, though, he is a bit slow to start and the Vinelashers jump all over his head, then a Phantom Centaur grabs a Sword and he cannot win the race. The game is over quickly, and his deck misfires to the point that all I see in the bin is a Psychatog, Stinky and stuff like Deep Analysis. It looks like Loam Tog, and I sideboard accordingly (in extra Wretch and Phantom Centaur, one Smother, two Duress, out Jittes, Zealots, Witness.)

Game two I mulligan, fail to find anything useful and just begin minor beats. I screw up by failing to flashback Cabal Therapy to get a Tolarian Wind, and he shows me just how wrong that was the next turn. He has Filth on the bin, so a foursome of swampwalking horrors kick my teeth in. Game three, (after I lose the Smother for a Jitte) I get some Phantom Centaurs and – more importantly, he fails to get Filth in the graveyard. On his final turn, he can bring back a lethal hoard of Ichorids, but without Filth, they will trip over my strategically placed Lawnmowers. I win a close one.

match 2 – plund – Boros 1-2

I keep a one lander with two Birds and two Elves. This hand is golden, except against Boros – which is about the only deck I draw it against. He is with Boros, and has the Firebolts on turns 1 and 2. I sideboard out the Cabal Therapies (his hand empties too quickly) and one Dark Confidant for Smothers, Witness and the last Phantom Centaur. I was able to Living Wish for Ravenous Baloth one game, but his deck was generally faster, and I had to mulligan again and again. In the game with Living Wish, I was almost mana flooded enough that I could have won with Bane of the Living – but that is still not enough of a reason to put it back in the sideboard. Still, 1-2, with the match decided by mulligans and mana floods, is not terrible.

Match 3 – noman – LD 0-2

He has land destruction and burn. I mulligan one-landers both games, then keep single land hands with multiple Birds and Elves. He casts Firebolts on turns 1 and 2 both games – and on turn 3 the game I had a third mana producer. I die to some random big dudes – Molder Slug, as I recall.

Mana is a problem – and decks that can kill my mana producers are even worse. This needs some thought.

Match 4 – wred – Heartbeat w/ Future Sight & Top

Game one is strange. I get some quick beats with 2 Kudzus (enhanced with the Sakura-Tribe pump action) and a Phantom Centaur. He plays Forests, Islands and Sensei’s Divining Top -but does nothing all game except spin the Top. I have no idea what I’m facing, so just swap a couple Cabal Therapies for a pair of Duresses.

Game two he builds up his mana, and I beat slowly. He drops an Isochron Scepter and imprints Moment’s Peace turn 4, but when he taps out to use it, I have Putrefy. Later, my first Duress whiffs – his hand has nothing but lands. I’m also land flooded, matching that with Birds and a Wretch. He rips, and drops, Future Sight – revealing and playing Sensei’s Divining Top. We duke it out for a while, but a few turns later he draws into multiple Heartbeats and some Early Harvests, and I concede. With that much mana, Tops and Future Sight he can draw his deck, and I don’t want to watch him do it.

Now I know how to sideboard. I want the Duresses, Naturalizes, Wretch and Centaur. I don’t want the Jittes, and lose two Putrefies, the Sword of L&S and some Trolls. Game three is complex, but my hand kill and beaters finish him fairly easily.

Match 5 – wangkaixin – Goblins – 1-2

Game one I mulligan and he runs me down. It’s close, but not close enough. Phantom Centaur is okay, but not quite good enough by itself. Sideboarding is easy – the Cabal Therapies come out, along with one Dark Confidant (or Vinelasher Kudzu – the choice is debatable.) I bring in the Smothers, Centaur and Baloth.

Game two I start a bit slow, but have enough mana to trade Blinkmoth Nexus for a Goblin Piledriver, then multiple Phantom Centaur show up to hold him off – and when I draw a Sword of Fire and Ice, the game is over. Game three, however, I mulligan a no lander, then a one lander and end up with two Swamps, Withered Wretch, Sakura-Tribe Elder and Phantom Centaur. I never see green mana, while he has a turn 4 hasty Siege-Gang Commander.

