|Which deck do you want JMS to evolve over the next two weeks?|
The silent majority has lined up nicely with the vocal Boards posters. Black Clock, here I come!
Here are some of my early observations on the deck without a game under my belt:
The way this deck is trying to take advantage of Blood Clock is twofold. First, it has a lot of discard to eliminate the cards an opponent is keeping in hand as a result of Blood Clock's tempo disruption. Second, it uses cheap Spirits in combination with Thief of Hope to lower an opponent's life while raising mine. That's it. That's the whole deck in a nutshell, with Kiku's Shadow as creature removal and Wicked Akuba as the “finisher,” able to win the game in one mighty swing if the game goes long enough. Death of a Thousand Stings acts as almost a fifth and sixth Thief of Hope.
There are a couple of tricks embedded in the deck, but not many. For example, I could theoretically bounce my Ghost-Lit Stalker to hand and then channel it. Thief of Hope has twelve Spirits to soulshift back into hand, not counting the three Soulless Revivals. Mostly, though, the deck is about playing Blood Clock and making room for it to give my opponent fits while I drain away with Thief of Hope.
The cards not in the deck are noteworthy. In no particular order, Death Denied, Distress, Exile into Darkness, Horobi's Whisper, Devouring Greed, Psychic Spear, Sink Into Takenuma, Bile Urchin, Hideous Laughter, Honden of Night's Reach, Infernal Kirin, Three Tragedies, Maga, Traitor to Mortals, Befoul, Sensei's Divining Top, and Swallowing Plague all look like they might find a home in the deck. I'm sure I had good reasons for leaving these cards out of my original thinking, I just can't recall those reasons a week later. It probably had to do with some sort of dementia brought on by thinking of five decks simultaneously.
The good news is that the deck is consistent. Unlike preconstructed decks, this deck has mostly three and four copies of its chosen cards. This should ensure as reliable a performance as you can hope for in a deck with no mana-fixing and no card-drawing. It's also monocolored, so automatically saves itself from lots of mana headaches. Twenty-four land is always a good starting point for a new deck, so I'm happy with that part as well.
Of course, what I worry about in any deck built around Blood Clock is its survivability. Can I make a game go long enough for Blood Clock to be a factor? Do I need more creature control? Lifegain? Cheap discard? How do I deal with Umezawa's Jitte? Eight-and-a-Half-Tails? Dragons? Hondens? Sosuke's Summons? How does the deck play if I don't draw Blood Clock ? Right now I don't have good answers to these questions, which underscores what I said earlier about the deck needing a lot of work. It also signals that it's time to start playing.
Playing With Black Clock
There's something really intimidating about playing a deck of my own design as opposed to an obviously-needy preconstructed deck. Couple that with the fact that late in the Pro Tour Qualifier season means a lot more polished “netdecks” floating around the Casual Decks room, and you have a very nervous JMS. Still, there are a lot of things about this deck that I want to experience instead of think about, so here goes...
Game 1: Green/Red/Blue Snakes
Game 2: Green/Black/White Good Stuff
The best way that I can describe my opponent's deck was that he used really good cards from three colors, including Cranial Extraction, Final Judgment, Kodama of the North Tree, and Patron of the Kitsune, setting it all up with a base of Kodama's Reach, Sakura-Tribe Elder, and Tendo Ice Bridge. I had another quick Ghost-Lit Stalker and a fourth-turn Blood Clock , but he used Splinter (!) on it the following turn. After that I made him discard his hand, multiple-blocked the Kodama to kill it, and chump-blocked his Patron for about six turns before it finally killed me. Kiku's Shadow again mocked me from my hand.
In case you were wondering, this is sort of a nightmare start to figuring out if my deck can use Blood Clock or not.
Game 3: Black/Blue Wisdom deck
Game 4: White/Black Samurai
For some reason I've seen a proliferation of White/Black Samurai decks around the Casual room. Luckily for me, my opponent didn't get off to much of a beatdown start. I had yet another quick Ghost-Lit Stalker, who attacked while my opponent had land and Sensei's Divining Top. Thief of Hope and Waking Nightmare came next for me, followed by Blood Clock. Sensei Golden-Tail tried to stand in the way, but I had Kiku's Shadow (finally useful!). My opponent conceded at eight life after bouncing his own Top to hand for three turns. Whew. I was starting to envision an 0-5 start there.
