Now, back to the final installment of my Blood Clock deck evolution. You all had a bunch of great suggestions on the Message Boards, many of which lined up exactly with my own thinking on the deck. I think some of what I do today will be a surprise, but I'm happy to see that it won't be as surprising as I had originally feared.
If you need a refresher, go here and read about why I'm focusing on Blood Clock, then go here to see where the deck has meandered up until today. What you'll see is that I took a Monoblack Blood Clock deck focused on discard and Thief of Hope and added Choice of Damnations and Green for mana-acceleration, yielding this decklist:
Last week I played ten games with this decklist and made the following observations:
- 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.
- Blood Clock and Choice of Damnations are real skill-testers for my opponents.
- I love the Green acceleration.
- I still love Choice of Damnations and Thief of Hope.
- I'm a little dubious of Wicked Akuba because it seems like the one true beatdown card in the deck.
- I haven't drawn Death of a Thousand Stings once since dropping to a single copy.
Kodama of the North Tree is a problem without a lot of answers. People have suggested Psychic Spear, which is a good sideboard option (I get hung up on the fact that it's not arcane, sadly). For Umezawa's Jitte, suggestions have been primarily Manriki-Gusari and Wear Away. I'm not sure my deck has enough creatures to make Manriki-Gusari worth it, but save the Wear Away idea for another five games or so. Right now I'm going to focus on the mana-flooding issue and my discomfort with Wicked Akuba.
OUT: 3 Horobi's Whisper
It's arcane, which is a definite improvement over Kiku's Shadow. It's also an instant, which I like. However, I've noticed two things: First, my instincts that a lot of people play Black in the Casual Decks room seems valid. Black Hand decks are everywhere, as is Kokusho, the Evening Star, Nezumi Graverobber, and Oni of all shapes and sizes. As a result, it would be nice to have removal that actually, you know, removed stuff. Second, it turns out that the splice cost hurts me a lot more than I had expected. Between soulshift, Soulless Revival, and Death of a Thousand Stings I find that picking four cards to remove from the game is sometimes hard. I would consider Hideous Laughter as a replacement (and it's still in my mind as a possibility), but I think another card may fit the deck even better.
IN: 3 Swallowing Plague
IN: 3 Hana Kami
This should come as no surprise. Any deck with Green that uses even a few quality arcane cards has to seriously consider Hana Kami. For my deck in particular, Hana Kami allows for recurring mana-acceleration (Kodama's Reach), discard (Waking Nightmare), creature removal and lifegain (Swallowing Plague), and--the kicker--Choice of Damnations. Don't forget that Thief of Hope will trigger on all of these cards, including Hana Kami herself. Speaking of the Thief, it and Soulless Revival can both bring Hana Kami back from the grave to do its trickery a second time. All in all, I think Hana Kami is the only obvious maindeck Green card to add to my formerly-monoblack deck other than mana acceleration.
OUT: 2 Wicked Akuba
The thing about having four Wicked Akuba in my deck is that it randomly allowed me to play like a beatdown player. One of the express purposes of this deck was to avoid a straight beatdown deck, so this has always made me a little uncomfortable. The reason it was originally in the deck was to act as a finisher once I had lots of land on the table and my opponent had taken damage from Blood Clock. Having two copies neuters the beatdown capabilities while keeping the Akuba in its initial role. I'm not sure those last two copies will stick around, but for now I feel more comfortable with the deck knowing they're there.
OUT: 1 Swamp
When mana flooded, start lowering your mana sources and see what happens. I don't know if one land is enough to drop, but it's a start.
I'm now here:
Let's see how this sucker plays...