Match 6 – judicicator – elemental bidding – 1-2

I threw away game one. I played a turn 2 Sakura-Tribe Elder and clicked past his endstep without sacrificing it. Just a stupid misclick, but it meant that I did not have 2 untapped Swamps on turn 3, so I could not play the Withered Wretch – and he Cast Twilight’s Call on his turn 4 with Thorn Elemental, two Living Hives and Flame-Kin Zealot in his graveyard.

Sideboarding means I want the Duresses and the fourth Withered Wretch. I can take out the Jittes (too slow), one Troll and one Zealot. I won game two, when a Duress nailed Twilight’s Call early, then a Wretch cleaned up his graveyard while assorted creatures adjusted his life total. Game three, however, I mulliganed twice (first no gas, second no lands) and could not stop him from Calling back a lethal collection of elementals.

Match 7 – magicmenow – Quirion Dryad – 2-1

I don’t remember game one all that well. My beaters came through, while he cast Opt, Sleight of Hand and so forth. I ate his graveyard with Wretch, and the Mongeese and Werebears stayed cute and fuzzy, instead of large and threatening. Putrefy killed the big Dryad and Trolls took it home.

Sideboarding consisted of pulling the Therapies (his hand kept emptying) for the Wretch and some Smothers. I also swapped one Zealot for an Eternal Witness.

Game two was the most frustrating I have had in a long time. I had two fast Vinelasher Kudzus and a Troll – and played them many, many times. He had three Memory Lapses and three Temporal Springs – and since I kept drawing the same cards over and over, while he flew through his deck with Opts and so forth, I didn’t develop. Still, he could not kill me quickly and we ended in a huge creature stall. I eventually died to my own Dark Confidant. Game three, however, I actually got to draw new cards, so I Smothered his Werebear and beat him down without much trouble.

Match 8 – ??? – Affinity

He mulliganed into a one-land hand, with Worker, Ornithopter, Darkblast, Frogmite and no gas. I dropped an early Zealot and he conceded from the match.

Match 9 – cutecarli – Ichorid – 1 & concede.

I won die roll and played Birds turn 1, Wretch turn 2, then removed the Stinkweed Imp at end of turn. He conceded from the match.

Match 10 – ??? – Aggro Rock (did not finish)

Game one turned into a huge creature snarl with three Trolls on both sides – then he got Jitte advantage. He was going to win unless I drew Putrefy or a Jitte of my own, but if I did, he might die to his Dark Confidant, since he was at four life. Unfortunately, I started this game early in the morning on a work day and the game had taken a long, long time by this point. I might have been able to pull it out, but the odds were against me – and I was out of time. I explained, conceded, and logged out before remembering to copy down his name. My bad.

My deck needs a few tweaks before I’m ready for the actual test. Once it’s tweaked, I want to play ten games / matches in the casual constructed room, ten matches in the tournament practice room and, if possible, ten matches in premier events and (maybe) eight man single elimination tournaments. That last depends on the deck, of course. If it works, great. If it is not quite competitive, I’m not paying the TIX to play one match, then get bumped out.

The obvious tweaks – if I can lay my hands on them, I will add the fourth Putrefy and more Llanowar Wastes and Overgrown Tombs. I don’t have much to trade for them, (anyone want a foil Lich’s Tomb and foil Flying Carpet), so those are big maybes.

Even if I don’t get those cards, I will monkey with the mana. At times Blinkmoth Nexus has screwed me – but it has also won games by picking up some equipment and flying over defenders. It stays, for now. City of Brass may have to move into the main deck. The life loss hurts, but I really need both colors of mana and it is the best land I own (other than those already in the deck.) In any case, once I see what I can get, I need to do the math on the mana.

Here are the given – the cards I am sure will make the maindeck.

Cabal Therapy is so strong against nearly all archetypes (even Ichorid, if I remember to flash it back and take the Tolarian Winds.) It stays.

