Battle of Wits, Budget Dissension Stylin’

Posted in Building on a Budget on July 3, 2006

By Ben Bleiweiss

Welcome back to Building on a Budget! Where is the evolution of the Azorius Theme Deck that I started last week? Silly rabbits! If you read through the entire article, you'd already have known that I'm digressing for a week, while your votes from last week's poll were tabulated.

It's ok. I still love y'all.

Wayyyy back when, I asked the readers if they wanted to see me build a budget Battle of Wits deck. For the first time, here are the poll results.

Did you say Battle of Wits? Can there be a budget Battle of Wits deck?
Not only can there be, but I demand it! 5047 42.3%
I hate Battle of Wits and will pay Ben not to build a Battle of Wits deck. 3136 26.3%
I don't think you can build a budget 250-card deck, but I'd like to see it if it exists. 2917 24.4%
There's no way a 250-card deck can be don't even bother trying. 832 7.0%
Total 11932 100.0%

A vast majority wanted to see me build a budget Battle of Wits deck. For this week, we're going to explore the wonderful world of two-hundred plus card decks.

Battle of Wits 0.0

Download Arena Decklist
Enchantment (4)
4 Battle of Wits
Land (216)
216 Island
220 Cards

Ta-da! Cue the heavenly choir, for I have built the budget Battle of Wits deck. It has only four rares, and the rest of the cards are basic lands. Anyone can afford this deck. I'll even throw in a strategy guide to play this deck.

  1. Hope to draw Battle of Wits in your opening hand.
  2. If you don't draw Battle of Wits in your opening hand, mulligan. Keep mulliganing until you get a Battle of Wits, or until you are at zero cards, whichever comes first. Don't worry! Even if you go to zero cards, every game will play the same – play five lands, play Battle of Wits, win! That is, unless you fail to draw Battle of Wits
  3. Profit

That's all the time we have this week. Tune in next week for the Azor…


C'mon Ted! I built their freakin' deck. It's budget. It can win on turn 6! What more do you want?


Fine, fine.

Welcome back to Battle of Wits week here at Building on a Budget! Apparently one-hundred and twenty-three word articles just don't “cut it” anymore. When I was a youngin', them old players could get away with putting a smiley for a tournament report. Nowadays, you kids want bells, whistles, and your own pet atogs.

You can't have a pet atog. Only I can have a pet atog. Course, I gotta keep him away from the computer…

Even though I wasn't entirely serious about foisting a 216 Island, four Battle of Wits deck on the readership, the idea has merit – how many other cards in Magic can singlehandedly win games with so little effort? To win with Battle of Wits, all you need to do is A) cast the card, and B) survive until your next turn. It's that easy!

There's just one little drawback – you need to have over 200 cards left in your library. Given your opening hand, and the first few draws of the game, that makes your minimum deck size around 212 cards. Since you're going to want a cushion due to potential card-drawing and tutoring effects, let's put the Battle of Wits card count at around 240-250 cards.


Battle of Wits
I came into this exercise with quite a few rules, and they are essential when building a huge deck such as this.
  1. No rares are allowed in the deck except for Battle of Wits. This is a budget build, and a deck with 240-250 cards is already going to be pushing some budgets.
  2. No more than 40 Uncommons are allowed in the deck. This is for the same reason as above. You can usually pick up 64-128 Commons on Magic Online for a ticket, and 4-20 Uncommons for a ticket as well, depending on desirability at the moment. Remember, the budget for any given deck is thirty tickets maximum for this column. The first build of this deck, just by virtue of having over two-hundred cards, is around four tickets.
  3. The deck must be Standard legal. For this version, it means that 9th Edition, Champions of Kamigawa, Betrayers of Kamigawa, Saviors of Kamigawa, Ravnica, Guildpact, and Dissension are legal.
  4. The main focus of the deck must be winning with Battle of Wits. We're not just going to stick together four 60-card decks, throw in four Battle of Wits, and call it a day.
  5. No revisions without playing at least five games with the deck as-is. This is the Jay rule, and in a 240 card deck, it's one I want to stick with, for better or for worse.

The joke/first build does have a sound premise – the point of the deck is to win with Battle of Wits, so why distract from that goal? I decided that B/U would be the way to go for this deck. Blue gives me access to Battle of Wits and card drawing, while Black gives me access to tutoring, transmuting, and more card draw.

I divided my attention three ways:

  1. Cards that tutor for Battle of Wits: Brainspoil and Diabolic Tutor can both directly fetch Battle of Wits. Dimir House Guard and Clutch of the Undercity tutor for Diabolic Tutor. I envisioned games where I transmuted for D-Tutor on the third turn, cast it on the fourth turn, and dropped Battle of Wits on turn 5.
  2. Card drawing cards: There are too many to list here, but suffice it to say that these cards run the gamut from Reach Through Mists to Vision Skeins to Counsel of the Soratami to Sift. The purpose of these cards, moreso than in other decks, is to look for a way to get Battle of Wits – not necessarily to gain pure card advantage.
  3. Mana Acceleration: What's better than dropping Battle of Wits on turn 5 and winning on turn 6? Dropping Battle of Wits on turn 4 and winning on turn 5! I threw in every artifact mana accelerant I could find, including four copies of all ten Ravnica block Signets, and Honor-Worn Shaku.

