Box Battle

Posted in Building on a Budget on August 26, 2009

By Jacob Van Lunen

Jacob Van Lunen began playing Magic in 1995. He has participated in organized play at every level of competition and was a member of the winning team at Pro Tour San Diego in 2007, thanks to an innovative draft strategy. As a writer, Van Lunen has had more than three hundred Magic strategy pieces published

Hello, and welcome to another edition of Building on a Budget. Last week I explored a deck that abused the cascade mechanic with an underappreciated card from Time Spiral, Restore Balance. There was a good amount of positive feedback and I'd like to continue working on that deck in the near future. I want to wait for some Zendikar previews to roll around so that we might be able to find some new tech for the offbeat combo deck.

This week I'd like to take a different approach to the column. I recently started hanging out with a few guys who have just started playing Magic for the first time in nine years. Dylan and Ben don't know anything about a "metagame" or have any idea what decks they might expect if they were to show up to a tournament. They each have a few decks and they periodically buy booster packs to improve upon their creations. For the past two weeks I've really wanted to write about building a deck out of what's available, rather than building out of cards that you may need to go out and acquire. I didn't have any unopened product lying around, but I decided if I stumbled upon a few boxes I would definitely use them for this type of column.

Last weekend I lost in the Finals of a 244-player Pro Tour Qualifier. I was a bit disappointed by the loss, but I was given a few boxes of Alara Reborn for my trouble. I didn't really have much use for the boxes; I already have a playset of most cards from the set. I decided the best thing I could do with my boxes was give them away.

So last Sunday night I ventured over to Dylan's with a box of Alara Reborn in tow. Dylan, Ben, and myself were all giddy with excitement before we started cracking the box. We each took a pack and opened it up. We went through each of the cards and talked about a deck that they might be good in. About halfway through the box, we started talking about decks we could build just using the box.

A lot of ideas were thrown around, but Esper was the only deck we were all certain could be built from the cards we opened. It was clear that there were enough artifacts to make our Arsenal Threshers, Ethersworn Shieldmages, and Glassdust Hulks all very formidable.

Arsenal Thresher
Glassdust Hulk

I was pretty convinced that a green-white deck would probably be the best. (Behemoth Sledge tends to be pretty awesome.) The curve of the deck is straightforward, and fast beats often post very good results in makeshift decks.

Behemoth Sledge

We opened a number of good Jund rares, and the third deck was looking to be pretty bomby. The deck was packed with crowd favorites like Madrush Cyclops, Dragon Broodmother, Karthuus, Tyrant of Jund, and Lavalanche. I figured the deck could easily be rounded out with some Terminates and a good curve.

Dragon Broodmother
Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund

Once we had opened the whole box we organized the cards by color and started to build the decks.

Alara Reborn is filled with a lot of fun and exciting cards for this archetype. We opened two Knight of New Alara and decided that we wanted to play the maximum number of 'Blades. The first cards in the deck were four Naya Hushblade, four Bant Sureblade, and two Knight of New Alara. We were lucky enough to open four Behemoth Sledges, and those seemed like obvious inclusions in our creation. I looked through the other cards we had opened and found three copies of Marisi's Twinclaws. The prospect of equipping a Twinclaws with a Behemoth Sledge seemed pretty exciting, and our deck was starting to take shape. I was sure the deck needed some spot removal, so we added a playset of Crystallizations. I wanted to maximize the number of two-drops we played, so I added four Qasali Pridemage and two Knotvine Paladin to the mix. Once the deck was done, it looked like this:

Green-White Aggro

Download Arena Decklist

The green-white deck looked really solid. It had a lot of cards that need to be answered very quickly. Behemoth Sledge really gives this deck a big edge in the late game. Ben was excited about the list and quickly called playing with it.

We were pretty excited about the Borderpost into 'Blade play and decided to continue the theme here. Our first cards were four of each applicable Borderpost, four Jund Hackblade, and four Grixis Grimblade. We had a lot of bombs to work with and I wanted to make sure we could fit all of them. I decided the deck was bomb dependent enough to play four Vengeful Rebirth, but a deck like that requires a lot of mana. I decided the card advantage that we accrued through cards like Lavalanche and Vengeful Rebirth was enough to warrant a deck with nineteen land and eight Borderposts. Once we were done putting this one together it looked like this:

Jund Board Control

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Once the deck was completed, Ben and Dylan were pretty convinced it was nuts. I wasn't sure how well it would deal with Behemoth Sledge, but I still approved of how the deck turned out. There are a lot of bombs in here. I think casting and recasting Lavalanche with Vengeful Rebirth is a pretty scary prospect.

This deck was also packed with some really nice spells at the top end of the curve. The first thing I thought about when I was building this deck was the list that Brian Kibler used to make the Top 8 of Pro Tour–Honolulu. I tried my best to replicate that type of strategy while adding a Soul Manipulation package, and I came up with the following list:

Esper Aggro

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The deck is a far cry from Kibler's Esper deck in Honolulu, but the deck packs a lot of punch regardless. I figured this might be the sleeper deck. It definitely looks the weakest on paper, but the deck itself is quite powerful and Ethersworn Shieldmage can steal a lot of games in the combat phase. Sphinx of the Steel Wind is a nice open that pretty much puts the other two decks out in the cold.