Withered Wretch is golden. He stops the Ichorid deck, hurts Tog, messes with Heartbeat, removes Firebolts from the bin and can, in a pinch, beat for two. What’s not to love – other than the casting cost.

Phantom Centaur is also golden. He is immune to Putrefy, semi-immune to burn and beats for 5 (usually). I’m almost never sorry to draw him.

Dark Confidant is card advantage, and nothing in the deck is very expensive. I’ll keep an eye out for more. Ditto Putrefy, and Sword of Fire and Ice. Also in the “duh” department – Birds of Paradise are good card.

Moving on to the more questionable inclusions:

Vinelasher Kudzu is a more marginal card. It would be much better if I owned more fetchlands (which would also allow me to splash White.) Kudzu is almost Call of the Herd, albeit one that dies to Lava Dart. At present, I cannot find a better option for this slot, so I expect it will stay. Having the Kudzu’s around also justifies Sakura-Tribe Elder over other mana options, like Elves of Deep Shadow.

Llanowar Elves are good acceleration, and very useful for flashing back Cabal Therapy, but I’m never wildly excited about drawing them. I expect they will stay, since they help power out turn 3 Phantom Centaurs, but they are not insane. If I get a fourth Putrefy, I might cut one.

Troll Ascetic is the next good but marginal card. It is amazing if I am trying to be the control deck, but I almost always want to be the aggro deck. The exception is Boros, but against that deck, when I am trying to hang on during the early game, I rarely have mana to regenerate the Troll – and the troll hates first striking knights. The Troll is golden in many situations – but usually not in the very early game. For that reason, I might go to three – so when I get the fourth Putrefy, the Troll may leave in stead of the Elf.

Next, the Viridian Zealots are currently in the deck, but I’m not completely sure that’s a good call. Personally, I think having a maindeck answer to Worship or other random stuff is very important, and the Zealot is a 2/1 for 2 mana, but I’ll have to think about it. I may go with one maindeck and one sideboard.

Next, the Sword of Light and Shadow is just a poor man’s Sword of Fire and Ice. If I can get another SoF&I, I will make the swap. Alternatively, if I can get the fetchlands to run White, I will add a Steelshaper’s Gift and play one of each Sword, plus a Jitte. For now, thought, the two Jittes will stay, even though I often side them out. They are very good when I have a beater and a little time – but I would almost always prefer to have a Sword on a Bird than a Jitte on an Elf.

Finally, the Living Wish is highly questionable. It is in the deck because I just got it, I paid a bunch for it, and I have great memories of playing it. (ditto Genesis and Ravenous Baloth.) However, Living Wish is not Aggro – and I’m not sure the versatility is worth the maindeck slot, plus the sideboard slots. On the other hand, if I keep it, I may consider adding a Filth to the sideboard. Razormane Masticore may also make the sideboard.

Here’s version two – and what I will start playing unless I get something nice for Christmas.

4 of a Kind version 3.1

4 Birds of Paradise

4 Llanowar Elves

4 Phantom Centaur

3 Sakura-Tribe Elder

3 Troll Ascetic

3 Withered Wretch

3 Vinelasher Kudzu

2 Dark Confidant

1 Viridian Zealot

4 Cabal Therapy

3 Putrefy

1 Sword of Fire and Ice

2 Umezawa’s Jitte

1 Sword of Light and Shadow

1 Living Wish

1 Windswept Heath

7 Swamp

9 Forest

1 Blinkmoth Nexus

1 City of Brass

1 Overgrown Tomb

1 Llanowar Wastes


3 Naturalize

3 Duress

3 Smother

1 Viridian Zealot

1 Withered Wretch

1 Tendo, Ice Bridge

1 Genesis

1 Ravenous Baloth

1 Eternal Witness / Razormane Masticore / ??

Now, I’m off to see if I can scare up some lands or a Putrefy, then start playing. That’s my plan for a Merry Christmas.

Hope your plans work out, too.

Happy Holidays.


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