Fighting the Good Battle (of Wits)

Posted in Building on a Budget on January 30, 2008

By Ben Bleiweiss

Hello everyone, and welcome back to Building on a Budget! In this week's article, we've got a lot going on—the results of the "What is Budget?" poll and forum discussion, the evolution of one of my personal favorite decks, and the first round of playtesting for the Extended budget-competitive Intruder Alert deck! Let's dive right in, shall we?

A couple of weeks ago, I asked you, the reader, two questions in the form of a poll. The first question:

How should Budget be determined for this column?
By a strict ticket count. 3855 82.0%
By a strict limit on number of rares (under a certain ticket amount) and uncommons per deck. 844 18.0%
Total 4699 100.0%

The results of this poll are pretty conclusive and definite—BoaB should continue to be defined by a strict ticket limit from Magic Online. This leads to the second question: what should that ticket limit be?

What is the maximum cost, in tickets, of a budget deck?
30 Tickets 2432 55.2%
25 Tickets 466 10.6%
20 Tickets 845 19.2%
15 Tickets 290 6.6%
10 Tickets 188 4.3%
Less than 10 Tickets 185 4.2%
Total 4406 100.0%

While a majority voted that they were happy with a 30 ticket limit, quite a few people (approximately 45%) wanted a lower ticket limit. Many expressed their thoughts in the forums as follows: even if 30 tickets is fine as a limit, I shouldn't strive to hit 30 tickets each week if I don't need to—just fill out decks with the right cards, and if cheaper and viable alternatives are available, go with them. Fair enough! Look for me to start shifting in this direction for future columns - 30 tickets as a limit, but less consciously trying to hit that 30 ticket limit unless absolutely necessary as called for by that deck.

One of my favorite decks to evolve in the Building on a Budget column is the Battle of Wits decks. With the release of each new set, I would change up the deck with the newest cards, until the unthinkable happened: Battle of Wits was rotated out of the base set with Tenth Edition, and Battle of Wits was Standard legal... no more!


Battle of Wits
A good number of people wrote over the past few months to ask me when I was going to evolve Battle of Wits in Extended. The time is now—I love being able to instantly win the game with a pile of huge cards, and playing Battle of Wits online is ideal, since you don't have to deal with shuffling a ridiculously large stack of cardboard.

For those who are witnessing the total awesome power of Battle of Wits for the first time, note—this is Battle of Wits, budget style! You have to be especially budget-conscious when making a deck that has over 200 cards, since costs of even the commons can add up. Here's a brief rundown of the official (tm) Building on a Budget Battle of Wits Building rules!

1) The deck shalt be between 240-250 cards. This alloweth yon Bleiweiss to draw cards with spells, yet not put himself below 200 cards for his win condition, Battle of Wits.
2) No rares will be allowed in the deck other than Battle of Wits. No more than 40 uncommons at one time, and their expense shall be kept down.
3) Battle of Wits is legal in Extended now, so Extended shall be the format. Cards from Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth Edition will be allowed, in addition to Coldsnap, Invasion block, Odyssey block, Onslaught block, Mirrodin block, Kamigawa block, Ravnica block, Time Spiral block, and Lorwyn (whew—that's a lot of sets!)

I had moved the Battle of Wits deck to a three-color build as of Planar Chaos, but I decided to revert it back to a two-color build (black and blue) since Extended has a much larger card pool. Here's a list from the last time I played Battle of Wits as a two-color deck.


Time Spiral BoW 2.0

Download Arena Decklist

Since we have a much larger card pool than was available in Standard at the last update, I figured I'd need to go through the list of all the cards available in blue, black, artifact, and land for this deck. I pulled up a spoiler generator, and first went through commons, then uncommons, and then cross-referenced ticket prices to see which cards were affordable for the deck.

Just as a reminder—the main strategy of this deck is to drop a Battle of Wits, and as quickly as possible. The deck achieves this by having a ton of card-drawing and card-filtering spells, along with multiple tutoring devices (Diabolic Tutor and transmute cards from Ravnica). Because the deck is between 240 and 250 cards at any given time, there are many silver bullets in the deck—cards that are a one or two-of that are good against one specific strategy and can be tutored for, but that you might not draw in any given game due to the size of the deck.

