What? Just joining the column now and not sure what the heck I'm talking about? See, I wanted to build a fun, respectable House Dimir budget deck. The readers chose Followed Footsteps as the card around which I would build my deck. Last week I continued the evolution of the deck by settling on a “toolbox” transmute deck that can do lots of weird and unexpected things. Here is the deck as I left off last week:
Some people objected to the fact that it looks like a Ninja deck, or a comes-into-play deck, or a transmute deck, or a Blue/Black aggro-control deck. My response has been twofold. First, it is all of those things in addition to being a Followed Footsteps deck. Second--and this will always be my trump card in this column--it's my deck, and I'm building it the way I want to build it. If you want your own Followed Footsteps deck to be based on Spirits or Zombies, or to use a different second color, then I say spread your wings and fly, baby. These series have never meant to supply an off-the-shelf decklist so much as they have been to provoke you into wanting to build your own decks. At every turn I'm making choices that you might handle differently, and that's great. Post your decklists on the Message Boards and let everyone enjoy your creativity.
I'll come back to this point once more today, but for now let's see how version 1.4 plays in the Casual Decks room of Magic Online...
Game 26: Green/White Selesnya
Game 27: Black/Green Golgari
Might as well make my way through the other guilds, right? He had a quick Shambling Shell that I blocked with Highway Robber. I used Last Gasp to kill his Golgari Brownscale, then Keening Banshee killed his Golgari Guildmage. He tried Vinelasher Kudzu, but I had Clone on my Banshee to send it to the graveyard. He recycled his Brownscale to gain some life, but I put Followed Footsteps on my Banshee to ensure that I would kill whatever else hit the table (and I could always target the Brownscale in a pinch). I attacked twice more with flying Banshee and Banshee tokens, then Gravedigger found Highway Robber to win me the game.
Game 28: Blue/Black Dimir Followed Footsteps
Game 29: Blue/Black Dimir Doppleganger
When my opponent transmuted a Grozoth on the third turn for another, I knew something funny was going on. I figured it must be a reanimator deck of some kind. I attacked with a Ninja of the Deep Hours and a Dimir Infiltrator for a while, putting Honden of Night's Reach into play. I was aware that the Honden might be helping his cause, but I hoped to make the discard eventually hurt. When he tried a Dimir Doppelganger and activated it to remove a Grozoth, I responded with Last Gasp. Plink, plink, plink went my attack. A second Doppleganger turned into a second Grozoth, but I drew and played Nekrataal to kill it. That was pretty much game, as my discard finally put him into topdeck mode while I drew an extra card per turn. Just in case, I put Followed Footsteps on my Ninja, triggering a concession from my opponent.
Game 30: Five-Color Hondens
Now that's more like it. My games are going long, which means that Followed Footsteps is becoming a much bigger part of my victories. I'm drawing enough cards to reliably find the Footsteps, and I'm able to transmute Brainspoil for it thanks to the rest of my early removal. The transmuting has been fantastic, and along with the Clones I find myself with a deck that's really difficult to predict. In short: Me likey. It's worth noting, though, that I've consistently been able to beat slower decks while having trouble with faster decks. It's too bad that I couldn't slip a Boros beatdown deck in there to test my mettle (and give me a full set of guild match-ups).
I could probably stop now, shoring up the deck's weakness to aggressive decks in the sideboard. I've seen several suggestions on the Message Boards that I've liked, though, so I'll make a few minor tweaks to my deck and really embrace the toolbox feel.
OUT: 1 Island
IN: 1 Fellwar Stone
OUT: 1 Clone
IN: 1 Dimir House Guard
I love Clone and have never been sad to draw it, so this change hurts. Still, I see the wisdom of dropping the second copy to maximize my transmute options. The deck has a whopping ten possible targets for Dimir House Guard's ability, plus it's often a solid creature on its own. In order to reliably be able to transmute on Turn 3 and then play my chosen card on Turn 4, I think four House Guards make sense. Even still, I'll miss my second Clone.
Speaking of mana: If you were wondering about the lack of three-mana cards in my deck, the House Guards, Infiltrators, and Brainspoils effectively act as a third-turn play. I think most people knew this, but the question came up a few times on the Boards and over e-mail.
OUT: 1 Ravenous Rats
IN: 1 Nezumi Graverobber
Speaking of good transmute targets, I have been resisting this addition since my first idea of using Followed Footsteps with comes-into-play creatures. Nezumi Graverobber was obviously a centerpiece of my Ratimation deck, and I worried that adding him to this deck pushed the deck into more of a reanimator feel than a cloning feel. What I have come to realize is that the Graverobber's graveyard-stripping ability is often as important as its Nighteyes the Desecrator ability thanks to dredge, soulshift, and reanimator decks seemingly everywhere in the Casual Decks room. This lone copy becomes an important target for Dimir Infiltrator's transmute ability against graveyard-focused decks and is never a wasted draw against other decks. The reanimating ability is a bonus, something my deck can certainly appreciate but one I don't expect to use overly much.
