A lot of people asked me via e-mail to make a deck using cards from Shards of Alara this week and there didn't seem to be many people that were upset by the prospect. While I may not be able to have game logs, I'll analyze my card choices in detail and explain how the deck would fair against some of the more common decks that are likely to be played in the new metagame.
I definitely want to be playing one of the Charms from Shards of Alara. These cards are all extremely versatile and powerful. Because they're uncommons, I see myself including at least one of these in most of my budget decks for months to come. My favorite of the bunch is probably Bant Charm. Bant Charm is an instant-speed spot removal spell, an excellent maindeck answer to Bitterblossom or Oblivion Ring, and a surprising counter to Terror, Nameless Inversion, Makeshift Mannequin, or Cryptic Command. I think this card is extremely playable in constructed formats. If I'm going to be focusing on Bant for the week then I think I'll probably want to be playing a deck with a good curve that can back up its aggressive draws with counters.
Anyone who read my first article for Building on a Budget knows how much I love aggro control decks. After my first read through the spoiler there was a single card that really jumped out at me. Shorecrasher Mimic may not be in Shards of Alara, but I think it's the best new card in a budget players arsenal. Bant gives us a number of cards that trigger its effect, and 5/3 trampling bodies are always appreciated when they only cost two mana. I'm going start my deck-building process by looking at all the cards I deem playable in this archetype that activate my Mimic.
Snakeform: Snakeform is, simply put, a must have. You opponent's plan will likely be to block the Mimic and make a trade before things get out of hand. Snakeform makes their blocker a 1/1, makes your Mimic a 5/3 trample, lets you get in for 4 points of damage, and draws you a card. Seems good enough to me.
Jhessian Infiltrator: I remember when Gaea's Skyfolk was insane. Jhessian Infiltrator is significantly better and I'll be playing it in the same deck as Shorecrasher Mimic, so it can have the potential to let things get completely out of hand.
Rhox War Monk: This card is a complete beating. Its body is big enough to rumble, and it has lifelink to boot. It's also adorable—sorry, Giantbaiting. I think I could get down and dirty with a card like this. I mean, look at its flavor text:
Rhox monks are dedicated to spiritual growth and learning, and most bear the sigils of many students. However, they do not gladly suffer fools or those who disagree with their carefully wrought dogma.
Rafiq of the Many: There are probably a few of you that got to play with this gentleman at your Prerelease. This is probably one of the most fun cards I've ever gotten to play with. I opened it in my first pack in my first draft and just forced a base white exalted deck. A few of you may be upset when I include two of these in my final deck, given its mythic rare status, but I opened one, and my friend Greg got one at the Prerelease and traded it to me, so I have two available. Nothing says Building on a Budget like playing an awkwardly costed legend, like Rafiq, and attacking for 12 with Shorecrasher Mimic. Just remember that it isn't necessary to have Rafiq of the Many in your build of the deck; I just had two available to me. Head down to your local shop and start seeing if you can trade a mythic rare you opened for Rafiq if you want to build a Bant aggro-control deck. If you can't get access to any Rafiqs, then you could replace him with extra Sigil of Distinctions and play a few more two-drops.
Bant Charm: I already explained just how exceptional this card is at doing what you need it to do, when you need it to be done. The fact that it puts creatures on the bottom of their owner's libraries is very relevant in a world of persist, Makeshift Mannequin, and Demigod of Revenge.
I want to play a good helping of support cards in this deck, so I need to look at what's available to us. Not all my cards are going to be able to trigger my Mimic, and I need to make sure I have a real deck that can function just as well when I don't draw my insane two-drop.
Kitchen Finks: I think I love this card more than anyone else in the entire universe. I just can't get over how good it is. It gives you life gain and two bodies to trade with against other aggressive decks, and it gives you a body to attack with post Wrath of God effect when your opponent tries to sweep your board. It's an excellent candidate for our deck and I'm sure I'll be playing four of it.
Steward of Valeron: Admittedly, the Steward is filler because I want to be playing at least ten two-drops. It's not a bad creature though. It can attack for 2 on turn three, I can play another two-drop, and then I can still leave two mana open for a Broken Ambitions. The ability to have a bear that can fight and help me curve properly is something very new, and I think it's at least worth a try.
Cancel: Cancel is awesome; it gives me a hard counter. Given the nature of my deck, I can just play strong threats for the first few turns and then attack and sit back on my mana and use it to counter my opponent's spells. It's a plan that has, historically, done very well in competitive and casual Magic.
Broken Ambitions: It may seem sketchy, but Broken Ambitions is the probably the second best counterspell my deck has access to. Broken Ambitions counters Bitterblossom when you're on the play, and it can easily handle any big late game play our opponents try to make. Cruel Ultimatum, no thanks.
Oblivion Ring: It's still awesome. Oblivion Ring is a maindeck answer to anything our wacky opponent puts in front of us. It's efficient, it's cost effective, and, most importantly, it kills Bitterblossom.