Here's a list of the cards considered for the deck!

Blue commons: Catalog, Condescend, Dizzy Spell, Echoing Truth, Foresee, Ideas Unbound, Jilt, Merfolk Looter, Mulldrifter, Ninja of the Deep Hours, Peek, Pestermite, Ponder, Probe, Rushing River, Sage Owl, Scrivener, Serum Visions, Stormscape Familiar, Trinket Mage, Words of Wisdom

Black commons: Coercion, Coffin Purge, Death Denied, Distress, Echoing Decay, Eyeblight's Ending, Footbottom Feast, Ghastly Demise, Nameless Inversion, Okiba-Gang Shinobi, Rancid Earth, Rend Flesh, Stinkweed Imp, Terror, Twisted Abomination

Artifact commons: Aether Spellbomb, Chromatic Sphere, Darksteel Ingot, Wanderer's Twig, Wayfarer's Bauble

Land commons: Barren Moor, Bog Wreckage, Lonely Sandbar, Seafloor Debris

Medium-expensive commons: Ancient Spring, Deep Analysis, Duress, Exclude, Nightscape Familiar, Opt, Repulse, Sulfur Vent

Too-expensive commons: Careful Study, Counterspell, Recoil


Mind Sludge
Black uncommons: Barter in Blood, Deathmark, Eradicate, Ghost-Lit Stalker, Hideous Laughter, Infest, Mind Sludge, Nezumi Graverobber, Skeletal Scrying, Throat Slitter, Withered Wretch, Yixlid Jailer

Blue uncommons: Annex, Arcane Laboratory, Careful Consideration, Carry Away, Compulsion, Concentrate, Flash of Insight, Merchant Scroll, Mystic Speculation, Persuasion, Riftwing Cloudskate, Spell Burst, Tidings

Aritfact uncommons: Icy Manipulator, Scrabbling Claws, Talisman of Dominance

Land uncommons: Dreadship Reef, Salt Marsh, Vivid Creek, Vivid Marsh, Waterveil Cavern

Useful-but-expensive uncommons: Shriekmaw, Wash Out

In order to fix up the deck, it was time to take cards out and put cards in. The first swap I made was removing Counsel of the Soratami for MulldrifterMulldrifter is almost always the superior card choice, as it can be played as a creature or more like a sorcery.

Frost Marsh has gone up a lot in price due to a snow-based deck in Standard, so it was no longer a viable budget option. However, the cycling lands from Onslaught are perfect for this deck—when I don't need them they are a new card, and when I do need them, they are a land. I put in 4 Lonely Sandbar and 4 Barron Moor in place of the 4 Frost Marsh, 2 Island, and 2 Swamp.

Instead of having both Execute and Slay, I took them both out and added in Deathmark.

There weren't any good mass-removal spells available in standard last I used it, but Infest and Hideous Laughter are now both available. I added one of each in (to be able to transmute for either/or depending on the transmute card in hand). I also added Terror, Rend Flesh and Eradicate, and took out Dark Banishings.

The deck wasn't great on graveyard hate, but Extended allowed me to add Nezumi Graverobber, Withered Wretch, and Coffin Purge, and take out Cremate.

Extended has a lot more silver bullets than Standard (due to a large card pool) and I already had a large card-drawing pool. Treasure Trove, Sift, Consult the Necrosages, Perilous Research, and Telling Time all got the axe, and were replaced with more situationally useful cards. These cards include:

Echoing Truth / Echoing Decay: To deal with lots of token creatures, such as from an Empty the Warrens or from an Intruder Alarm deck.

Probe: Discard and card drawing.

Death Denied: Originally in the early builds of the deck as a good one-of to return most of your creatures in one shot.

Rancid Earth: The deck is lacking in land destruction. Now it has a spell to kill a troublesome land.

