I mean, seriously, those people must hate me. I write articles that are typically about twice as long as required (my question when I took the job: “Is there a maximum word count?”), and today ... well, today is a doozy.
So let's get started.
Everyone remember what we're doing? If not, check out the first week of this experiment. Be sure to remind yourself of the Guidelines and why I'm doing this evolution (hint: think fun, respectable, budget). Also remind yourself that I'm bound to make changes you wouldn't make, which only highlights the fun of deckbuilding.
Here is where I left off last week after several games:
As I may have hinted, I have some regrets about not taking this deck in a somewhat wilder direction from the start. Right now it's a fairly straightforward fattie deck. There's nothing wrong with a straightforward fattie deck, mind you, but I could have aspired for more. Since I didn't, however, it's time to make the changes needed for my fatties...
OUT: 1 Overblaze
OUT: 1 Heartless Hidetsugu
Speaking of Hidetsugu, without Overblaze he is the deck's priciest and least efficient Ogre. His ability can be devastating to an opponent (winning me at least two games so far), but it's an ability you won't use until the sixth turn at the earliest and often he'll die before you get a single activation out of him. I need beefier stats on a five-mana creature for my fattie deck and I need an ability that gets used more often. Most importantly, though, is that without any way to search for him in the deck, I need to decide if a single copy of a swingy creature makes any sense at all. Hidetsugu is cool, and I could have based my entire deck on him (see “Paths Not Taken” below), but I didn't. He could stay in the deck with no harm done or I could start adding more copies to use him more effectively, but I have other plans.
OUT: 1 Mark of the Oni
People just love Mark of the Oni. It's hard not to like it since Control Magic is so juicily fun. The question with the Mark is, how reliably can you keep a Demon on the table? If the answer for your deck is “very” then you must use Mark of the Oni. My answer is “sorta,” which is a bit less decisive. I have fewer Demons than a lot of the decklists I've seen floating around, and also fewer Blood Speakers. As a result, I have been stuck with Mark of the Oni in my hand many, many games without a Demon on board. One answer is to add a bunch of Demons to my deck. Another is to drop my single copy of Mark of the Oni.
There are two other reasons to cut Mark of the Oni. The first reason is Ogre Recluse. I can't steal a potential blocker and attack with Ogre Recluse on the same turn. This is more than mildly annoying and speaks to my removal being more instant speed than sorcery speed. The second reason is that without Mark of the Oni, my deck has nothing to fear from artifact- and enchantment-removal. Wear Away and Altar's Light are dead cards for my opponents. Creeping Mold is merely an expensive Stone Rain. Sure, the occasional Viridian Shaman will tag my Wayfarer's Bauble while I'm tapped out, but that's a fairly rare occurrence. It's nice to think that by dropping a single card from my deck I can make at least some of my opponent's deck useless.
IN: 1 Hearth Kami
IN: 1 Rend Flesh
As I said, instant-speed removal needs to be my staple while Ogre Recluse is in the deck. I haven't been overwhelmed by Rend Flesh, but I have also prayed several times to topdeck one. If Spirit (or Demon!) decks proliferate online, Rend Flesh should become either Dark Banishing or Terror (depending on how many artifact creatures are around), but so far the number of scary Spirits has been minimal. Some people on the Message Boards have wondered why I want spot removal, and I still maintain that the deck needs answers both for a) weenie (small-creature) swarms, which can chump-block all day, and b) large obstacles that can trade with my fatties. Rend Flesh fills the (b) role admirably, helping ensure that my creatures are the largest on the table.
Speaking of large creatures, I considered a lot of options for the remaining slots in my deck, including Nezumi Graverobber, Gutwrencher Oni, Lightning Greaves, Eradicate, Terror, discard, more Blood Speakers, and another Yukora. Like I said, this experiment has involved a lot of decision-points.
In the end, I decided that Seizan, Perverter of Truth is a much more worthy captain of my mana curve than Heartless Hidetsugu. Blood Speaker can search for him, his body is splendidly large for the cost, and his ability both hurts my opponent life-wise and refills my hand with threats. The question for me is how often an opponent will draw an answer given two extra cards a turn. The entire point of Dark Devotion is to lay out threats too large for an opponent to handle, and Seizan is harder to handle than most. The fact that others on the Boards have tried and liked Seizan helped my decision. The deck now has seven Demons and two Blood Speakers, which should be more than enough in the Demon department (though, again, probably not enough to justify Mark of the Oni).
