Then again, the deck is already fun to play and winning more than I expected. I'm confident that with some playtesting the deck I outlined last week can become something that's fun, respectable, budget-friendly, and that stands on its own as a deck apart from others I've done.
Speaking of my deck, here is where I left off last week:
When unsure where to go next with a deck, I find playtesting to be an invaluable source of ideas. So, here we go...
Game 11: Red/Green Land Destruction
The game got off to an odd start because I kept a creatureless hand. I played land and a Dimir Signet while my opponent played land and nothing else. On the fifth turn he tried Shard Phoenix, and when I tried to enchant it with Followed Footsteps he sacrificed it in response. After that he started blowing up my land, focusing on the Blue mana. A flurry of Stone Rains, Demolishes, and Sunder From Withins took down six of my Islands and two Signets over about four turns. The bad news was that I was left with only four Swamps. The good news was that my opponent had emptied his hand. I transmuted Brainspoil to Throat Slitter and cast it after drawing a fifth Swamp. My opponent played an Elvish Warrior, and I topdecked an Island to put Mark of Eviction on it. We played like that for a while, him killing any Islands I drew while I played Black creatures. Lost beneath a pile of cards was Shard Phoenix, and I guess my opponent forgot about him. I'm pretty sure I would have lost had the Phoenix re-entered play, but as it stood I played a series of 2/2s and won over about twelve turns.
Game 12: Monoblack Aggro
Game 13: Black/Red Control
His deck was weird and cool. On one hand it was built around Hunted Horror and lots of three-damage burn. On the other hand it used the Underworld Dreams-Teferi's Puzzle Box combo. We had played last week when I was in my “fun zone” of games (I log all games each week until my article is finished, then I play a slew of unlogged games until the next week). Last time he beat me in a long, drawn-out game. This time I got Dimir Infiltrator, while he played Hunted Horror and killed one of my tokens with Volcanic Hammer. I used Brainspoil on his Horror then attacked for four. On the next turn he played Underworld Dreams while I snuck Ninja of the Deep Hours into play, then replayed my Infiltrator. He played a second Underworld Dreams, and I snuck a second Ninja into play. The question for me was whether to draw cards from my Ninja or not. I decided not to since he was at four life and I wanted to stay out of Puzzle Box range. Sure enough, he played the Box next turn and I won at four life.
Game 14: White/Red Boros Aggro
Oooo... Close game. He got out a Veteran Armorer and a Boros Recruit while I played Mark of Eviction and Drake Familiar. He played a second Recruit, and I used Clone to get my own Veteran Armorer. After that I had enough mana for Followed Footsteps, so I enchanted his newly-cast Skyknight Legionnaire. Four Legionnaire tokens later, we had battled back and forth. He had a Firemane Angel in his graveyard, a Sunforger on the table, no creatures, and seven life. I had eight points of offense and an empty hand, so I swung at him. He used Lightning Helix on one of my critters, then topdecked a second Skyknight Legionnaire to attack for six and the win. It was one of those classic “I would have won the next turn except he drew...” sort of games.
Game 15: Green/Red Fatties
I liked his deck, which used quick mana like Elves of Deep Shadow and Llanowar Elves to ramp up to things like Moss Kami and Heartless Hidetsugu, among others. He got out two Elves and an O-Naginata while I had two Ravenous Rats and a Ninja of the Deep Hours. One Rats died to a blocking Elves while I kept bouncing the other with Mark of Eviction. Brainspoil killed his first Hidetsugu, then Throat Slitter killed an Elves. I was clearly in the driver's seat at this point. Another Hidetsugu hit the table, but a Clone killed it and my Ninja cruised to victory. At the last moment I drew a Footsteps to give myself one Ninja of the Deep Hours token.
Gasping For Help
At this point I'm not drawing Followed Footsteps enough and it's not factoring into enough of my games. I'll explain why I think this is so below, because it's time for me to make some changes to how the deck plays.