Here, then, is the deck I'm calling my final version:
When I say “final version,” I mean that I'm not intending to work on the deck any longer. Now that I'm done, this deck more than any other I've made seems to beg the question...
Did I Succeed?
So, let's remember my goals for this deck: My first goal was to make a fun deck. Is this deck fun? This is a sort of a trick question, since what's fun to one player is like gouging out one's own eyes for another. For me, though, I can say unequivocally that this deck is fun to play. It's strategically complex, rewarding me for outthinking my opponent. It's versatile, allowing me to never truly lose hope in a game. It does wacky things, frequently eliciting “oohs” and “ahhs” from spectators. It is, in fact, one of the more fun decks I've made in this column.
My third goal, of course, was to make a budget deck. The deck uses five “bargain bin” rares, several decent uncommons (many of which are single copies), and a pile of commons. It falls well below the “30 tix” limit that Nate Heiss once employed in the predecessor to this column. Clearly this is a budget deck.
My fourth goal was to make a House Dimir deck. Although people grumbled that my initial decklist wasn't very “Dimir,” I think those voices have quieted. The deck is Black/Blue to the core, using no less than eleven cards with Dimir's signature mechanic of transmute. It's sneaky and it's tricky and it's underhanded. No, it doesn't mill away opponent's libraries, but as Aaron pointed out, that's just one path to victory for House Dimir. Fourteen of the cards even have “Dimir” in their card name, for crying out loud. Yes, I would say the deck met this goal as well.
The fifth goal was to build a deck around Followed Footsteps. Here, I think, lies the biggest uncertainty. On the upside, I kept four copies of Followed Footsteps in the deck throughout this experiment, and Footsteps in no way contradicts what the deck is trying to do. In fact, if you look through my game logs you'll see that, in the longer games, Followed Footsteps is often a key to my victories. Certainly this is a deck that can take full advantage of Footsteps without batting an eye, thanks mostly to a host of juicy comes-into-play creatures.
That said, several folks have pointed out that Followed Footsteps isn't exactly the central card of the deck. Imagine, for example, dropping three copies of Followed Footsteps for a fourth Brainspoil, one Dream Leash, and one Evacuation. The deck pretty much performs the same way, with Followed Footsteps still a viable option as a path to victory, yet opening the door for other pieces to the deck's “toolbox.” I don't think I would enjoy such a deck as much as the one I have, simply because I've found Followed Footsteps to be a) fragile enough to warrant multiple copies, and b) fun as all get-out. Still, I think it underscores the argument that perhaps Followed Footsteps is not the centerpiece of my deck. Indeed, I'm not sure the deck I've made has a true centerpiece.
It's possible that Followed Footsteps is not a natural fit for House Dimir, and belongs instead in a Blue/White or Blue/Green deck. It's also possible that I simply went about the whole centerpiece thing the wrong way by not focusing on either immobilizing my opponent's creatures via Clinging Darkness and Dehydration, or using big beefy Footsteps targets like Air Elemental. Or maybe five goals is too many for one deck evolution. Whatever the case, this fifth goal is the one in which I have serious doubts about my own success.
I hope, though, that those last two paragraphs don't detract from the very fun, respectable, budget, House Dimir deck I've built. The deck is terrific, and I will argue that four Followed Footsteps belong in the deck until I'm blue (and Black) in the face. To my mind, this experiment was definitely a success, both in its final product and as a learning experience.
It's also a deck that seriously needs a name. Speak up on the Message Boards with suggestions, and in my first article of the New Year I'll officially dub the deck. Remember that I like my deck names to be both catchy and to reflect the overall mechanics/strategy of the deck. Look back at past deck names to get an idea of what tends to make me smile.
Speculative Sideboard Time!
One of the things about a toolbox deck is that their sideboards look... weird. The idea is usually to add all of the tutor-able options that are good in some match-ups but less than ideal in others. The result is a lot of one-ofs and two-ofs in the sideboard, just as in the maindeck. I haven't had time to try out this deck in matches that use sideboards, so take my musing here with a large grain of salt. The sheer number of options available for a toolbox sideboard is such that you should really do some testing to figure out what cards you do and don't need in your toolbox. With those caveats in place, if I were piloting this deck into a Friday Night Magic or eight-person online tourney, I might start with a sideboard along these lines:
Sideboard: 2 Shred Memory
Sideboard: 2 Mnemonic Nexus
I find that if I'm facing off against a dedicated milling deck that uses cards like Glimpse the Unthinkable, then I can only win the race about half of the time. If the opposing deck is creatureless (as opposed to using things like Soratami Mindsweeper and Vedalken Entrancer), then I usually lose the race. At least in theory, Mnemonic Nexus helps me restock my library and win the game with damage before my library is depleted. Like Shred Memory, I wish I had more than two copies because there is a real danger that both of these copies will get milled into my graveyard before I can ever use them.