OUT: 3 Fireball
I know, I know ... what?!? I went through all of the mental gymnastics of choosing creature removal only to take out one of my choices from last week? Here is, I think, the difference between theory and practice. Three copies each of Rend Flesh and Fireball was my experiment. Rend Flesh was great, so I added another. Fireball has been okay, but not great.
rusty_peter on the Message Boards pointed out that committing to Ogre Recluse makes Fireball a little clunky. It's more than just the Recluse, though. In practice, I have never used Fireball to kill more than two opposing creatures and have often wanted more than two dead. Fireball, it seems to me, is best when your deck can generate a ridiculous amount of mana. My deck only generates a hefty amount of mana, which makes killing more than two creatures tough. I will miss ending the game by pointing burn at an opponent's face, but what I need most is a card to neuter swarms of small creatures.
IN: 3 Hideous Laughter
The trick with Hideous Laughter is that it's usually used in creatureless or near-creatureless decks as a way of handling multiple threats. I'm trying to use it the same way, except that I also happen to have a number of creatures (Hearth Kami, Bloodthirsty Ogre, Blood Speaker) who will die to Laughter as well. So while creatureless decks can cast Hideous Laughter willy-nilly, I need to be more careful. As a result, Hideous Laughter is a timing card in my deck.
Also notice that I've eased my double-black restriction on creature removal from last week. I am nearing the end of my deck-tweaking, so I feel comfortable dipping more heavily into one of my two colors. Already I have Yukora and Seizan. Hideous Laughter cements my deck as mostly black. It also means that dropping Heartless Hidetsugu makes even more sense.
My changes for this deck have involved six-card evolutions rather than the usual five. This speaks a little to my indecisiveness and a little on the sheer number of choices available. We're getting close, though.
Game 26: 5-Color Sunburst
Okay, Seizan is my new best friend. My opponent had a Mirrodin's Core, then Birds of Paradise, while I got out a third-turn Blood Speaker thanks to Wayfarer's Bauble. The next turn I searched for and played Seizan, Perverter of Truth while my opponent struggled for mana. The extra cards from my Demon ensured he had a land, but now he was on the Beatdown Clock and discarding because of too many cards in hand. He elected not to block Seizan with his Birds, so I used Hideous Laughter after the attack. He played a 3/3 Suntouched Myr so I countered with a Hearth Kami to kill it. That was game.
Game 27: Monogreen Snakes
Game 28: Black-red Ogre-Demons
As far as I can tell, he was using the 1.4 decklist to the card. We beat on each other for awhile, trading six of my creatures for six of his. I dropped him to 12 life with an Ogre Recluse and Bloodthirsty Ogre before we started our war of attrition and found ourselves in a topdecking war. He found a Recluse of his own, but I found Scourge of Numai to block. He countered with a Bloodthirsty Ogre and Scourge while I drew ... land. In fact, I drew five land in a row. Ow. The game would have ended a turn or two earlier had he been attacking with his Ogre instead of gathering devotion counters.
Game 29: Black-red Ogre-Demons
Let the mirror matches continue! This time, though, my opponent had his own modifications, including Ogre Marauder and Chrome Mox. We predictably bashed on one another, me sacrificing a Hearth Kami to block his Marauder with my Bloodthirsty Ogre, then my Ogre Recluse doing damage while his Scourge of Numai attacked me. I used Hideous Laughter to clear his Ogres, then he found his own Recluse. Bash. Rend Flesh. Bash. Chump block. Bash. When the dust settled, I had won. He ended the game with two Moxen in hand while I had a hand of Takenuma Bleeder, Scourge of Numai, Blood Speaker, and Hearth Kami.
Game 30: Blue-green Spirit/Arcane
For the first time, I feel like the deck is starting to click. Play fat. Bash. Why make life so complicated, right? Which, sadly, means...
OUT: 4 Bloodthirsty Ogre
IN: 4 Ogre Marauder
I've done it. I've turned to the Dark Side. As I said, my only remaining red cards are the two I think most improve the deck, Ogre Recluse and Hearth Kami. Everything else is a sea of black. As a result, I can eschew the slower Bloodthirsty Ogre for the more aggressive Ogre Marauder. People have been screaming for the Marauder since the first day of this experiment, but I have been reluctant to add him because Bloodthirsty Ogre makes more sense in a two-color deck. Now the deck looks mostly black with a splash of red and I'm much less anxious about the double-black in the Marauder's casting cost.
Let's be honest, Bloodthirsty Ogre has been super cool when I've been able to use him properly. I think, though, that the current configuration of the deck pushes me into wanting a more-expendable beater than a utility creature. Ogre Marauder's creature elimination is more random than Bloodthirsty Ogre's, but it also is relevant in more games. Besides, I now have four Rend Flesh and three Hideous Laughter to back him up.