Battle of Wits 1.0

Download Arena Decklist

One of the disadvantages of running a 240 card deck is that you never know exactly what you'll draw each game. The odds are against seeing any one particular card, so the key to winning is through redundancy – have a lot of cards that are similar and can fill a similar role. Another disadvantage is that your opponent will likely know your main win condition (Battle of Wits) before you even draw your opening hand, due to your deck size.

The advantages to Battle of Wits are two-fold as well. First, your opponent will never know exactly what he'll be seeing from your deck. You have a huge pile of 240 cards – anything¬ could be in there! In addition, you have room to pack those cards in there – with 236 non-BoW slots to fill, the possibilities of what you can put in the deck are limited only by your imagination.

Game #1 Prufrock (U/G Aggro)


Trygon Predator
I drop a couple of early Signets, and get ready to drop a fourth turn Battle of Wits. That plan gets shot all to heck when Prufrock drops a third turn Trygon Predator. Dagnabbit! I start losing Signets to his flying monster, but still have hope - there is bounce in my deck. A few turns into the game, I draw Clutch of the Undercity. Unfortunately, it is met with Plaxmanta, and I get run over by his creatures.


Game #2: B0dy_C0unt (U/B Decking deck)

Well, if there's one deck type I didn't want to face, it was one that can mill my deck past two-hundred cards. That's just what B0dy_C0unt does – a couple of Glimpse the Unthinkables and a Szadek later, and I'm looking at an impossible board position. On the other hand, this game featured the biggest Szadek you've ever seen.

Ha ha ha frown.


One thing became clear to me – I needed some way to affect my opponent's board position. More to the point, I needed creature removal. I made a note to add creature kill to the deck for the first revision.

Game #3: greenhornet (G/W/U)

I cast seven card-drawing spells, seven Signets (how's that for parity), and end up losing to Giant Spider, Anaconda, and Aven Fisher. Where are my tutoring effects? Where is my Battle of Wits?


That's not a great start for this deck. I don't think I've had any of my budget decks play so miserably over the first sets of games. Hopefully this will turn around – after all, I could have won the third game, had I drawn anything that would even remotely draw me into the Battle.

Game #4: jmcclenahan (B/R Discard)

I get hit by Rise // Fall (discarding a card drawing spell, and revealing a land), then Cry of Contrition, then Rise // Fall (discarding two card drawing spells), then Ravenous Rats, then another Cry of Contrition. On my end of the world, I cast Sift, then Sift Through Sands, then Train of Thought for three, and then cast Diabolic Tutor for Battle of Wits. Even though I've discarded six cards by this point, I've drawn eight extra and win instantly thanks to the Battle.


Game #5: ferrethater (B/W/G Aggro)

Don't worry – Ferrethater doesn't hate Ferrets – it's his wife who has an intense dislike for weasely rodents. Ferrethater gets off to a fast start thanks to Sakura-Tribe Elder. The Rampant-Growth on scales accelerates him into turn 3, 4 and 5 Blind Hunters.

Unluckily for him, my draw is nearly perfect for this deck. Here's how the game looks on my side of the board.

Turn 1: Island.
Turn 2: Swamp, Signet.
Turn 3: Island, Signet, Compulsive Research.
Turn 4: Island, Signet, Fellwar Stone, Spectral Searchlight.
Turn 5: Transmute Brainspoil into Battle of Wits. Play Battle of Wits.
Turn 6: Win.


It's time to make some changes. I don't need nearly this much acceleration or mana, so I cut out the off-color signets, along with a few basic lands, and the Honor-Worn Shaku. I also don't like the Reach Through MistsSleight of Hand would be better, since it lets me view two cards instead of one, and I don't have any arcane cards to splice onto Reach.

Creatures and creature kill are the order of the day for the additions side. Dark Banishing, Last Gasp and Rend Flesh go in, as well as Nekrataal (which can double as creature kill and a win condition). I also want to have more creatures which set up my win, so I add in Crystal Seers, Descendant of Soramaros, Lurking Informants, Ninja of the Deep Hours, Sage Avens, and Thieving Magpies. These creatures can both dig through my deck for Battle of Wits, or play defense to keep me from being run over by creatures.

Lastly, I add a single Mnemonic Nexus to the deck – I can transmute for it, tutor for it, and it will allow me to win the game with Battle of Wits even if I should fall below 200 cards in my library.