Game 21: Blue/Green Arcane
Game 22: Green/Black/Blue Control
His deck used the same mana-acceleration engine as me, along with Nezumi Graverobber, Heartbeat of Spring, Time Stop, Overwhelming Intellect, and a host of other bad-boy spells. I had another first-turn Hana Kami to match his Sakura-Tribe Elder. He then got a Graverobber while I got Thief of Hope. The Graverobber flipped into Nighteyes the Desecrator after killing my Kodama's Reach at about the same time I played Blood Clock. Nighteyes hit me twice, then I tried to play Kemuri-Onna only to have it stopped by Overwhelming Intellect. The Kemuri-Onna joined my opponent's team and things started to look grim. The good news was that I was eating into his life via Blood Clock and Thief, and then I got him to lose eight life with Choice of Damnations. At two life my opponent decided it was best to not let me untap with my Thief and Hana Kami, so he played Heartbeat of Spring, then Sway of Stars floating four mana. We started our new game, him getting Forest and Sakura-Tribe Elder, then mana-burning down to five life. I had a nice hand that allowed for a third-turn Thief of Hope, followed by Blood Clock and Kodama's Reach. My opponent tapped out for a 14/14 Masumaro, First to Live, but I untapped, played a second Thief of Hope and Wicked Akuba for the win. Neat.
Game 23: Monoblue Dampen Thought deck
Game 24: Monoblack Control
This game was so beautiful I could cry. Chris Romeo (RightField), friend and fellow budget-deck writer, showed up with a deck that had wrecked me the week before using no creatures besides Kiku, Night's Flower and Genju of the Fens to go along with massive amounts of creature control and discard. His first-turn Psychic Spear nabbed my Kemuri-Onna, but I was able to play two Kodama's Reach to give me plenty of land and to put down two Blood Clocks. Chris, meanwhile, had two Genju, Kiku, and a mess of Swamps. He was eating into my life when I was able to play Swallowing Plague on his Kiku to gain seven life and bring me back up to fifteen. That was just the pad I needed.
Although he had used another Psychic Spear to get Choice of Damnations, I drew Hana Kami with just enough mana to get it back and play it. Chris dropped down to five permanents (from nine), keeping up a modest attack to drop me to around eight life. I drew another Hana Kami for the same trick, this time bringing him down to four permanents (from six). Thief of Hope came next, which blocked his Genju to bring back Hana Kami and do the whole thing over again. This time Chris went down to two permanents (from four) since he only had three life. Both of his Swamps popped back to hand on the next turn, and he conceded with me at a fairly comfortable seven life (yay Swallowing Plague!). It was counter-intuitive for me to keep choosing the permanent-loss over life-loss that would have brought him to one or two life, but I was sure he would kill me with his Genju if I didn't limit his resources. Two Blood Clocks on the table helped this decision quite a bit, too.
Game 25: Monored Aggro
An Eerie Toolbox
4-1 is looking better; the deck is now officially competitive in most of my games. Still, it's got some holes. The mana-flooding is still an issue, but reduced from before. Remember my troubles with fliers, Umezawa's Jitte, Kodama of the North Tree, and let's throw in Hondens? I haven't addressed any of those yet.
Here are the easy changes:
OUT: 2 Wicked Akuba
If you couldn't guess, the writing was on the wall for Wicked Akuba when I added green to the deck. The writing might have been on the wall when I declared I wanted to make a control deck. As much as I would like to think of him as a finisher--a role he can play rather admirably in this deck, truth be told--I know in my heart of hearts that if the deck is doing its thing with Blood Clock I don't actually need a finisher beyond Choice of Damnations. In fact, I shouldn't need the attack phase at all. Instead, my deck needs to shore up its defense and ensure that I can control the game in its latter stages.
IN: 1 Hana Kami
IN: 1 Wear Away
I knew I wanted Wear Away in my deck as an answer to Umezawa's Jitte, Hondens, Night of Souls' Betrayal, and any number of other problematic cards in Kamigawa Block Constructed. The question for me was how many copies? Four seemed like assuredly too much, and even with three it felt like they would get stuck in hand far too often. Two copies felt about right, but in the times I needed Wear Away I was going to need it too badly to pray for only one of two copies to appear. It was a mental puzzle, and one that stumped me for a good half day.