Before I talk about the final decklist, let's finally take a look at what's happening with the deck's mana.
Land, Meet Math
Savvy deckbuilders will notice that I've been messing around with the balance of black cards and red cards without messing around with the mana base. I've gotten away with it so far because of keeping double-mana cards away from the deck and because of the mana-fixing of Wayfarer's Bauble. Now, though, the deck has taken a dramatic turn toward being a mostly black deck with a splash of red and its land balance no longer makes any sense at all.
Today is a long article, so I don't have time to go fully into how I decide land counts in multicolor decks. Here's a crash course, using my deck as an example:
- I separate all of the cards in my deck in two piles, one for all of the black cards and one for all of the red cards.
- I score every card with a single mana in its cost (for example, Scourge of Numai) as one each.
- I score every card with double mana in its cost (for example, Yukora, the Prisoner) as 1.5 each.
- I tally up the scores. That is the ratio I want my land to follow.
Doing the Mana Math
Total Black Score = 29.0
Total Red Score = 8.0
Looking at the chart to the right, this means Swamps should be roughly 78 percent of my land and Mountains should be roughly 22 percent. With my current 24 lands, that would suggest 18 Swamps and 6 Mountains.
Now, my system is actually a bit more complex than that. For example, Hearth Kami is a creature I want to play early so I want access to more Mountains than six. Roughly speaking, though, this formula will get you a mana base you can play and tweak. It's a simple idea -- making sure your land ratio matches the color ratio in your deck -- but it's an idea that is often ignored.
IN: 4 Lantern-Lit Graveyard
The other wrinkle is that I want to add a two-color land to my deck. The current options in Standard (excluding five-color land like City of Brass and Mirrodin's Core) are Urborg Volcano and Lantern-Lit Graveyard. Both fit the deck's colors and would be fine additions to my deck. I actually tried both, but I ending up liking Lantern-Lit Graveyard more because of Urborg Volcano messed up my Wayfarer's Baubles too often. As I said, though, both are worthy.
With four Lantern-Lit Graveyard in the deck, I now apply my 78/22 ratio to the remaining 20 land. That leaves me with:
4 Lantern-Lit Graveyard
Now Hearth Kami has nine mana sources to enable a second-turn play instead of six. This, to me, is a fine place to begin testing the deck's mana.
My decklist now looks like so:
Now is the time in the deck's evolution where I abandon the game logs and tell you that, generally speaking, I'm happy with the deck. The mana base looks good and the card-choices make me happy. I've played twenty games and gone 14-6. Not bad for a bunch of grunting ogres. As is always the case in these later games, I accept challenges online which means I face a lot of mirror matches, a lot of decks designed specifically to beat me, and a lot of enthusiastically polished decks. As a result, I expect the winning percentage would be even higher had I stuck to random opponents in the Casual Constructed room of Magic Online. Ogre Marauder and Seizan have lived up to their billing, Hideous Laughter has been superb, and the mana has been smooth.
This deck is probably more expensive to build than Club Ninja just because of the sheer volume of uncommons involved. The lone Seizan won't break the bank, but it isn't cheap either. Still, I feel comfortable calling this deck “fun, respectable, and budget” which are my goals with each of these preconstructed experiments.
Of course, Dark Devotion 2.0 is a dumb, dumb deck name. Any ideas? Post your thoughts on the Message Boards and I'll officially dub my deck next week.
Speculative Sideboard Time!
Some people will look at my final decklist and figure that obviously I should turn the deck monoblack. I disagree. Even after 50 games, no one is going to convince me that Ogre Recluse is a liability. Hearth Kami, as I said, fills a vital role. Of course, one of the other great reasons to stick to red is when thinking about a sideboard for the deck.
I didn't speculate about a sideboard with Club Ninja and received a ton of e-mail wishing I had. As a result, I'll give you my best guess as to where I would start thinking about sideboarding for my new deck anticipating a, say, Friday Night Magic or 8-person online Standard tourney.
My speculation comes with a mountain of caveats, though. Keep in mind that a) I'm speculating without any real data; b) sideboards are completely dependent on metagames (i.e. what types of decks people in your area tend to play); c) sideboards are for competitive decks, which this is not intended to be; and d) I'm thinking about a sideboard for my 2.0 decklist only, not Ogre-Demon decks in general.