Battle of Wits 2.0

Download Arena Decklist

Out: -4 Honor-Worn Shaku, -4 Boros Signet, -4 Gruul Signet, -4 Selesnya Signet, -5 Swamp, -9 Island. -4 Reach Through Mists,
In: +3 Dark Banishing, +3 Crystal Seer, +3 Descendant of Soramaro, +4 Last Gasp, +3 Lurking Informant, +4 Nekrataal, +3 Ninja of the Deep Hours, +4 Rend Flesh, +3 Sage Aven, +4 Sleight of Hand, +3 Thieving Magpie, +1 Mnemonic Nexus

Game #6: Forderven (Charge of the Boros)

Forderven is new to Magic Online, and tells me so. He gets double Frenzied Goblin and Sunhome Enforcer on the board, but I kill the Enforcer with Nekrataal, transmute for a second Nekrataal, gum up the board with Descendant of Soramaro, use it to get to a Brainspoil early, transmute to Battle of Wits, and win.


I already like this revision much better than the first version. I have a lot more options, plus I don't automatically die to creatures hitting the board.

Game #7: Phirewood (B/W Control)

Phirewood drops Hunted Lammasu, but I kill it with Dark Banishing and start swinging with my 4/4. He stops my offense with a Kokusho, but I Sift into a second Island and a Battle of Wits, and win the following turn. I have to admit – it can be frustrating for the guy to be sitting on the other side of the board, waving his 5/5 dragon at me, knowing he doesn't have a way to remove an enchantment which just ends the game.


Game #8: Weynu (R/W Weenie)


Crystal Seer
This was quite a long game. Weynu gets down some early beats, topped off by a Sunforger. I kill every single one of his creatures, but he's at a comfortable 30+ life thanks to multiple Lightning Helix and Sunhome Enforcer hits. I cast Battle of Wits, but it gets torched by Leave No Trace.

Eventually, Weynu gets more creatures than I have removal, and I'm at a precarious six life. Luckily for me, his deck is out of burn spells – he's used them all pushing through damage earlier in the game, and therefore I am safe from being burned out of the game. This allows me to get Crystal Seer going – I have enough mana to cast it, bounce it, and recast it each turn, and this helps me set up multiple draws a turn thanks to Thieving Magpie and Thought Courier.

I get knocked down to two life due to a hard-cast Boros Fury-Shield, but lock him out of any significant spells thanks to Lurking Informant. I am in control of his draws each turn, and I stuff his hand full of insignificant lands and enchant creatures. I eventually draw both Battle of Wits and a four-drop transmute spell, transmute for Mnemonic Nexus, cast Battle of Wits, and Nexus at the end of his turn (he no longer has creatures on the board by this point) for the win.


Game #9: Bluohh (U/G Aggro)

Coiling Oracle, Sakura-Tribe Elder and Civic Wayfinder are no match for turn 2 Vision Skeins, turn 3 transmute Clutch into Diabolic Tutor, turn 4 Tutor for Battle of Wits, capped by a turn 5 Battle for a turn 6 win.


Game #10: Amerloque (CIP 4-Color Deck)

Ever have a deck you just can't seem to beat? I lose, week-in and week-out, to the comes-into-play deck. This time around, I face triple Loxodon Hierarch, triple Carven Caryatid, double Civic Wayfinder, double Coiling Oracle, double Kiki-Jiki, and Sparkmage Apprentice, and finally succumb after a dozen turns. For my part, I killed virtually all of his guys, drew over thirty-five extra cards via card drawing spells, and still failed to see a single transmute card, Diabolic Tutor, or Battle of Wits which would have enabled me to win this game at virtually any point.


Battle of Wits is immensely fun to play. You have a grandiose number of cards to play with, and that leads to games that can carry out in generally unpredictable ways. If you like playing with big decks, especially ones that can play differently every game, I highly suggest putting together this Battle of Wits deck. It clocks in at under ten tickets to build, so it's definitely well within the budget constraints of this column!

Here's where I need your help. Do you remember my article “Sets of Five?” There were mega-cycles of certain cards that took several blocks/sets to complete. This included the Atog cycle (Auratog, Atog, Chronatog, Necratog, and Foratog), and the Voice Cycle (Voice of Truth, Voice of Reason, Voice of Grace, Voice of Law, and Voice of Duty). I plan on making this Battle of Wits deck a regular fixture in this column – but only once per set release! That's right – for as long as Battle of Wits is in Standard, I'll be revisiting this column to revamp the deck using cards from the newest set.

What's this mean for you? In addition to the usual suggestions that are made in the forums, I need this deck updated once Coldsnap is released. Keep this column in mind a few weeks from now – once Coldsnap is legal for Magic Online play, I'll check the forums of this article again, and incorporate suggestions from everyone to make Battle of WitsColdsnap Edition the best version of this deck yet! When Time Spiral comes out later in the year, we'll have a third Battle of Wits column.

In the meanwhile, you have this to look forward to next week:

Wow, that U/W deck sure can be evolved in many different ways? Which way should Ben take Azorius Ascendant?
U/W Control: I deny! I DENY! 2755 29.0%
Sky Hussar For the Win!: Hey, I heard this works well with Kiki-Jiki…. 2423 25.5%
When Walls Attack! I want to be on the cover of the Rolling Stone. 2214 23.3%
Air Attack! I love beating down with flyers and weenies! 2115 22.2%
Total 9507 100.0%

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