Sigil of Distinction: Go ahead, take a look at it. This card hasn't been terribly sought after, but I'm pretty sure it's one of the best Equipment printed in a long time. I initially thought, "It's a really good Limited card, but I don't think it cuts the cake in Constructed." Now I've actually gotten to play with it, though. This card is absurd, especially in a deck with Jhessian Infiltrator. This card will win you a lot of games, and I think anyone playing a deck with at least eighteen creatures should strongly consider playing Sigil. If you don't think it's as good as I'm saying, then try it out. I'm sure you'll be pleasantly surprised. Something can also be said for a card that lets you just dump your mana. A lot of decks I make don't play cards that cost more than four mana because the likelihood is very small that I would make it to five lands, be able to play a spell, and not already have lost the game. Sigil of Distinction is a fine play on your fourth turn, and it gives you more return depending on how much you invest.
I've got enough here to put together a deck. Lets start by putting together a mana base. This deck is attempting to play three colors and play spells on the early turns of the game. This isn't a common thing to attempt in Standard or Block Constructed, and it needs to be thoroughly addressed.
It looks like our deck will be pretty evenly spread across the three colors. You probably all realized that I didn't bother seeing what threats were available for one mana. The reason I forewent the one-drops is because I'm planning on having a number of lands that come into play tapped. I plan to play either a Vivid land or a Seaside Citadel on my first turn. Speaking of Seaside Citadel, I know I talked about the cycle of tap lands in my preview article, but what a blowout! If I have a Seaside Citadel and any other combination of lands in my opening hand then I probably won't have any mana problems at all. I'm playing four Seaside Citadel. I'll also need to play a few Vivid lands to smooth over the mana a bit. I'll need to have a list of cards I'm going to be playing if I'm going to choose the right lands.
4 Shorecrasher Mimic
4 Jhessian Infiltrator
2 Steward of Valeron
4 Kitchen Finks
4 Rhox War Monk
2 Rafiq of the Many
4 Bant Charm
2 Sigil of Distinction
2 Oblivion Ring
2 Broken Ambitions
Now I'll quickly jot down the number of mana symbols of each color that my deck is playing. For cards like Snakeform or Shorecrasher Mimic I'll count as 0.5 blue and 0.5 green. I don't want to count these as a full mana for either blue or green because it will skew our final mana base.
Green mana symbols: 24
White mana symbols: 18
Blue mana symbols: 26+ // 3
The three Cancel are the only card in the deck that require me to pay two mana of the same color. Because Cancel will likely be one of our later game plays I would be encouraged to play Vivid Creek over Vivid Meadow or Vivid Grove.
Our mana is, as expected, pretty evenly spread. White is my least played color. I have room for twenty-four lands, if I do the math and make sure I have enough mana to play all my spells, the final mana base looks something like this:
This mana base ensures that I'm able to curve the way I expect to and I'm able to play spells on the turns I expect to. I didn't want to be playing more than eight lands that come into play tapped, even having eight may be an issue at times. I should be able to play a "comes into play tapped" land on turn one and two lands that come into play untapped on subsequent turns though.
Interesting sidenote: I thought about shaving two or three non-land cards from the list and playing twenty-two or twenty-three land with four Chromatic Star. If I play the stars then I might only need to play Seaside Citadel and not have any other lands that come into play tapped. After testing, though, I found that the deck really needs the Vivid lands to run properly.
Our final deck list looks like this.
If I were going to build a sideboard it would probably have Burrenton Forge-Tender. The rest of the sideboard is really up in the air. We don't know what to expect in the new metagame and our card choices will need to be steered by what people start coming up with. I'd suggest having at least a few cards for the Faerie matchup, because it won't be going anywhere. It will also be important to have extra Cancel and Broken Ambitions in your sideboard for decks like Quick 'n Toast that try to win by resolving a few game-breaking spells.
Our deck would do very well against a great deal of the expected metagame. We have excellent answers to Demigod of Revenge and Chameleon Colossus. We have six main-deck ways to deal with Bitterblossom. We also function as a very powerful aggro-control deck against any random deck we may happen to play. After playing more games with this deck I'm sure you'll start figuring things out that I haven't seen yet. Maybe it's better to play three Sigil of Distinction; you never know. It's also important to experiment with different cards. If you don't have access to Rafiq of the Many, but you opened a pair of Stoic Angel at your Prerelease, then by all means try out the Angel. When you do try it out, shoot me an e-mail and tell me how it goes. I'm excited to see what decks you guys come up with.
I'd like to return to Shards of Alara in the coming weeks, and I'd like to know what tribes you guys are especially excited out. Do you want to see my take on Grixis, Naya, Esper, or Jund? Shoot me an e-mail or chat it up in the forums. I'm always happy to take a look at what you guys have come up with and what you'd like from me.
Now stop reading about Magic on the internet. Call your friends up and get a Shards of Alara draft together. I'm not kidding! Go! You need to open some Rafiq of the Many to play in your new Bant aggro control deck.