All of that said, here is where I would begin my first-draft sideboard for ... for ... for whatever I name my Ogre-Demon deck. The hope is that seeing my thought process triggers some ideas as you contemplate your own creation. Let me know if this section is helpful and I'll make it a regular conclusion to my preconstructed series.
Sideboard: 4 Distress
There are times, especially against creatureless decks, Spirit decks, or slow control decks, when Rend Flesh is going to be a liability. In those times of need, I would sideboard out my Rend Flesh for some good old-fashioned discard. Distress is a little mana-taxing for a two-color deck, but now that the deck is mostly black it should be easy enough to cast early. Distress is also a perfect set-up to cast right before a fourth-turn fattie.
Sideboard: 4 Boil
Sideboard: 4 Eradicate
Eternal Witness is a pain. So is Myr Retriever. So is Keiga, the Tide Star. So is Darksteel Colossus. So is Solemn Simulacrum. So are a lot of creatures, actually. In these cases, Eradicate is my friend.
Sideboard: 1 Hideous Laughter
Because weenie swarms hate this card and I have room for another.
Sideboard: 2 Grab the Reins
Again, yay red. For decks that can drop creatures too big for me to handle, I like the option of stealing them and chucking them directly at my opponent. Darksteel Colossus is the obvious target here, but Kokusho, the Evening Star comes to mind as well.
Hopefully it helps to see how I would approach a first-draft sideboard. I would need to play in the “Serious Decks” room to really refine my choices and to tweak my deck for competitive play. If you have other thoughts about sideboard cards for my deck, feel free to speak up on the Message Boards.
Adding Money To The Deck
A lot of Ogre-Demon decks I've seen online and in print can really bring in heavy-duty rares without blinking. If you are on a strict budget, I think everything I've said up until now applies. If you have fewer constraints -- or simply an ability to make targeted investments -- it may be worth considering a few of the cards below.
Hey, wasn't this part of the Ninjutsu “Adding Money” section? Yep. Any deck that wants an explosive start can benefit from Chrome Mox. Interestingly, including Chrome Mox in a deck like mine probably pushes you into wanting Talisman of Indulgence over Wayfarer's Bauble, since theoretically the Mox and Talisman can combine for a second-turn Yukora or other four-cost fattie.
Hey, wasn't this part of the Ninjutsu “Adding Money” section too? Yep. Any deck relying heavily on creatures for the win can benefit from Umezawa's Jitte. It's just a silly-good piece of equipment, making your fatties fatter, boosting your creature-removal capabilities, and helping you recover from self-inflicted life-loss. Thematically speaking, I'm not thrilled with the idea of an Ogre Recluse wielding a dinky little jitte, but sometimes it's worth abandoning flavor for power.
Sword of Light and Shadow and Sword of Fire and Ice also have some innate synergy with what my deck is trying to do, but in general it seems that using equipment starts to drift you into a different deck-type than mere fattie beatdown. Still, worth trying if you happen to own them.
Hey, wasn't ... Aw, shaddap!
My deck currently uses three total legendary creatures, all of which Blood Speaker can seek out. It makes complete sense to me to drop a Swamp for Shizo, Death's Storehouse and a Mountain for Shinka, the Bloodsoaked Keep. If you have 'em, include 'em.
I've said repeatedly that Yukora, the Prisoner is the most powerhouse card in the deck. Although he's legendary, it makes sense to try three, or even four, copies of him to see where his effectiveness starts to tail off. The more your deck drifts monoblack, too, the better idea Yukora seems.
I used a single copy of Seizan, Perverter of Truth. Seizan is beefy enough to possibly warrant another copy. Also, as long as you bend your mana base and acceleration accordingly, you can consider Kyoki, Sanity's Eclipse, Reiver Demon, or even Kuro, Pitlord (see “Paths Not Taken” below) for your deck. Just remember that my deck as it is now can't handle an eight- or nine-mana finisher, so you consider your choices wisely here.
If your deck is monoblack or mostly black, Promise of Power looks to be a juicy inclusion. A deck like mine isn't often going to have the mana to entwine it, but even the versatility of a massive-card-drawer or beefy-Demon-producer is terrific.
Paths Not Taken
As I've said all along, Dark Devotion has been a more challenging preconstructed experiment than Ninjutsu (or Way of the Warrior, for that matter) because of the many, many different ways to take the deck. Here are some of the ones I've noticed along the way, though I don't think this list is by any means comprehensive.
