Imagine my surprise, then, when the silent majority showed up in force to ensure that I completed my set of Ravnica guilds:
|Which will be the basis for Jay's last deck series?|
|Charge of the Boros||1670||27.8%|
|Army of Justice||106||1.8%|
|Ride Like The Wind||99||1.6%|
|Bait and Bludgeon||45||0.7%|
|Bait and Switch||38||0.6%|
|Swarm and Slam||27||0.4%|
Boros Legion, here I come! It's nice to see Boros end up the bride after so many polls in which it played the bridesmaid. I had originally planned to do a Boros deck during Dissension, but since that obviously can't happen now, I'm happy to cover the guild before I go.
For those of you new to the column who don't know what I mean when I say “preconstructed deck evolution,” I'm talking about a little three-week series I do where I take a precon out of the box and slowly modify it into a fun, respectable budget deck. Specifically, here are my tried and true Guidelines:
- Start with a preconstructed deck, unedited, and play it.
- Don't make changes until playing the deck in at least five games.
- Change no more than five cards at a time.
- Build a respectable deck that's fun to play.
- Build an affordable deck.
Remember - these are guidelines, not rules. I can decide to violate them on a whim, and if past experience is any guide, I'm almost sure to add more than five cards at some stage in this series. Why have guidelines at all, then? For me, these guidelines are a way of taking my time, going slow, and savoring each change to the deck. For you, it's a rare opportunity to watch someone plod his mental way through a deckbuilding process and see what choices he makes and why. You won't always agree with my choices (in fact, I hope you don't), but even disagreement is instructive. The best possible outcome for these articles is for you to be inspired to make your own deck, following your own path. My only request is that if you make a different deck that seems to work for you, please post it on the Message Boards so that others can benefit from it.
Charge of the Boros First Takes
The best way to get to know a deck is to play it. A lot. Before I start my games with the Boros Legion precon, though, for me it's helpful to first take a slightly theoretical approach. Below are all of the cards you'll find if you buy Charge of the Boros, sorted by card type, number of copies, and mana cost. Seeing the decklist in this way helps me notice where the deck stands in its current incarnation and where some of its potential may be lurking.
What's different about looking at this list compared to when I examined the Selesnya United decklist four months ago is that it's now a lot easier to know the deck's strengths and weaknesses at a glance. The cards are no longer new. Many of us have played with or against similar decks trying to do similar things. High-profile tournaments have uncovered which cards are generally useful and which ones are junk, as has our own playtesting. In short, there aren't a lot of surprises here.
Here is how I see the deck right now:
1) Deck Themes: Charge of the Boros isn't trying to hide its deck themes amidst clever two- and three-card interactions, nor is the overall strategy particularly subtle. As the deck insert tells us, “The Charge of the Boros deck shows off what the Boros Legion does well: fight.” The way I see it, the deck is pushing these themes my way:
- Major theme: Small, fast creatures. Charge of the Boros is a “weenie” deck, trying to hit an opponent with efficient (meaning that the creatures' power is ideally greater than or equal to its cost), cheap threats to win quickly. Boros Recruit starts off the show, followed by an army of two- and three-mana beasties. Indeed, almost all of the deck's creatures cost under four mana. Cards like Dogpile assume that your scrawny little forces will be attacking en masse more often than not.
- Major theme: Creature enhancers. What do Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion, Bathe in Light, Rally the Righteous, Flame-Kin Zealot, and Boros Guildmage have in common? All are there to make your little creatures either more impressive or more durable. Both rares - Agrus Kos, Wojek Veteran and Sunforger - share this goal as well. Some creatures even have built-in ways of enhancing themselves, such as Greater Forgeling, Viashino Slasher, and the aforementioned Guildmage. Note how this major theme and the previous one work in tandem to kill an opponent as quickly as possible.