IN: 4 Last Gasp
OUT: 1 Drake Familiar
It was a nice idea, but ultimately underpowered. Drake Familiar doesn't do enough, either for me or against an opponent, to warrant a slot. With Last Gasp in the deck, I also have a hard time envisioning using transmute to find this lone copy. In a deck with comes-into-play enchantments like
OUT: 3 Mark of Eviction
I really wanted Mark of Eviction to be Unsummon. I had even convinced myself that it was almost as good as Unsummon because of its ability to reassign Followed Footsteps. In reality, it turns out to be really, really slow and not worth the effort. The Mark still turned out to be pretty useful from time to time, but Unsummon would have been better in almost every instance. I have not yet cared about reassigning a Footsteps because Footsteps is slow and fragile enough to not mess with once it's working. Since reassigning Followed Footsteps isn't a priority, neither Drake Familiar nor Mark of Eviction feel worth the effort. Who knew I would ever experience Unsummon envy?
OUT: 1 Island
IN: 1 Swamp
With four Blue cards making way for four Black cards, my land needs a little adjustment. The hope is that I'll still reliably be able to get a second-turn Dimir Infiltrator, but more important at this point is having the mana to cast Last Gasp early when I need it to stay alive.
Here, I hope, is a more survivable version of the deck that can actually transmute for Followed Footsteps:
Let's see if these changes have made any difference...
Game 16: Blue/Red Ire of Kaminari
Game 17: Monoblack Spirits
He got a Bile Urchin, Cruel Deceiver, and Thief of Hope. I had Dimir Infiltrator, then Ninja of the Deep Hours, then Keening Banshee to kill his Thief. He played Nekrataal to off my Ninja, so I returned my Banshee to hand with another Ninja then killed his Nekrataal. We did the exact same thing next turn, him with a second Nekrataal and me with a third (and final) Ninja. Gravedigger brought a dead Ninja back to hand, which let me do the Keening Banshee trick again. I had drawn a ridiculous amount of cards at this point, and my opponent was taxed out. He played Devouring Greed to bring himself up to eight life and me down to twelve, but I still killed him on my next attack. On the turn I won, I finally drew Followed Footsteps.
Game 18: White/Red Weenie
If I can beat two equipped Hand of Honors, I'm feeling pretty good about my deck.
Game 19: Monoblue Control
I went first (as a sidenote, I haven't yet decided whether I'd rather play or draw with this deck... it's something I'm keeping an eye on, but in the meantime it's a nice feeling to not care if I win the die roll or not), and played Dimir Infiltrator, then Ravenous Rats. My opponent played Sleight of Hand, Telling Time, four Islands and pretty much that was it. I hit him for two a turn, casting one threat per turn to keep him occupied with counterspells. He eventually got low enough on life to tap out for Sakashima the Impostor, targeting my Infiltrator. I played Last Gasp at the end of his turn to kill it, then untapped and played Gravedigger for one of my countered creatures. He drew something other than an Island and conceded.
Game 20: Black/White Weenie
I couldn't quite figure out his deck, but I guess it didn't matter because he got stuck on three land and I mowed through him. I had Dimir Infiltrator and Ravenous Rats going for a while. Then my Keening Banshee killed his Infectious Host. His Razortooth Rats blocked my Rats, then I played another. My second Rats became Ninja of the Deep Hours. On my last attack, he cast Angelic Blessing on my Banshee as a sign of defeat.
Guarding The House
Some people, I'm sure, are now lamenting the fact that my deck plays like some freaky hybrid between a Ninja deck, a generic Blue/Black aggro-control deck, and a Followed Footsteps deck. I can't tell you how pleased I am that the deck is performing in this way. It is like a Ninja deck and a removal-heavy deck and a Footsteps deck. Yet it's more versatile than any one of these decks. It's precisely that blur-your-eyes-and-see-something-different aspect that to me feels very House Dimir and makes the deck fun to play. In fact, I'm thinking at this point that I can push the transmute angle a bit more to clean up the messy four-mana slot in my current list.