Game 5: Monoblack Spirits
This game was comical. He had a quick Wicked Akuba, and I had a quick Wicked Akuba. He had a Thief of Hope, I had a Thief of Hope. He had a second Thief of Hope, I had Waking Nightmare. After awhile we got to a situation in which he had three Thieves to go along with Wicked Akuba and a Cruel Deceiver. I, meanwhile, had three Thieves (no kidding) and two Kemuri-Onna. As one spectator noted, “There's a lot of thievery going on, and not a lot of hope.”
The difference was that I had Death of a Thousand Stings coming back each turn, dashing four life from him and adding four to mine while my opponent was in topdeck mode. He eventually found a Devouring Greed, dropping me to three and putting him back to twenty. It didn't bother me, though. I just kept plugging away doing my thing until he conceded. Ironically, on my last turn I drew Blood Clock.
In Praise of Damnation
Okay, 2-3 is what I've come to expect from these first five games. The first three were brutal losses, though, and the deck feels very underwhelming right now. Time to make some changes:
OUT: 4 Kiku's Shadow
My original reasoning, I'm sure, for adding Kiku's Shadow over Horobi's Whisper was that a) a lot of people in the Casual Decks room use Black, and b) Kiku's Shadow is superior removal. Maybe both of these reasons are still valid and I'm pulling the trigger on the Shadow too soon. If I face another non-Black creature with toughness greater than its power I'm going to punch my screen, though, so I'm currently feeling that drastic action is in order. I still think Kiku's Shadow is great removal, but I should have at least tried arcane creature removal before switching to the Shadow.
IN: 3 Horobi's Whisper
So in comes arcane removal. I still worry about those instances where I'm facing an opponent with Black creatures, and I worry that dropping down to three copies is way too little removal for my poor, slow deck. My reasoning is that I will often be able to splice a Whisper (although I use my graveyard a little, there should be plenty of expendable cards in there). That's the theory, anyway, and worth a try. It's nice to have instant-speed removal and a way to gain life at instant speed via the Thief.
RoBear on the Message Boards said, “There are some cool cards that could work in this [Black] deck as well. Choice of Damnations combined with Blood Clock makes both choices harder.” Wait. Back up. Choice of Damnations? I had completely forgotten about that card when I put my initial decklist together, but RoBear is exactly correct. This is the card that gives my opponent essentially the same choice as Blood Clock but on a much bigger scale. Combined with Blood Clock, I think the two can be a deadly duo. Choice of Damnations is even arcane, so it triggers Thief of Hope. Wow is that neat. Of course it's rare, but it currently falls into the “cheap one ticket rare” category. Since my deck isn't using any other rares at the moment other than the Clock, I'm willing to shell out for them. If I can figure out the mana problems, I can easily see adding more than two copies to the deck.
That's five cards in and four cards out. I have to trim somewhere and the best place seems to be:
OUT: 1 Waking Nightmare
I like that Waking Nightmare hits an opponent for two cards and that it's arcane. In my mind this makes it better than the cheaper Distress and Psychic Spear for my deck. It's the one bit of discard in the deck, though, that becomes absolutely useless once my opponent's hand is empty. Since one thing I've proved to myself is that my deck can empty an opponent's hand, I don't see the necessity of loading up on a full four copies.
Here's my new Damnations-ful deck:
Let's see if I have any more success given these changes...
Game 6: Monowhite Spirits
Thank you RoBear. I again got stuck on two land while my opponent played Kitsune Diviner, Ghost-Lit Redeemer, Waxmane Baku, Moonlit Strider, Lantern Kami, Kabuto Moth, and Nikko-Onna. All I could muster was two Wicked Akuba and an Ashen-Skin Zubera. So I got smashed, right?