After we built the decks, we went to Dylan's kitchen and ate some tacos while talking about which decks would probably win if we pitted them against one another. I figured the Esper deck would probably win most matches where it didn't get run over in the early game. I thought the green-white deck would probably be the most consistent and probably take the most games down. The Jund deck seemed like it was in an interesting place. It definitely had the most potentially insane draw possibilities, it also had the most powerful spells, despite both of these boons, I figured it would probably have the worst record when we played the decks against each other.

We went back to Dylan's room and had the decks battle against each other in pairs. We each rolled to decide who would get to play with each deck. Ben was lucky enough to pick up the green-white deck, Dylan wanted the bomby Jund deck, and I was happy to have a tricky Esper deck.

Dylan and Ben played each other first, and the game started off slow. Both players were stumbling on their mana a bit. Ben started to play a few creatures, and on his seventh turn he was able to cast and equip a Behemoth Sledge. Dylan took a huge hit and went to 6 life. Fortunately, Dylan had a surprise on the top of his deck: Lavalanche for 5 cleared Ben's board. Ben drew another creature off the top and cast a Bant Sureblade and a Qasali Pridemage before passing the turn back. Dylan had something special up his sleeve, though. He used Vengeful Rebirth to return Lavalanche to his hand and kill Bant Sureblade, then he cast Grixis Grimblade. Ben wasn't out of it yet, though. He equipped his hammer and attacked for 5. Dylan was forced to block and trade with his Deathtouch creature, but he went to a precarious 3 life. Ben cast the last card in his hand, a second Behemoth Sledge, and passed. Dylan drew his card and passed. Ben drew a creature, cast it, and equipped a Sledge. Dylan drew for his turn and cast a montrous Lavalance to take down the Leonin Armorgaurd, but Ben had a Knotvine Paladin on top. He cast it on his turn and equipped a Sledge. Dylan drew for his turn and couldn't find a way to deal with the Sledges. He was forced to concede.

Knotvine Paladin

Green-White – 1
Jund – 0
Esper – 0

I got to play against Ben in the second game. I won the die roll and had a pretty sick opener. I cast a Borderpost on my first turn, and Ben followed suit. I played an Esper Stormblade on my second turn and Ben played a Naya Hushblade. I had a second 'Blade for the third turn, and I attacked for 3. Ben had a Knotvine Paladin and he attacked for 3. I played my fourth land and attacked with just one Blade. Ben played a creature and attacked with his team. I played an Ethersworn Shieldmage and basically ruined his day. I was able to cycle an Architects of Will at the end of his turn. The next turn I bashed for six in the air and passed. He attacked, and I traded the Shieldmage. When he attempted a Marisi's Twinclaws after combat I was ready with the Soul Manipulation to return the Shieldmage. The game didn't last very long after this series of events and we were off to the third match.

Naya Hushblade
Ethersworn Shieldmage

Green White – 1
Jund – 0
Esper – 1

Dylan and I were ready for a game of Magic. Dylan won the play and had a really aggressive start, with two Putrid Leeches on the table before I played a spell. I had double Ethersworn Sheildmage, and I was able to block one Leech on his fourth turn, and block and kill one on his fifth as well. Luckily the rest of his starting draw wasn't very impressive and I was able to stabilize a bit. We fought back and fourth and I was able to stick a Glassdust Hulk and Thopter Foundry to maintain Inevitability. The big turn of this game was when Dylan drew his Lavalanche. He cast it for 7 and I only had three mana untapped so I couldn't sacrifice enough artifacts to get my Glassdust Hulk to live and bash through for lethal damage. I gained some life but got bashed by his team. I tried to restabilize over the next few turns, but when Dylan cast Vengeful Rebirth returning the Lavalanche to his hand the game was over.

Thopter Foundry
Vengeful Rebirth

Green White – 1
Jund – 1
Esper – 1

I was really happy with this result. Dylan, Ben, and myself were able to build three pretty reasonable decks out of one box. All three decks had enough game to beat each other, and there seemed to be a balance about them. We played a bunch more matches after the first three, and things pretty much stayed even. If you have an extra booster box, or feel the need to go and buy one with a few friends, you can rest assured that there will be some fun and powerful decks awaiting you inside the boosters.

Hope you all enjoyed this week's article. It's a lot different than what you're used to, but I've been asked to take a more casual bent recently in the forums and I'm trying to see what direction that might take the column.

Shoot me some emails! I'd love to hear if you guys want me to do a column like this every time a new set gets released.

Happy brewing!



Download Arena Decklist

This is a new Knight deck I've been working on. It isn't budget, but I can confidently say it's a lot of fun and quite good for the current metagame. Giving your team double strike off of a Reveillark evoke is pretty insane. If you have the cards to build it, sleeve it up and give it a whirl!

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