The most obvious (and requested) way to take my deck was to make it monoblack. Some people disagree that Ogre Recluse and Hearth Kami, plus any sideboarding cards, are worth the hassle of two colors. These folks focus instead on the black cards I've included, along with Promise of Power, more removal (Consume Spirit), discard (Distress), and a very steady mana base. The result is a powerful deck, an example of which is here:
Demons, Demons, Demons
Some folks have criticized my deck as too “demon light.” I recognize that another way to go would be to load up on Demons, along with Blood Speaker and Bloodthirsty Ogre. This deck is probably also monoblack, since the only Demon in red is Shimatsu the Bloodcloaked. The great thing about this “demon-heavy” strategy is that it makes Mark of the Oni a gem and probably a four-of in the deck.
Here's a secret: If I had to do it all over again, I would have twisted and contorted Dark Devotion into a Heartless Hidetsugu-Overblaze deck. It's rare that I see an opportunity to turn a preconstructed deck into a budget combo deck, so I'm sure it would have made for an interesting journey. In any case, a deck like this maximizes survivability through things like Pyroclasm and burn, then uses Heartless Hidetsugu, Overblaze, and Lightning Greaves to win in one crazy turn.
My Game 25 log seems to have caused quite a stir. treyburg_53's black-green Kuro, Pitlord deck had a lot of people on the Message Boards saying I should abandon red for green and go the Kuro route. On e-mail, I received several requests for the decklist if I knew it. I tracked treyburg_53 down and he graciously agreed to supply his deck:
It's hard to call this deck an Ogre-Demon deck, since the only Ogres are Blood Speaker and the only Demon is Kuro. It's also designed primarily for multiplayer. Still, the obvious idea is to ramp up on mana and have enough life in reserve to completely abuse Kuro, Pitlord. It's a fun deck, and I think if you drop Lhurgoyf for more arcane (Soulless Revival comes to mind, since the deck uses Bottle Gnomes), you also have a fairly cheap deck to build as well.
Some folks wanted me to add things such as Pyrite Spellbomb, equipment, and -- the kicker -- Drooling Ogre. Indeed, Drooling Ogre makes more sense in a Standard format lacking Ravager Affinity and is an aggressive two-drop for a deck lacking an early game. If you look at the way Nate Heiss built his Ogre-Demon deck, you can see similar kinds of thinking:
Another oft-suggested artifact is Lightning Greaves, which effectively gives you an extra turn of beatdown with your mighty monsters. I think just adding Lightning Greaves to my deck makes it too easy to kill the Greaves with the artifact destruction remains in Standard. As a result, this deck starts to look better with some of the equipment I've mentioned so far, and maybe Drooling Ogre again. Hall of the Bandit Lord is another way to speed up your Demons without using equipment. Heck, if a deck dipped really heavily into arcane cards I could almost see Unnatural Speed to go along with Glacial Ray, Rend Flesh, and Hideous Laughter.
I pretty quickly culled all of the “self-sacrifice” cards such as Painwracker Oni, Oni Possession, and Call for Blood from my deck because they were driving me crazy. Another way to go would be to embrace these cards with Genesis Chamber, Grab the Reins, Nighteyes the Desecrator, Zombify, etc. I have no idea how this deck would evolve, but it sounds like fun.
I think it was Obsidionmoon on the Message Boards who first suggested Eon Hub in my deck. The deck would need to focus on mana-acceleration in a more serious way, but the idea of getting around all of my Demon-ly restrictions is a fun, fun approach. Maybe the deck could be black-blue for Fabricate and to counter any attempts to kill Eon Hub, or maybe black-white with Leonin Abunas. Or, maybe the deck stays monoblack and uses discard and Greater Harvester. All I know is that Oni Possession and Painwracker Oni look a lot cooler when there's no drawback to them.
Finally, Landman suggested using Endless Whispers in my deck. Painwracker Oni is probably the star in such a deck since it will often come back to your side of the table and stay there as long as you have an Ogre. Yukora, the Prisoner can kill off an opponent's side of the table if you get lucky, and things like Shinka Gatekeeper become your opponent's problem as much as yours. I think the deck warps too much into random territory by adding Endless Whispers, but it's a fun idea to contemplate.
As always, if you have other ways you would have liked to see Dark Devotion drift -- or even better you have evolved the deck in a different directions after dozens of games -- speak up on the Message Boards.
So Long And Thanks For All The Oni
Whew! I think that's enough for one day, don't you think? Join me next week for another interlude that may -- gasp! -- involve not a single new decklist. At the end of next week's article, I'll also have a poll on which deck to tackle next. There's a twist next time, which I hope you'll enjoy.
In the meantime, help me name my deck, will ya?
Bash and have fun,