- Minor theme: Blocker removal. One way to keep weenies alive and attacking is to remove any potential blockers. Thundersong Trumpeter, Lightning Helix, War-Torch Goblin, Dogpile, Cleansing Beam, Screeching Griffin... these cards pave the way for attacking critters. The only reason I can figure that the slow, controlling Cyclopean Snare is in the deck, in fact, is that it helps support this theme.
- Minor theme: Strikers. At first I thought that double-strike counted as a very minor theme hardly worth noting, because it shows up on three total cards. If you add first strike to the mix, though, the theme now encompasses an impressive nine cards total. This not only makes creatures more deadly in combat, but it has nice synergy with creature-pumpers like Rally the Righteous and Sunforger.
- Minor theme: Radiance. It's the signature mechanic of the Boros Legion, and Radiance appears on five cards in the deck. The slightly frustrating thing (other than the fact that Radiance shows up so infrequently) is that none of the Radiance cards seem to share a common goal.
- As always with preconstructed decks, there are also a few random, very minor themes like “flowstone” (giving +/- adjustments to power and toughness), keeping creatures from attacking, and Vigilance, but most of these would involve too many changes to make front and center in this deck.
Each of these themes is pulling the deck in a particular direction, demanding that some cards be included while excluding others. As a result, each is a viable path to take when changing the deck. I could turn Charge of the Boros into some slow, controlling deck, but it's hard to imagine how such a deck would emerge from the themes I've listed above.
What's interesting about tackling a deck that has been in Magic's collective consciousness for months is how little I want to build on most of these themes. I don't particularly want this deck to turn into a typical White/Red Weenie deck, because I've seen a hundred such decks online. Whereas three months ago, Sunforger would have had me drooling as a rare to build around, I think a lot of deckbuilders have tried it and made it work. For me, the trick will be to find something that inspires me while staying relatively near the deck's soul.
2) Mana: The good news about the deck's mana is that twenty-three land is usually plenty for a weenie-based strategy. The bad news is that many of the cards cost both White and Red mana, with only Terrarion and Boros Garrison to help compensate. In addition, the deck has a pretty steep manacurve for a fast deck, relying on four-and-more cost cards like Agrus Kos, Greater Forgeling, etc. Finally, many cards - Sunhome and Ordruun Commando come to mind - require quite a bit of extra mana in addition to whatever spells I plan on casting. The result is that I am very worried about the deck's mana and expect it to be a major stumbling block during my early games.
3) Consistency: The wonderful thing about preconstructed decks in general is that they offer a broad survey of the various cards in a set. This is also one of their key weaknesses, since preconstructed decks universally tend to be pretty unfocused and inconsistent. Charge of the Boros is no different, avoiding four copies of any one card while being stuffed with one- and two-copies of spells. The deck has no way of drawing extra cards outside of Terrarion, and only has Sunforger as a tutor, so this inconsistency is a problem.
5) Fun: Is Smashing face with weenies fun? Sure. Despite the fact that the deck is a “cast critters and attack” deck, there are plenty of strategically complex cards that make games satisfying. Sunforger is one of the cooler rares in the set, so the deck is already earning some style points. Double-strike is a really fun and intriguing mechanic, as is Radiance. Yes, I'd say the deck has a lot of potential for fun.
Unfortunately, as I said earlier, I'm personally not all that interesting in making a Smash-face weenie deck. This doesn't leave me a lot of deckbuilding room with this current decklist. Right now I'm leaving myself open to a card interaction surprising me, or for inspiration to strike during a game. Let's see what my off-center imagination can do with the Boros Legion that hasn't already been done to death.
Playing With Charge of the Boros
If I'm going to wait for inspiration to strike during a game, then I need to start playing games. I'm not expecting to win overly much - especially in a format that has been stable with powerful, proven archetypes in it - but I am expecting that my muse will make itself known.
Below are my brief descriptions of the games I played in the Casual Decks room of Magic Online. Every week I receive e-mail saying that they hate these game logs because they're boring, and other e-mail saying that the game logs are their favorite part of my articles. My hope is that through them you get a sense of what cards are working for me and what sort of cards, decks, and strategies tend to batter me to pulp.