OUT: 1 Throat Slitter
IN: 1 Ninja of the Deep Hours
My other Ninja, on the other hand, has been outstanding. Glance through my twenty game logs and you'll see the words “Ninja of the Deep Hours” repeated over and over again. They are the one good source of card-drawing currently in the deck, card-drawing that can help me find creature removal, mana, and Followed Footsteps. In about four paragraphs, I will also have a means for tutoring for my Ninja in a pinch. Viva la Deep Hours!
Now, some grumpy readers out will cry “But you've used them in a deck already!” Yep. They're good. I've used Sakura-Tribe Elder, Ravenous Rats, Hearth Kami, Zombify, and Sensei's Divining Top in multiple decks too. I use these cards over and over again because they are excellent tools for a budget deckbuilder. In the same ways that non-Budget deckbuilders want to use Birds of Paradise in any Green-based multicolor deck, so to do I want to use Ninja of the Deep Hours in a Blue-based deck with comes-into-play effects. Highlighting these cards is part of the reason I write my budget set reviews. To me, these repetitions don't doom me to conventional decks, but rather are a way to bolster and support unconventional ideas like Followed Footsteps.
Speaking of cards I often use...
IN: 1 Ravenous Rats
Unlike Ninja of the Deep Hours, I'm not entirely sure that my four Ravenous Rats will be sticking around in my deck. Oh, they're good with Ninja of the Deep Hours, Gravedigger, and Followed Footsteps, but it feels to me like this deck should be striving for something... more. I'm seriously pondering at this point whether Festering Goblin wouldn't be a better card for this slot.
So why add a fourth Rats now? Simply because I've noticed that one of the ways to keep Followed Footsteps (and the creature it's enchanting) on the table is by emptying my opponent's hand. This is when I'm glad that Footsteps costs five mana and is slow, because I can sometimes whittle away answers my opponent might have to it before I play Followed Footsteps. I don't think I want to make the commitment to Zuberas that Ashen-Skin Zubera would entail. Ghost-Lit Stalker, Kemuri-Onna, and Okiba-Gang Shinobi are too slow. Mindslicer is wrong. Hypnotic Specter and Nezumi Shortfang cost too much. As much as I hate to admit it, Ravenous Rats might be the one card to help me keep Followed Footsteps alive through discard (this doesn't address the idea of countermagic, something I also may use in this slot).
IN: 3 Dimir House Guard
Here is what Dimir House Guard's inclusion allows me to do:
None of these creatures are ones I feel comfortable dropping from my deck entirely, yet I've also felt that two copies of each were way too much. Sometimes Keening Banshee is better removal, and sometimes Nekrataal. Highway Robber is sometimes the perfect Followed Footsteps target and other times too slow. Gravedigger is invaluable in letting me climb back into long games but is sometimes caught in my hand without a target. Now each of these cards--along with Clone and Ninja of the Deep Hours--is sitting in my deck as a toolbox ready to answer whatever situation I encounter.
Why not drop Clone, a card much maligned on last week's Boards? Put simply, I love Clone and have never been sad to draw it. It complements the other creatures in the deck, gives me loads of strategic options, acts as a four-mana Hero's Demise, and can often give me a better creature than I otherwise have in my deck. I can almost guarantee that my two copies of Clone are sticking around until the final decklist.
Here is my transmute-happy Followed Footsteps deck:
Ah, but how does it play?
Game 21: White/Green Spirits
Game 22: Blue/Green/Black Control
He started out with a Sensei's Divining Top and I countered with Dimir Infiltrator and Ravenous Rats. He discarded a Perplex to the Rats, letting me know he had Black in his deck. My opponent played Sakura-Tribe Elder, which I killed with Keening Banshee. Then he played Rending Vines on my Dimir Signet and I inwardly cheered as the next turn I untapped and played Followed Footsteps on my Ravenous Rats. My opponent played another Elder, then Recollect on his Rending Vines. With a Rats token coming into play every turn, though, he could never get five cards in hand so the Footsteps kept on going. His hand whittled down to a single card, I snuck two Ninja of the Deep Hours into play, and my opponent conceded.