Wash Out: As a one-of, since it is slightly more expensive. In the right situation, capable of taking out the opponent's entire board.

Shriekmaw: Also as a one-of, and a strict one-for-one swap with a Nekrataal. This gives a five-drop tutor target to go along with multiple two, three and four drops.

Mind Sludge: Just for the off-chance I can take out my opponent's entire hand.

Nightscape Familiar: With so many blue spells in this deck, Nightscape Familiar will likely shave several mana off costs over the course of the game. Also, it's an early defense against ground creatures, if need be.

Common out: 1 Boomerang, 4 Consult the Necrosages, 4 Counsel of the Soratami, 3 Dark Banishing, 4 Sift, 2 Swamp, 2 Island

Uncommon out: 1 Cremate, 1 Execute, 4 Frost Marsh, 1 Nekrataal, 4 Perilous Research, 1 Slay, 4 Telling Time, 1 Treasure Trove

Common in: 4 Mulldrifter, 4 Dizzy Spell, 1 Echoing Truth, 1 Echoing Decay, 4 Nightscape Familiar, 4 Barren Moor, 4 Lonely Sandbar, 1 Terror, 1 Probe, 1 Rend Flesh, 1 Scrivener, 1 Death Denied, 1 Rancid Earth, 1 Coffin Purge

Uncommon in: 1 Shriekmaw, 1 Wash Out, 1 Eradicate, 1 Deathmark, 1 Infest, 1 Hideous Laughter, 1 Mind Sludge, 1 Nezumi Graverobber, 1 Withered Wretch

Battle of Wits

Download Arena Decklist

Game 1: dxpong (Blue-White ?)

I get a couple of card-drawing spells and cycling lands, and he is stuck on two mana. I play the one Rancid Earth in my deck on his Plains, and he concedes.

Record: 1-0

Game 2: Ninja24601 (Red-Black Mill)

He gets a second-turn suspended Wheel of Fate, and hits me with a turn-four Barbed Shocker, knocking out a set-up of Diabolic Tutor into Battle of Wits. I recover with Nekrataal, and draw a Battle of Wits off of the Wheel of Fate, winning me the game.

Record: 2-0


Pull from Eternity
Notes: The deck doesn't have a way to deal with suspended cards. Riftsweeper and Pull from Eternity (off-color) would be ways to work around this. Also, I could add in a single Clockspinning.

Game 3: cyberbobbo (Red-White Burn)

Over the course of the game, he plays Flamebreak, double Lava Spike, double Pulse of the Forge, and Rift Bolt. Thankfully, I have a Muddle the Mixture in hand for one of the Pulse of the Forges, and this allows me to Diabolic Tutor for Battle of Wits, allowing me to win the game at four life.

Record: 3-0

Notes: Black has ways to gain life, but there aren't a whole lot in this deck. If I'm about to get burned out, it might be good to have an out or two (Consume Spirit, Soul Feast, Corrupt) to gain that life in a pinch.

Game 4: numsixof1 (Red-Green Aggro)

I get a second-turn Thought Courier and use it to dig for a fifth land to play Battle of Wits. In the meanwhile, he plays Imperious Perfect (Repealed) and dies with a Prodigal Pyromancer on the board.

Record: 4-0

Game 5: Tetmon (Nantuko Shrine / Scrabbling Claws) (Full Match)

Game 1: I get Battle of Wits on turn five, and I win. I had to tutor up my fifth land on turn four with Diabolic Tutor, though, but I had seen his hand on turn three with Nightmare Void (thanks to a Signet), so I knew he had no answers in hand.

Game 2: I get another turn-five Battle of Wits. He has Rending Vines in hand. Unfortunately for him, he had played double Sakura-Tribe Elder and Kodama's Reach and played a land a turn, so he was short a card in hand to be able to destroy it.