Ready? Steady? Go!
I think his deck was Kamigawa Block, but regardless, it was stuffed full of quality cards. I came out swinging with a Thundersong Trumpeter and Skyknight Legionnaire, but they died to a Glacial Ray spliced onto a second Glacial Ray. His Ray spliced onto Kodama's Reach took out my Viashino Slasher, then the Ray itself killed a second Skyknight Legionnaire. I brought my opponent down to eight life with Boros Recruit and Flame-Kin Zealot, but the Zealot died on the next turn to Yamabushi's Flame and the Recruit died when my opponent played Honden of Infinite Rage. Keiga, the Tide Star showed up for the opposition, then Godo, Bandit Warlord wielding a Tatsumasa, the Dragon's Fang. When he used Time of Need to fetch Kumano, Master Yamabushi, I conceded at seven life.
Game 2: White Weenie
My opponent started off with Veteran Armorer and two Lantern Kamis while I had War-Torch Goblin and Thundersong Trumpeter. I killed his two blocking Kami with Bathe in Light, then eventually put down Sunforger. My opponent attacked me down to eleven life, then played his sixth Plains and Final Judgment to clear the table. I had the mana to use Sunforger's ability for Lightning Helix, dropping him to seven life. On the next turn I played Skyknight Legionnaire and equipped it to leave my opponent with a single point of life. He conceded on the next turn.
Game 3: Red/White Aggro
I played War-Torch Goblin, Thundersong Trumpeter, and Nightguard Patrol on my first three turns. I knew that I was overextending such that a Wrath of God or some such would wipe me out, but I was holding a Flame-Kin Zealot that I wanted to do something impressive. My opponent played Stone Rain on a Mountain, then cast Ogre Taskmaster. I drew a Mountain off the top of my library and won on turn 5 with a Zealot-inspired blitz. Wheee! Three commons and an uncommon, baby.
Game 4: Green/Blue Honden
I again came out strong, this time with Boros Recruit and Boros Swiftblade. My opponent, meanwhile, played Llanowar Elves and land. Thanks to Boros Garrison, I was able to cast Flame-Kin Zealot to smack him down to seven life, since he chose not to block. The next turn he tapped out for Honden of Life's Web. I untapped, played Rally the Righteous, and smashed him into oblivion. Before we departed, my opponent commented that “luck sucks.” I'm not sure if he was calling me lucky for my draw or himself unlucky, but I'll pretend he was cursing his own fickle fate.
Game 5: Mono-White Control
I had a fine start, with Viashino Slasher and Boros Swiftblade as my offense. I killed one of his two Veteran Armorers with a well-timed Rally the Righteous, but the other found Indomitable Will. My Swiftblade was trapped in a Cage of Hands, but I freed it with Bathe in Light. I then played my second Swiftblade and Sunforger, thinking that the game would end pretty quickly. Instead, my two Swiftblades saw two Faith's Fetters, and my opponent played Yosei, the Morning Star. I equipped my useless creatures twice to activate Sunforger for Lightning Helix, but after that my only choices were Rally the Righteous and Dogpile, neither of which could help me. I died pretty quickly thereafter.
Okay, 3-2 is a better start than I expected, although all playtesting results in the Casual Decks room of Magic Online need to be taken with a block of salt. At this point, the wins and losses are a lot less important than me getting a feel for the card interactions and what I do and don't like about the deck's play. For example, I now know that Flame-Kin Zealot is a house. I've always liked Overrun effects, and the Zealot has terrific surprise value, even if the mana scares me. Speaking of mana, the deck has experienced a lot fewer mana issues than I expected, especially for a fast deck. It's hard to tell whether this is blind luck or not, but at least right now I don't feel like a drastic fix to the mana base is needed. These impressions are preliminary, since I have yet to draw many of the cards in the deck (much less play them), but I feel comfortable making a few changes.