IN: 2 Eerie Procession
IN: 1 Island
OUT: 1 Swamp
I'm taking out a Swamp because I have never found early Forests to be a problem whereas I get stressed out if I see all Swamps early. The fourth Hana Kami and the loss of Wicked Akuba only solidifies that Green mana is becoming as important as Black in my deck.
OUT: 1 Ghost-Lit Stalker
I don't like dropping to two copies of Ghost-Lit Stalker because overall he's been a lot more useful than not. My reason for doing so is that Hana Kami is a better bounce outlet for Blood Clock because it doesn't need to tap to be useful and because seven one-mana Spirits feels like a bit too much.
OUT: 1 Death of a Thousand Stings
It's a shame. I was really committed to keeping Death of a Thousand Stings in my deck. It was a pet card, one I was always happy to draw and even happier to play. So why drop it? Mostly because I think the costs of dropping any other cards in the deck outweigh the loss of Death of a Thousand Stings. I could go down to two Waking Nightmares, or drop Ghost-Lit Stalker altogether, or drop another land and hope my deck can survive on twenty-one land. None of that feels right, though. If I drop either Waking Nightmare or my Stalkers, it will because another card is pounding on the table and demanding to be used. Death of a Thousand Stings is the nice guy on the team who can't play very well. I like him, but at some point he's got to go.
My deck now looks thus:
Boy howdy, my decklist is looking weird!
Game 26: White/Red Legends
Game 27: Monored Aggro
I got stuck on three land for several turns without any mana-accelerators, which was a very scary place to be given that he had Ember-Fist Zubera, Akki Blizzard-Herder, and Hearth Kami on offense. He also only had two Mountains, though, which turns out to be a huge boon in my favor since he was unwilling to put his Goblin in harm's way and unable to cast Stone Rain. It also meant my Thief of Hope survived long enough to give me life via Ghost-Lit Stalker and another Thief before dying. I killed the Hearth Kami with a blocking Stalker. I eventually found a fourth land and used Swallowing Plague on his Zubera, then played Blood Clock. My Stalker bounced and came back, then I used Eerie Procession (first time!) for Kodama's Reach. My opponent had four land now after taking Clock damage but it was too late. Another Plague killed his Blizzard-Herder, and we both went down a land with Blood Clock on the table. I reached five land and Kemuri-Onna, then played a second Clock and my opponent conceded with one solitary Mountain on the table.
Game 28: Green/Red Spirits
Game 29: Red/Blue Aggro-Control
His deck was cool and he was a heck of a player. When he cast a first-turn Teardrop Kami I was intrigued. I figured it might be a Ninja deck so I blocked with my Ghost-Lit Stalker. Sure enough, several turns later his Ghost-Lit Warder became a Ninja of the Deep Hours. I had a pretty poor start, with two Hana Kami but no arcane cards to cast. Eventually I got Thief of Hope, Blood Clock, and Choice of Damnations, bringing him down to eight life. By that point he had a slew of land, the Ninja, Goblin Cohort, and a Frostling. Spliced Glacial Rays and the Frostling took out my team, and after an attack a 6/6 Soramaro, First to Dream hit the table. I cast a recurred Choice of Damnations to bring him to four permanents, he took Blood Clock damage to four life, then Soramaro became 8/8 and killed me. There was an opening there for Swallowing Plague to save me, but my lack of Hideous Laughter and a tough time with fliers both came back to haunt me. Can anyone tell me why Gale Force isn't arcane?
Game 30: Monoblack Ogres/Demons
It's as if Swallowing Plague was laughing at me for the second game in a row. My opponent came out fast and furious with Bile Urchin, two Wicked Akuba, Bloodthirsty Ogre, and two Painwracker Onis. He was really living on the edge, because if I could have removed his Ogre he would almost assuredly die. I held on a few turns waiting for the Plague (which is an odd thought, to be sure) thanks to triple Thief of Hope and a Blood Clock. Three Thieves sound awesome until you realize I only had Sakura-Tribe Elders to cast and thus didn't gain much life from them. Anyway, Bloodthirsty Ogre killed one Thief, and the other two died blocking Wicked Akuba. I had one draw for Swallowing Plague. If I drew it I would kill the Ogre, both his Oni would die on upkeep, and I'm back in the game. Instead I drew a land. Hm, maybe that's not Swallowing Plague laughing. It's more hideous than that.