Game 23: Monoblack Control
Game 24: Black/Green Golgari
I always figured that I would get manascrewed with this deck because of the wonky mana requirements I'm asking of it. What I didn't expect was to ever be completely mana flooded. I kept a hand with five land, Dimir Infiltrator, and Ninja of the Deep Hours. Both entered play, but my opponent had Last Gasp for the Ninja. After that all I did was draw land and Dimir Signets. My opponent played Stinkweed Imp, Golgari Guildmage, and Mortipede. I finally drew a Clone, so I copied his Stinkweed Imp to hopefully stave off his attack. Next turn my opponent played Gleancrawler, making me curse the timing of my Clone. More mana followed for me, and my opponent got a Loxodon Warhammer on his Mortipede to smash me to bits.
Game 25: Black/Green Control
This game might have been fun if my opponent wasn't such a jerk. I kept a hand with three Islands and pretty solid stuff. He started out with a second-turn Umezawa's Jitte. I drew nothing but another Island for the next four turns, but my opponent had a similar problem and played out all land with no creatures. I found a Dimir Signet to play Dimir Infiltrator, and a Naturalize killed my Signet. The Infiltrator turned into Ninja of the Deep Hours, which died to Rend Flesh. I found another Signet, which replayed my Infiltrator before dying to Naturalize. A second Ninja got in one hit before falling to Nekrataal. I thankfully topdecked a Swamp to kill his Nekrataal with Last Gasp. For the next six turns or so, my opponent used two Creeping Molds to kill the Swamps I drew and I managed Black mana in just enough time to kill whatever creature he drew. It was a race to see who could recover faster. My deck was kind to me, giving me another Signet and then Swamps. I emptied his hand with two Ravenous Rats and killed a Royal Assassin and two Sakura-Tribe Elders with removal. When I had him down to nine life, my opponent manaburned for ten to essentially concede. Somehow Umezawa's Jitte didn't get a single counter from Turn 2 through Turn 20.
I'm still not thrilled with the Ravenous Rats, so I'm willing to try another option...
OUT: 2 Ravenous Rats
The thing about Ravenous Rats is that they are the one card that feels to be pulling my deck into boring, familiar territory. Only once have I found the Rats safe enough to enchant with Followed Footsteps. Yes, they protect the Footsteps somewhat, but they also lack the sex appeal I want from this slot. I'll keep two as additional Ninja and Gravedigger targets, but I may eventually drop to one that can be tutored for in a pinch.
Bet you didn't see that one coming, eh? In case you were wondering, this is the “Gods” reference in the title (I was stretching, but hey... I needed a third G).
Here's my thinking: If discard is truly a way to protect Followed Footsteps, then I would rather have reliable discard than a one-shot deal like Ravenous Rats (understanding, of course, that the Rats sometimes get played multiple times each game). The idea of transmuting into Hondens occurred to me as I was looking for a five-mana card that would be useful when Brainspoil is useless. How convenient that both the Black and Blue Honden happen to fall into the converted mana cost that I can fetch via transmute. This change pushes the manacurve of my deck higher, which is a concern. For now, though, I'm willing to try it as a wacky experiment to see if it's worth slowing my deck down.
Somehow the addition of the Hondens pushes the deck into having an identity for me. Now my deck is about Followed Footsteps, but only insofar as Followed Footsteps is a way to be strategically versatile and do weird things.
Ponder this decklist, then speak up on the Message Boards. The last few weeks have been superb in terms of people really digging into my decks and offering suggestions, and I hope this pattern continues. I've said it before but it bears repeating: Your feedback is invaluable, both in my own deck pondering and in the direction of this column.
Next week... the dramatic Dimir-y conclusion!
Think hard and have fun,