When Inspiration Double Strikes
The question is... Changes to what end? I've said that I don't want to make a generic Boros Aggro deck, but what else is there to do with this deck? For a minute or two, I toyed with taking a radical left turn and embracing a Flowstone deck. I also thought about centering the deck around Rally the Righteous for a tricky “surprise untap” deck. Honestly, I didn't think either of these ideas had enough legs to survive. Basically I was afraid that I would eventually hit a dead end, which would be a shame in my last series.
Eventually I decided that the most fun I had in those last five games was when Boros Swiftblade was on the table. I suddenly realized that double strike is an ability that has largely gone unexplored in my decks. Does a deck built around double strike make any sense at all, and is it appreciably different from a weenie deck? I'm not sure, but right now it's a place to start. Note that I'm not saying that double strike will be the centerpiece of the deck, but right now I'm going to focus on double strike to see where it leads me.
With double strike as a foundation, then:
IN: 2 Boros Swiftblade
Boros Swiftblade takes a tough mana cost and uses it as an excuse to push the power of double strike. Normally, a double-striker doesn't cost two mana, but since this little guy exists, I might as well get a full set. A Swiftblade can end the game in two swings if it's carrying Sunforger, and Rally the Righteous ain't bad either. My guess is that I'll want more than just these two cards as power boosters, especially since I'm also adding...
If I'm going to focus on double strike, why only add one more Sunhome, Fortress of the Legion? Mostly because my deck has an awful lot of gold cards and Sunhome only produces colorless mana. An additional reason is that Sunhome has a pretty hefty activation cost (and a “gold” cost to boot) which I'm not sure my deck can quite handle right now. Still, I imagine that as I look for ways to make Boros Swiftblade spiffier, I will get increasingly excited about perhaps adding a third Sunhome to the deck.
Note too that I'm adding an extra land to the deck. Twenty-four land is always a good starting point in a non-Green deck, and right now I'm not sure how mana intensive my deck is going to be.
I wish there were more double-strikers available in today's Standard. Is it weird to pine for Ridgetop Raptor?
IN: 2 Lightning Helix
This is one of those “pulling the band-aid off” sort of choices. It stinks to have all five of my first additions to the deck be uncommons, but any White/Red deck in Standard today is probably going to play four Lightning Helix. For more explanation, check out Mike Flores' aptly-named article “Basically The Awesomemest Card Ever”.
Right now these five additions don't look any different from the sort of changes I might make to a standard Boros weenie deck. Patience, my friend, patience.
The cards to take out are pretty easy to spot.
OUT: 2 Dogpile
Well, it certainly smells like a dog's pile. I mean, seriously, Red removal should never be this situational. For this much mana I can cast Sudden Impact or Torrent of Stone, neither of which is as good as Lightning Blast, but both of which trump Dogpile. There is the odd Red/Green Saproling or Snake deck where I can imagine it being cute to add Dogpile because my deck can routinely generate forty or so tokens. Then again, if my deck can generate forty tokens, why the heck am I worrying about direct damage? No, Dogpile stinks. If it cost , I might be slightly intrigued, but as it is I feel pretty comfortable saying that I will never use Dogpile in a respectable Constructed deck.
OUT: 1 Cyclopean Snare
Cyclopean Snare suffers because it has an almost strictly better cousin available in Standard. The Snare costs five mana to tap one creature once. Icy Manipulator costs five mana to tap any permanent once, after which time it only costs one mana. Sure, I can technically use the Snare a full two turns before I can cast and activate Icy Manipulator, but all you need to do is try playing both cards to see which is superior in almost every situation. The Snare is maybe neat in a Cloudstone Curio deck, yet right now my deck doesn't care about artifacts coming into play at all.
So if Icy Manipulator is so much better than Cyclopean Snare, should my deck be adding Icys? At this point, no. The Snare was the most out of place card in Charge of the Boros. I'm pretty sure that my deck wants to do other things than tap down permanents (though what, I'm not yet sure), so I'm happy to banish all trace of the Snare's existence.