I eventually hit a pocket of land in my deck. I used Waking Nightmare to get rid of his last two cards in hand, including That Which Was Taken. Then on five mana I played Kemuri-Onna to give me some blocking power. Then a sixth land, and I played Choice of Damnations. My opponent's choice? ZERO. I don't think he read the card carefully, and I know it wasn't much of a choice for me. I really hoped to draw Blood Clock after that, but instead I got Ghost-Lit Stalker to get rid of whatever cards he drew while my critters crept over the now-empty side of the table for the win.
Game 7: Black/Red Aggro
This game was over before I blinked. My opponent got down Raving Oni-Slave, then Bloodthirsty Ogre, then Manriki-Gusari on the Ogre, then O-Naginata on the Oni-Slave. I had a Ghost-Lit Stalker ('natch) and Ashen-Skin Zubera as speedbumps, plus a Waking Nightmare to dump his two Hideous Laughters. I played Blood Clock, he took two damage, and that was game. Ow.
Game 8: Black Hand
Game 9: Five-Color Enduring Ideal
Although my opponent conceded because of needing to get to a draft game, I'm going to log this game because it was interesting and extremely long. I had the ever-present Ghost-Lit Stalker start, then Thief of Hope. I actually forget how he was able to kill my Thief of Hope, but it died and I found myself playing the discard-before-you-can-get-going race. I successfully got him into topdeck mode, but he managed to play Lifegift to match against my two Blood Clocks. He kept gaining and losing life, hovering around sixteen, while I tried to do something--anything--to hurt him. Death of a Thousand Stings pinged away, and two Wicked Akuba stared down his Genju of the Fields and two Ghostly Prisons. I don't know why he wasn't bouncing his Genju and Sensei's Divining Top, but I wasn't complaining. I also wasn't complaining that he couldn't find Enduring Ideal or any Honden. Eventually he found Honden of Infinite Rage, but I had used Soulless Revival to bring back my Thief of Hope. He dipped around ten life, then around seven. He kept digging for Ideal and I kept praying for Choice of Damnations. Eventually, as I said, he conceded when he had about twenty-five cards left in his library and was down to five or so life.
Game 10: Green/Black Snakes
Swamp, Meet Forest
That's 2-3 again, but I'm feeling more optimistic. So, after ten games, what have I learned?
My deck is vulnerable to super-speedy decks.
My deck is slow (which may be a key reason why it's vulnerable to super-speedy decks).
I get mana-shy way too often for a monocolored deck with twenty-four lands, probably because I'm relying on cards towards the top of my manacurve.
The Casual Decks room is flooded with Black. Luckily, I never draw a single Horobi's Whisper. Ever.
I have a mystical ability to draw Ghost-Lit Stalker in every opening hand.
Ashen-Skin Zubera doesn't do much except give me a chump-blocker. It feels like I can do better than that.
Death of a Thousand Stings doesn't suck, but it's often too little too late.
That's a lot to learn after only ten games. I'm going to set some of those observations aside and chalk them up to randomness. What is particularly troubling are the first three points, all of which are related. My deck can lose fast because it has very little defense. My deck is slow. I can't seem to generate enough mana for what I want to do. Those are three killer indictments for a deck.
I've tossed it around in my mind, and I can't see any way around them in Monoblack. I could add Hideous Laughter--and still may, eventually--but run a serious risk of killing Thief of Hope. I could add land, but I'm only addressing the mana-shy problem, not the speed of the deck. With Choice of Damnations such a critical (and, let's be honest, cool) card in the deck, I need to get access to mana acceleration. Honor-Worn Shaku does not solve my deck's problems.
I've analyzed my weaknesses and don't see a way my core color can handle them. Time to dip into a second color. And by “dip” I mean take a running leap and do a cannonball into a second color. Yes, I think my limitations in Black are that severe. This will also lead to a violation of the “five card” guideline, but I don't see any way around it when you do something as drastic as add a second color to a deck. I'll try my best to keep a tinkering approach after that.
Now, let's see. What color is good at accelerating mana in Kamigawa Block Constructed? Hm. Wait a minute. I almost have it...