IN: 1 Hideous Laughter
IN: 2 Sensei's Divining Top
I've resisted this addition for a while, partly because--as Prunedanish said on the Boards--it makes the deck feel so ordinary. The fact is, though, that Sensei's Divining Top is spectacular in my deck. It costs one mana, so is a viable Blood Clock bounce target. More importantly, my deck now has a whopping ten cards that shuffle my library, meaning that I will frequently be looking at a new three cards from which to choose. Sensei's Divining Top's ubiquity in both Standard and Kamigawa Block Constructed is not an accident. It is an incredibly good card at finding what you need when you need it. I suppose the only question for me is whether to drop my two Ghost-Lit Stalkers and add a full four Tops. Right now I'm clinging to my Stalkers.
OUT: 3 Waking Nightmare
I don't like dropping Waking Nightmare from the deck. My opponent always groans after I cast a Nightmare, even if they have seven cards in hand. The ability to recur it via Hana Kami makes it all the more juicy. The problem is that, as I said last week, it's the one bit of discard in the deck that is useless when my opponent is out of cards in hand. This situation has come up often enough that I have begun to question Waking Nightmare's usefulness. Contrast it with Ghost-Lit Stalker, which can hit two cards and also be used as Blood Clock and Thief of Hope fodder. Since adding Green, in fact, I've found myself channeling Ghost-Lit Stalker a few times to completely devastate an opponent's hand. As I said, I don't like dropping Waking Nightmare, but it's the least good card in a deck now full of good cards.
This is, for my purposes, the final decklist:
It's ironic that a deck that started out with a lot more four-ofs turned into a deck with several one- and two-of copies. It's like I reverse-engineering a preconstructed deck! Seriously, though, single-copy cards are the hallmark of “toolbox” approaches like the one I'm using with Eerie Procession. Double-copy cards are the hallmark of slow decks that can expect to see a good portion of their libraries. Tight decks with almost all four copies of their cards tend to be aggressive decks. It's no wonder, then, that most of my preconstructed experiments have evolved into four-copy editions since most have become beatdown decks. This time you get a deck that expects to see a lot more of its library over the course of a game.
Now, I'm fully aware that the above deck costs a lot more to put together than most other experiments I've tried. There are six rares, for one thing, even if they are “cheap rares.” There are also a whopping twenty-one uncommons, and not just any uncommons but fairly pricey ones in Sensei's Divining Top, Hana Kami, Hideous Laughter, and to a lesser extent Thief of Hope and Swallowing Plague. My hope is that this is about as expensive as one of my decks will get, and also falls well into the “30 tix” limit that Nate Heiss used as his definition of a budget deck.
As usual, I'm not logging my games with the final decklist. I've gone a respectable 22-9 since arriving at this version (yes, I've played a lot of games... it's a fun deck). The deck is incredibly potent against players who aren't used to making the strategic decisions Blood Clock and Choice of Damnations require. Even against experienced opponents, though, the Clock-Choice combo can be a killer. When I lose it tends to be because of a) mana issues, and/or b) super-aggressive starts from my opponent. If I have the mana I need and can survive to the midgame, though, watch out. What I particularly appreciate about the deck is not only the complexity of it, but also its ability to win games it otherwise has no business winning. Many, many times a game has looked completely hopeless for me only to have my opponent concede twelve turns later.
Oh, and it's now time for deck name. Post your suggestions on the Message Boards and I'll pick the one I like the most to be the deck's official name. If you suggested names last week, suggest them again because I'll only be scanning the thread from this article for ideas. Remember to be catchy and to be brief. Also remember to not send me e-mails, please... Let everyone see your creativity on the Boards.