OUT: 2 Ordruun Commando
Ordruun Commando is efficient, in that it boasts four power for four mana. It's super fragile, though, even with its activated ability. Let's play the comparison game again and say that if all I cared about what an aggressive creature for four mana I could turn to Lightning Elemental, Indentured Oaf, Ogre Recluse, Ogre Taskmaster, or Nagao, Bound by Honor, all of which would be a better choice than Ordruun Commando. I love to Smash face with Minotaurs as much as anyone, but these guys make pretty poor Soldiers.
Here, then, is my slightly modified decklist:
Double The Pleasure, Double The Fun
Let's see how these changes affect my game play, if at all...
Game 6: Five-Color Honden
Lucky, lucky me. I pounded out Boros Recruit, Viashino Slasher, and Thundersong Trumpeter while my opponent played Vinelasher Kudzu and Sakura-Tribe Elder. I had a Lightning Helix for his 2/2 Kudzu before it got out of hand. Honden of Cleansing Fire hit the table, and I suddenly knew we were in a race to see if I could kill him before he put any more Shrines on the table. I played Skyknight Legionnaire, then another Slasher, knowing that anything like Wrath of God or Pyroclasm would almost automatically win him the game. He played Honden of Seeing Winds and drew two cards before my next attack. Thankfully for me, none of the seven cards in his hand could save him. Afterwards he showed me his hand of two Blazes, two Honden of Night's Reach, Honden of Infinite Rage, and two Honden of Life's Web.
Game 7: White/Blue Control
I played War-Torch Goblin, War-Torch Goblin, and Thundersong Trumpeter to start the offense early and often. I had two Rally the Righteous and Flame-Kin Zealot in hand, but I wasn't sure when to use them, since my opponent had untapped Islands and Adarkar Wastes. When he played Compulsive Research, discarding two Tidings and playing a Plains, I saw an opening to hit him with Rally the Righteous down to three life. He played Wrath of God, leaving only one Island open. “Any burn and I'm dead,” he said, right before I played my Flame-Kin Zealot. “Or that,” he concluded.
Game 8: White/Blue Weenie
What's up with all of the White decks today? Anyway, this guy busted out with Soul Warden and Crossbow Infantry to my Boros Swiftblade and Skyknight Legionnaire. I would hit him, he would gain some life and hit me, and so it went for a while. He played Ghostly Prison, then Drift of Phantasms to slow things down. I paid for the Prison, then played two Thundersong Trumpeters to speed things up again. Ballista Squad showed up a turn too late for my opponent, as I had enough mana to play Rally the Righteous and use my Trumpeters (twice!) to eliminate his blockers before attacking for the win.
Game 9: Black/Green/Blue Graveyard
One nice thing about aggro decks is that they can really punish bad opposing draws. I had Thundersong Trumpeter, Skyknight Legionnaire, and my first Agrus Kos, Wojek Veteran while my opponent managed land, mana acceleration and a lone Golgari Guildmage. The Guildmage died to Lightning Helix, allowing me to pound my opponent into a crater on the sixth turn.
Game 10: Mono-Black Aggro
Ah, mana problems... I was wondering where you were hiding. I kept a hand with two Mountains, knowing that a single Plains or Boros Garrison would send my hand of Lightning Helixes, Boros Swiftblades, and Skyknight Legionnaires into orbit. Alas, I missed a land drop on the third turn, allowing my opponent to smack me around with two Takenuma Bleeders and a Shuko. Phyrexian Arena kept his hand full, while Cruel Edict killed my lone blocker (War-Torch Goblin). My two Helixes would have at least given me a fighting chance, but it wasn't to be as I drew another Mountain and conceded.
Well no wonder people have been playing White/Red weenie decks so often! They win! Even in preconstructed form, the Boros Legion is an impressive military force. Of course this will make some Spikey Spikersons wonder why I would turn my back on this strategy and forge a different path. Let's just say that Spike and I are distant relations at best.