IN: 4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
IN: 4 Kodama's Reach
This is a “typical” mana-acceleration suite for a KBC (Kamigawa Block Constructed) deck running Forests. The difference between how it usually works in most decks and how it works in mine is that right now I'm not worrying at all about other Green cards. That is, my deck is going to still be mostly-Black, with Green added for the sole purpose of accelerating my mana. This decision may seem a bit artificial since you might think other Green cards should go in the deck, but right now I'm only adding cards that specifically solve my deck's problems. Those problems are speed and mana. Elder and Reach are my solution.
Anyway, I've said enough about these cards in my Kamigawa Commons Review. It sort of stinks that Sakura-Tribe Elder isn't a Spirit until I remember what a phenomenal tool he is in decks of every kind.
Now, what eight cards to drop for my new color?
OUT: 4 Ashen-Skin Zubera
OUT: 1 Soulless Revival
I'm not sure if this will stay Soulless Revival or become Death Denied since I never splice it. In either case, I think the creature count is low enough to warrant only two of them. In my deck the Revival serves a very specialized purpose, and could read “Return target creature card named Thief of Hope from your graveyard to your hand” and I would still use it. This signals to me that either I need better creatures or, more probably, that I can survive with fewer copies of Soulless Revival.
OUT: 1 Death of a Thousand Stings
As I said, it's a cute, worthy trick but it's also slow and mana-intensive. I'm keeping one now because I enjoy playing it so much, and I still like the idea of having effectively more than four Thief of Hope in my deck. This is one of my deckbuilding quirks that's uncommon: I often throw in a single copy of a card that I enjoy using and puts a smile on my face even if it's slightly underpowered or overcosted because it enhances my own play experience to draw it. It's sort of like every Magic game is a lottery, and when I draw Death of a Thousand Strings I win.
OUT: 1 Ghost-Lit Stalker
I'm also dropping a land to twenty-three on the assumption that the Green I've added will give me the mana I need. Of course, having only eight Green cards and making them so critical to play early puts my mana base in a precarious situation. Where is Bayou when I need it? Or maybe Tainted Wood? Llanowar Wastes from Ninth Edition? Heck, I would even use Pine Barrens right now. Oh well.
OUT: 11 Swamp
IN: 10 Forest
Here is how I'm going to approach it from a testing perspective. As you can see, I'm tilting the mana more heavily towards Forests given the total number of Green cards in the deck because those cards will both find Swamps and accelerate me to my higher-cost spells. The only card this really hurts is Wicked Akuba, but I like the idea of Akuba as a finisher much more than an early-game creature for this deck anyway.
That puts my deck here:
No, the name doesn't fit anymore. That just means you'll get a chance to suggest deck names after the final installment and see if you can dethrone DoubleNegative.
Game 11: Blue/Red Ire of Kaminari deck
This game was beautiful, albeit too short. I had a second-turn Wicked Akuba, third-turn Thief of Hope, fourth-turn Blood Clock, fifth-turn Thief of Hope, sixth-turn Sakura-Tribe Elder, seventh-turn Soulless Revival back a Thief of Hope that had died to Spiraling Embers, then replay my Thief. My opponent conceded after that. Blood Clock was a beast in this game, since when I cast it all my opponent had was three land in play and was already on the defensive. He took two life once, then was forced to bounce a land for three turns in a row. Splice decks don't like limiting their resources. The fact that he was pointing Spiraling Embers at my 2/2 creatures--with half the time me returning one via soulshift--was a nice sign, too.
Game 12: Green/Red Spirits
Oh yes. I'm liking Green quite a bit.
Game 13: Monowhite Spirits
Of course, there is the flipside of playing mana acceleration. My opponent announced that he was on a very light budget and had made his deck for about two tickets (the equivalent of two dollars). He came out of the gates with Lantern Kami and Kabuto Moth while I had Ghost-Lit Stalker and Sakura-Tribe Elder. When he cast Jade Idol, I knew I was in trouble because my hand consisted of five land and Kodama's Reach. I eventually played Thief of Hope and Choice of Damnations to get him down to four permanents (he had nine). The problem was that those permanents were Jade Idol and three land. Another Lantern Kami followed another Kabuto Moth while I continued to draw land. By the time I was twenty-one cards deep into my library, I had twelve land on the table and four in hand. Ouch. Like I said, the flipside of playing mana acceleration is the danger of mana-flooding.