This article is a doozy in terms of length, so I'm going to once again only briefly touch on my usual wrap-up sections. In fact, I'm going to skip the “Paths Not Taken” section since I covered so many divergent paths in the first Blood Clock article.
Speculative Sideboard Time!
I haven't yet peeked into the Tournament Decks room to try out my deck. As a result, I have a sideboard in my head that consists of three copies of five different cards. I often do this when thinking of sideboards, trying an equal treatment across the cards and adjusting my numbers once I realize what I take out and put in for each matchup. With that rather large caveat, here is how I would approach my first-draft sideboard:
Sideboard: 3 Psychic Spear
Sideboard: 3 Traproot Kami
When my opponents play Traproot Kami, I find myself giving up on trying to deal combat damage and instead focusing on Thief of Hope and Choice of Damnations. “If you can't beat them...” and all that. Against aggressive decks, I think this is a good complement to my deck, slowing down the game while also giving me a perfect Blood Clock outlet.
Sideboard: 3 Ebony Owl Netsuke
I've noticed that Monoblue and splice-focused decks often keep a seven-card hand throughout the game, even amidst my discard. Ebony Owl Netsuke punishes these decks, makes a good Blood Clock outlet, and makes the Clock and Choice of Damnations more potent.
Sideboard: 3 Wear Away
Sideboard: 3 Hideous Laughter
Versus White Weenie, Black Hand, Monored Aggro, aggressive Spirit decks, Meloku decks, Rats, and who knows what else, Hideous Laughter can be a beating. I'm guessing that Ghost-Lit Stalker comes out for two of these along with, probably, one copy of Choice of Damnations.
Like I said, I haven't tested this sideboard, so it may be that I'm missing a key card or four. This is a starting point only. If you have other sideboard ideas, speak up on the Message Boards.
Adding Money To The Deck
If you like the idea of a Black/Green Blood Clock, Choice of Damnations deck and aren't quite so restricted in your budget, you may want to consider some of the cards below. None are necessary, of course, but all are worth trying out if you have them:
I'm not sure if this is better as a sideboard addition or a maindeck card, but it can obviously be devastating in my deck. It's arcane, so it has nice interactions with all of the cards that matter most in the deck. A word of caution, though: Start recurring Cranial Extraction with Hana Kami and I'm guessing you should step out of the “Casual Decks” room.
Green has nice legendary creatures, too, but it's the Black ones I think really fit into my deck. Kagemaro, First to Suffer would be terrific with Blood Clock and Soulless Revival. Maga, Traiter to Mortals seems almost cater-made for a Blood Clock deck with lots of mana acceleration. Kokusho, the Evening Star is like a Super Fattie Thief of Hope. Infernal Kirin could be another really cool spiritcraft trigger. And, although it's not a Spirit, Nezumi Shortfang could easily replace the Ghost-Lit Stalkers to provide another way for the deck to deal lethal damage. Adding these cards make Okina, Temple to the Grandfathers, Shizo, Death's Storehouse, and Time of Need look pretty decent in the deck as well.
I'm not sold on the idea that Sickening Shoal would be better than Swallowing Plague in my deck since the life pad is such a great side effect. That said, it would be worth trying out to see if instant-speed removal is something my deck could fit.
Ah, it feels good.
To be honest, I wasn't sure I would enjoy Blood Clock as much as some of the other cards in my poll three weeks ago, mostly because of the lack of good comes-into-play creatures in Kamigawa Block. Once I embraced it, though, I've made a deck that I enjoy playing immensely. That's two experiments in a row I've been pleasantly surprised.
I've been excited enough by next week's topic that I'm already well underway on writing it. As a result, it's looking more and more like I won't miss a week even though my attention is about to turn drastically away from Magic for a brief time. I hope you enjoyed today, will enjoy next week, and are geared up for another deckbuilding series after that.
Think hard and have fun,