OUT: 2 War-Torch Goblin
A one-mana 1/1 isn't necessarily bad for any deck. Far from it, in fact. War-Torch Goblin, however, is a pretty poor choice for a first-turn play. Frostling is almost strictly better, as is Frenzied Goblin, Boros Recruit, Isamaru, Hound of Konda, Lantern Kami, Soul Warden, Savannah Lions, and even the card I'm adding below. The fact is that aggressive decks rarely want to leave a mana open to use War-Torch Goblin's combat trick, and anything that relies on a creature blocking needs to do something more impressive than Shock.
OUT: 2 Viashino Slasher
Back when I was contemplating my Flowstone deck, I liked the idea of increasing Viashino Slasher's toughness to allow it to pump itself beyond two power. Although this is a cute idea, the fact is that it's a poor imitation of Firebreathing. If I'm making a Firebreathing deck, I probably just want to find a way to flip Homura, Human Ascendant and avoid the whole “lower my own creatures' toughness” thing. Outside of a Flowstone deck I can't see why I would want Viashino Slasher. Hearth Kami, for example, is a 2/1 for the same cost, with an added (very useful) ability. If I want the two toughness for an aggressive creature, I would rather have Goblin Raider or Sell-Sword Brute.
OUT: 1 Screeching Griffin
I don't have anything against Screeching Griffin per se, but it seems below whatever threshold Constructed decks use for four-mana creatures. If I want a flying creature for that cost, it seems like Mothrider Samurai, Aven Cloudchaser, or a rare like Hunted Lammasu would be sexier. If I care about its ability, Frenzied Goblin is a lot better for a lot less mana. Putting the two abilities together makes for a fine creature that is almost never better than “fine.” No deck should settle for cards that are fine, even if they, you know, screech.
OUT: 1 Bathe in Light
See? I told you I would occasionally take out more than five cards. Whereas the ten cards I've changed up until this point are no-brainers, choices that almost all deckbuilders would eventually make, this one is a bit different. Bathe in Light is a good card, so good that it was one of the final pieces to my Empire Maker deck. It may even be the best Radiance card available, in fact.
Now that I'm playing around with double strike, though, it occurs to me that giving my creature protection doesn't help as much as, say, increasing my creature's stats. A protection from Red Boros Swiftblade is pretty cool, but a 3/4 Swiftblade thanks to something like Vulshok Morningstar is a lot cooler. I like Bathe in Light a lot, but I want this particular deck focused on making creatures bigger to maximize double strike's effectiveness. This point will become slightly clearer below.
IN: 4 Bushi Tenderfoot
Here is a one-mana creature I can get behind. It's a flip card, which is something for which I have a lot of affinity. Even better, it's the only creature in Standard with double strike besides the Samurai-dependent Iizuka the Ruthless. Now I have eight potential double-strikers in my deck on top of whatever Sunhome targets. My hope is that this is a strong enough nucleus to begin exploring.
IN: 2 Otherworldly Journey
Otherworldly Journey does two important things in my deck. First, it makes me a little less vulnerable to Wrath of God effects, something I've been paranoid about constantly in the past ten games. Second, it makes my creatures a little tougher, which is going to be key for cards like Boros Swiftblade and Bushi Tenderfoot. It's a shame that if I use the Journey on Kenzo the Heardhearted that it will “reset” back to the Tenderfoot, but the overall benefits of Otherworldly Journey outweigh this glitch. An added bonus is that the Journey is a darned good thing to fetch with Sunforger in some situations. Lastly, the Journey helps me feel good about the decision to drop Bathe in Light; Otherworldly Journey is the same cost and plays the same role while fitting the direction of my deck better.
Okay, I'm beginning to get an idea of where I want to head with this deck. I'm starting with double strike and seeing where it leads me. Next week, I'll kick off with some games testing the decklist below. My aim will be to find cards to make double strike relevant, or alternately find cards that fit well with the eight double-strikers in my deck. If you have ideas, of course, please speak up on the Message Boards.
Think hard and have fun,