Record: 5-0

Game 6: Velvet_Devil (Red-White Gargadon)

I get a set-up with some guys, and ways to kill his Gargadon. He drops Yosei, the Morning Star, and I Deathmark it. He then drops a Belfry Spirit when I'm tapped out, and uses the next turn to Boom. I have two signets and a Thought Courier out, with an Infest in hand. I don't find my first land until three turns later, and by then he's found a red for another Gargadon, which seals the game.

Record: 5-1

Notes: Need instant-speed card drawing—I had Mystical Teachings in hand while we were stalemated, and I wanted to get a card that would draw me several more cards (cards are options!), but there was nothing good in the deck. Also, Dizzy Spell really can't get much of note, aside from Repeal and Deathmark, neither of which are probably worth the Dizzy Spell Slots.

With the previous games in mind, I took out the Dizzy Spells, a Sudden Death, and a Repeal and added in Careful Consideration, Opportunity, two Repulse, and two Exclude. Exclude gives me a Remove Soul that draws a card, and Repulse gives me a three-drop bounce spell to replace Wipe Away.

Out: 4 Dizzy Spell, 1 Sudden Death, 1 Repeal
In: 1 Careful Consideration, 1 Opportunity, 2 Repulse, 2 Exclude

Battle of Wits 2.0

Download Arena Decklist

Game 7: Dokan2004 (Reanimator)

He drops Mindleech Mass and Akroma, Angel of Wrath into his graveyard via Greenseeker, and then plays Lightning Greaves. He drops a morph (which turns out to be Akroma, Angel of Fury), puts the Greaves on his morph, and swings for 2. I kill his Greenseeker with Nekrataal and drop Nightscape Familiar. This allows me to Mulldrifter for (evoked), Think Twice for and then , and play Mystical Teachings for end of turn, getting Mnemonic Nexus. He attempts to get guys back with both Dread Return and Makeshift Mannequin, but I have Muddle the Mixture and Cancel to deal with those. After the Nexus, he's left with no graveyard plan, and I use card drawing to get to Battle of Wits for the win.

Record: 6-1

Game 8: golden bug (Artifacts)

He drops Darksteel Citadel, Vault of Whispers, and Welding Jar. I play Rancid Earth on his Vault, and then drop a couple of Signets. He plays Walking Archive, and I transmute Brainspoil for Battle of Wits and drop it for the win.

Record: 7-1

Notes: Since this is black and blue, it's hard to deal with Artifacts. Would a single Steal Artifact go a long way?

Game 9: poolboy (Green Stompy)

He gets Llanowar Elves, and follows it with Thornweald Archer and Nimble Mongoose. He then drops another Archer, Uktabi Drake, and hits me with a Giant Growth. I get a second-turn Signet, and turn it into a third-turn Hideous Laughter to wipe out his entire board. From there, I drop Thieving Magpie, kill a third Thornweald Archer with Sudden Death, and draw into Battle of Wits with a full grip.

Record: 8-1


Engineered Plague
Note: Although Engineered Plague is expensive, it might be worth picking up a single copy as a tutor target.

Game 10: escapade (Salvaging Station Combo)

He gets triple Cloudpost but only Islands, and a Lantern of Insight shows he's also playing black. When he tries playing Salvaging Station, I Cancel it, drawing a concession. My board: triple Signet, Mulldrifter, and a full grip of cards.

Record: 9-1

As usual, it's a blast to play the Battle of Wits deck. You have such a variety of cards to draw, and so many options in the deck (especially when tutoring). It's sometimes overwhelming to know what cards to get in any situation (for instance, not getting more countermagic or discard against the Gargadon player), but I highly suggest building this deck if you are so inclined. It's relatively cheap, most of the cards are cards you'd want to own for other Extended decks anyhow, and the deck is highly customizable.

Intruder Alert in the Tournament Room, Week 1!

As stated, I'll be taking the Intruder Alert deck into the Tournament Room each week and making changes on a week-by-week basis based on playtesting. When we left the deck with a sideboard last week, here's what we had:

Intruder Alert

Download Arena Decklist

Match 1: Cabrall (Gaea's Might Get There)

Game 1: He kills my first four creatures, a Llanowar Elves, a Merfolk Looter, and two Perfects, with double Lightning Helix, fetch lands, and two activations of Grim Lavamancer. He gets me down to 3, after using Lightning Helix on my guys and getting two Lavamancers in play. I go infinite and win, thanks to having two turns where Intruder Alarm tapped down his guys.