Game 14: Green/Red Spirits
Game 15: Blue/Red Spirits/Arcane
His deck was interesting, using some Spirits to go along with Erayo, Soratami Ascendant and many of the usual Ire of Kaminari cards (Ideas Unbound, Glacial Ray, cheap card drawing). Anyway, he got a Shimmering Glasskite on the table along with Kiri-Onna to bounce my Thief of Hope. I found five mana and played Kemuri-Onna, which slowed him down and started to eat into his hand. The Thief gave me some needed life while I played Wicked Akuba and a second Thief. Now my deck was humming. I had Blood Clock in hand, but I didn't want to give him the Kiri-Onna outlet, so instead I kept attacking his hand and gaining life via my Thieves. He bounced both back to my hand, but ran out of cards and sat there at four life. I had Kemuri-Onna on the board and seven land. I played Choice of Damnations, then he sacrificed all but three land (hoping to draw some burn, I suspect, since I was at six life). He drew his card and then conceded, facing my 3/3 attacker and two Thieves coming into play next turn.
I love, love, LOVE Choice of Damnations. It is, I think, the perfect complement to Blood Clock.
Game 16: Monoblue Spirits
It's cool how many different sorts of decks I'm seeing. I had a near perfect start going first. I got a first-turn Ghost-Lit Stalker, second-turn Sakura-Tribe Elder, third-turn Blood Clock. On my fourth turn I bounced the Stalker, played another land, then replayed my Stalker and added Blood Clock number two. My poor opponent was caught with three Islands and a Floating-Dream Zubera. He bounced his Zubera and took two damage for a while while I started bouncing my Stalker and Kemuri-Onna every turn. We did that until I drew Thief of Hope. I played my Thief, then Kodama's Reach and my Stalker. At six life, four land, and a Secretkeeper on the board, my opponent conceded.
Game 17: Monowhite Samurai
Game 18: Red/Green Fatties
This game was fairly straightforward. He got a Hearth Kami equipped with Tenza, Godo's Maul. I blocked and killed it with Kemuri-Onna (sped along by Kodama's Reach). Then I attacked his hand but his one card left was Fumiko the Lowblood. Fumiko killed my Thief of Hope, then started attacking for six damage a turn. I played two more Reaches to get a mess of land, praying for a Horobi's Whisper to save me. Instead, my opponent played Kodama of the North Tree. Yeah, that killed me.
Game 19: Black/Red/Green Fatties
I'm actually not sure quite what his deck was up to because he had an all-Mountain start while I had Sakura-Tribe Elder, Kodama's Reach, Thief of Hope, Wicked Akuba, Thief of Hope, Wicked Akuba. That's obviously sort of a beatdown draw, so when he played Razorjaw Oni it only helped me while I kept my Elder back to block. I was really vulnerable to Hideous Laughter, but he used Champions' dual lands and kept tapping down his black mana. He then started playing Kodama's Reaches of his own, but it was too late to save him. Not a very satisfying victory, since I played neither Blood Clock nor Choice of Damnations.
Game 20: White/Blue Fliers
6-4 and things are looking up. Again, what have I learned after ten games?
My deck is prone to mana-flooding.
My deck can't deal with Kodama of the North Tree.
My deck can't deal with Umezawa's Jitte.
My deck has a hard time with fliers.
I love the Green acceleration.
I'm a little dubious of Wicked Akuba because it seems like the only true beatdown card in the deck.
I haven't drawn Death of a Thousand Stings once since dropping to a single copy.
That's where I'll pick up in the final installment. I'll say right now, though, that those are much gentler lessons than after the first ten games.
A Note On Daughters
Think hard and have fun,