Sideboard: 1 Nekrataal
To be honest, I would usually rather have a 2/2 flier than a 2/1 first striker. That said, there are some games in which Nekrataal is simply a better creature than Keening Banshee, and in those match-ups I imagine that the Banshee would come out for her scimitar-wielding cousin.
Sideboard: 1 Keening Banshee
Sideboard: 1 Manriki-Gusari
Sideboard: 1 Cruel Edict
I'm mostly thinking Kodama of the North Tree here, but I suppose there are other cards like Kuro, Pitlord or somesuch that would be immune to most of my other removal (aside from Clone, the Legend Slayer).
Sideboard: 1 Eradicate
This is another tool against reanimator decks or against decks with really annoying creatures like Loxodon Hierarch. I appreciate that Eternal Witness is no longer in Standard, but I still take comfort in this fellow sitting in my sideboard.
Sideboard: 1 Hideous Laughter
It's nice that both Dimir House Guard and Dimir Infiltrator survive Hideous Laughter. The problem is that most of my other creatures don't, which is why I don't use Laughter maindeck. That said, my deck is vulnerable to quick creature rushes. Against any Selesnya Conclave deck, for example, Hideous Laughter is going to hurt my opponent a lot more than it hurts me.Sideboard: 1 Shifting Borders
Sideboard: 2 Honden of Night's Reach
Sideboard: 2 Honden of Seeing Winds
A “transformative sideboard” is one that allows a deck to change its core strategy and/or identity between games within a single match. Against some decks, chunks of my deck are going to be nearly useless. I'm thinking for example, of Last Gasp versus creatureless decks or Followed Footsteps in a deck stuffed full of creature removal. In these match-ups, I think it makes sense in turning the deck into a Black/Blue Honden toolbox deck. It's a theory that I would need to test, but I like the idea of a transformative sideboard as yet another one of the deck's tricks. It's so House Dimir.
Adding Money To The Deck
One of the cool things about this deck is that I rarely experience myself as playing a budget deck. That is, the deck performs well without sacrificing a great deal of power or tricks for its low monetary cost. Even still, there are a few rare cards that could potentially find their way into the deck. If you have access to any of the cards below and like the rough skeleton of a deck like mine, I would highly recommend trying them.
I said the same thing with Empire Maker, and I made my point explicitly in August. I imagine that I'll begin to repeat myself quite a bit in these last installments of deck evolutions. The most important rares in Standard right now are the rare dual-colored lands. Ravnica's are slightly better than those in 9th Edition, but both are awesome. If you have one, throw it in. If you have eight, throw them all in. Doing so would also allow you to use Fellwar Stone more liberally than Dimir Signet, freeing up at least one spot for another tutor-target.
Again, I daresay you've heard this before. The so-called “Fork of Doom” is indeed a harbinger of doom versus many decks (including this one). If you are using creatures to win the game and have access to Umezawa's Jitte, the only reason not to use it is because your friends will hate you. Besides, it's a transmute target and works so well on either Dimir Infiltrator or Dimir House Guard.
Nothing says “mind invasion” quite like Cranial Extraction. In this deck, the Extraction helps get rid of cards that would kill Followed Footsteps and is a darned good target for Dimir House Guard's transmute ability. Like the Jitte, Cranial Extraction seems to have that “buzz kill” quality with friends, but if you're making a more tournament-focused deck I don't see why this card would stay out of either your maindeck or sideboard.
Speaking of transmute targets, there are a number of cards that I think could add to or supplement the deck's existing toolbox. Nezumi Shortfang is likely going to be better than Ravenous Rats. Dream Leash can dramatically swing a game, as can Meloku the Clouded Mirror. I'm not entirely sure that Sickening Shoal is worth a shot, but I do like that its converted mana cost is two and could replace a Last Gasp for added flexibility. There are certainly other two-, four- and five-mana rares worth exploring, but this list can get you started.
Final Thoughts For 2005
Apparently Scott Johns and the other Wizards of the Coast employees see the holiday season as a time where one favors family over work or something. As a result, today is--alas--my last article of 2005. The next three weeks you'll see reruns of my favorite articles since starting “Building on a Budget.” (The site returns with new content on Wednesday, 1/4, but make sure to check the feature article slot on Monday, January 2!)
Don't worry: You'll still get a Budget Dimir article, a BOAB Smackdown!, various Interludes, and a treatment of both the Golgari and Boros Legion. I'll also probably make a Mirage Constructed deck at some point since, you know, I made one of the preconstructed decks and all. Guildpact will be upon us all before I can blink, supplying three new guilds on which to focus. It's all so exciting that I think I need three weeks to get ready. And maybe spend some time with my wife. And kids. And parents. And... hey, maybe Scott was on to something after all.