Game 2: I am one turn from going off when he attacks, brings me down to 1 (with my Perfect needing to block to keep me alive), and then dropping Engineered Plague to kill both my Perfect and my Llanowar Elves.

Game 3: I get run over by double Kird Ape, Tarmogoyf, and 1/1 tokens.

Record: 0-1

Match 2: Aleyr_Lengiac (Counterbalance Goyf)


Blasting Station
Game 1: I knock him down to two with a triple-Wren's Run Vanquisher draw, but he gains control of the game with Vedalken Shackles, Tarmogoyf, and Umezawa's Jitte.

Game 2: He gets a first-turn Counterbalance off of Chrome Mox, which randomly counters one of my Vanquishers. I get down Llanowar Elves and Imperious Perfect, and am able to beat him down with just a combination of those two.

Game 3: He counters my first two spells with Counterspell (Imperious Perfect and Wren's Run Vanquisher), and then proceeds to drop triple Tarmogoyf and a Shackles. I stop the Shackles with Krosan Grip and drop Llanowar Elves, Boreal Druid, a second Perfect, and Blasting Station. I use Sprout Swarm to buy time, and he adds pressure with a Loxodon Hierarch. Finally, the turn before I'm going to die, I draw Intruder Alarm and deal 20 to his head with Blasting Station, Imperious Perfect, and Llanowar Elves.

Record: 1-1

Match 3: Requitor (The Mirror Match!)

Game 1: He keeps a slow hand with no green mana sources and doesn't draw one until turn four (when he uses it to make Llanowar Elves). By then, I have Essence Warden, Llanowar Elves, Imperious Perfect, and two 2/2 Elf tokens in play.

Game 2: I keep a one-land hand with two Boreal Elves. He gets Utopia Tree and Elvish Harbinger to fetch Imperious Perfect. I never draw a second land, but I drop double Wren's Run Vanquisher and start beating down. He drops Intruder Alarm and Imperious Perfect together the turn before he's going to die, and then puts Emblem of the Warmind on the Perfect, but it leaves him no mana left to go infinite. I kill him the next turn with a Krosan Grip still in my hand.

Record: 2-1



  • I sideboarded out Utopia Sprawl every game for other cards. I need to find a replacement for it for next week.
  • I never got a Merfolk Looter to live past one turn. Is it too fragile, or do I need more redundancy (i.e., adding in Thought Couriers as well)?
  • Would Dryad Arbor be a better choice than Forbidden Orchard? One gives me blue and puts a creature into play for Intruder Alarm, and the other is summoning sick and only produces green—but it doesn't kill me, and I did take a lot of damage from 1/1 spirit tokens each game!

Join me next week as I bring you a bit of a treat. See you then!

Don’t miss your chance to attend a Morningtide Launch Party near you this weekend. Special "Midnight Madness" locations in North America will begin selling Morningtide at 12:01 a.m. on the set’s release date: this Friday, February 1, and events will continue throughout the weekend at participating stores. Besides getting your first chance to buy packs of Morningtide, you’ll also be able to play in Sealed Deck events and win cool prizes. And don’t forget, Morningtide is legal in Constructed on its release date!

Latest Building on a Budget Articles

Daily MTG

June 27, 2012

War Falcon by, Jacob Van Lunen

The Magic 2013 core set is going to be on the shelves of your local game shop in less than three weeks. Many powerful cards have already been announced. I can't begin to explain how excit...

Learn More

Building on a Budget

June 20, 2012

Solving the Control Conundrum by, Jacob Van Lunen

ello and welcome back to another edition of Building on a Budget. I've been working on a new deck for Standard over the past two weeks and I'm excited to share it with you guys today! In ...

Learn More



Building on a Budget Archive

Consult the archives for more articles!

See All