Interlude: BOAB Smackdown II!

Posted in Building on a Budget on January 16, 2006

By Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar

Oh yeah, baby. It's time. Amidst Guildpact fever, I have one more piece of business to mentally wrap up 2005 (yes, I understand that we're almost a month into 2006 at this point), and many of you correctly guessed what it is based on last week's poll...

Which recent BOAB deck is your favorite?
Muted Footsteps (v.1.5) 839 33.1%
Thief of Time (v.2.3) 663 26.2%
Empire Maker (v.1.6) 531 20.9%
Dead World (v.1.6) 306 12.1%
Soul Train (v.1.6) 196 7.7%
Total 2535 100.0%

The favorites are in, so place your bets, bust out your popcorn, and plant your butts ringside. It's BOAB Smackdown II!

(insert animal roar here)

What's the BOAB Smackdown!? Allow me to explain. See, I'm sort of a tournament junkie, so every now and then I like to pit my decks against each other in bloody, gladitorial combat. It seemed to work well the first time around, and I don't see any reason to change my approach except on the total number of decks involved. Here are the “rules” for my Smackdown!:

  • Take my five most recent decks.
  • Play a round-robin tournament, allowing each deck to compete against each other deck.
  • Play two games in each match-up, swapping decks with my opponent to control for player bias.
  • No sideboards allowed.

This time around, I've enlisted the help of one Chris Romeo to be my Partner in Smackitude. For those who don't know Chris, he's a columnist for the Star City Games website who, it just so happens, writes about budget deckbuilding. He's a fun, friendly, funny fellow, and we've locked proverbial horns several times online with our decks. I'm pretty sure we're of equivalent play skill, which is one of the things I look for in a Smackdown! partner.

Those are the rules and the players. Now let's meet the decks...

The Contenders

First up is a Kamigawa Block deck that started life as the Spirit Flames preconstructed decklist. Now it's an aggro-control deck meant to overpower opponents beneath an avalanche of fat creatures and soulshift. I played around with the idea of updating the deck for today's Standard, but I'm not sure 9th Edition and Ravnica would change the deck much.

Soul Train (Spirit Flames v.1.6)

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Next up is a deck that began as a home-brewed Monoblack deck based around the “junk rare” Blood Clock. It eventually became a three-color control deck looking to abuse the Clock via Thief of Hope and Choice of Damnations. It has a small arcane “toolbox” to, hopefully, handle whatever an opponent throws at it. Again, the deck is Kamigawa Block, and again I didn't see much point in updating it given the focus on arcane cards.

Thief of Time (Black Clock v.2.3)

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Third up is a deck based on two 9th Edition preconstructed decks, Dead Again and World Aflame. After considerable evolution, the deck became a reanimator deck with lots of comes-into-play creatures and Sorceries to complement Magnivore. Its massive amount of creature removal is sure to be intimidating to the other decks in the field.

Dead World (Dead/Aflame v.1.6)

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The Selesnya United preconstructed deck is responsible for our fourth competitor, an all-out aggro deck looking to pound an opponent to pulp using quick creatures and trampling fatties. In effect, the only non-creature card in the deck is Bathe in Light to help keep its army alive and to provide for a lethal alpha strike.

Empire Maker (Selesnya United v.1.6)

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The final deck is based on Followed Footsteps and the ideals of House Dimir. There's a lot going on here. Whereas Thief of Time has a small toolbox, this deck is all about options. The transmute mechanic and Footsteps ensure that although almost all games go long, none end in exactly the same way.

Muted Footsteps (Followed Footsteps v.1.5)

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Those are the five competitors. Empire Maker and Dead World are trying to win the game quickly, Thief of Time and Muted Footsteps are trying to win the game slowly. Soul Train falls somewhere in between. Unlike last time, all five colors are in attendance, with none of the decks being monocolored. I couldn't tell you who I would predict will win this Smackdown!, but I suppose it doesn't matter since we'll all find out soon enough.

Bring On The Smackdown!

Remember: This is a round-robin affair, with each match-up receiving two games. The reason for this is to allow Chris and I to play each match-up once with each deck and to control for play skill. When the smoke clears, we will have our Smackdown II! winner.

Let's get to it!

Game 1: Soul Train (0-0) vs. Thief of Time (0-0)


I began the day with Soul Train, winning the die roll. I got a Shinen of Life's Roar with Manriki-Gusari to eat his Ghost-Lit Stalker, then I popped out a Sakura-Tribe Elder with a second Manriki-Gusari. Chris tried a few blockers, but I had Unchecked Growth and hammered him down to six life. He then got Thief of Hope, and Wear Away on one of my pieces of equipment. A big Swallowing Plague followed, bringing him to eleven life and killing my Spirit. I channeled a Ghost-Lit Raider to kill his Thief, but he had another Plague to splice Soul Revival. The next ten turns were painful for me as Chris climbed back into the game and near twenty life with a Hana Kami, Plague, Revival and Thief. Blood Clock hit the table, and I was in topdecking mode while he had a full hand. After several turns, I died to two Kemuri-Onnas and a Stalker.

Game 2: Thief of Time (1-0) vs. Soul Train (0-1)

This was much the same as the first game, in that Chris got off to an aggressive start with me holding on for dear life by chump-blocking with Hana Kami and then Thief of Hope. I played a second Thief and a Blood Clock, then my Hana Kami again and a second Clock. I used Wear Away on his equipment, and I was able to bounce my Kami and a land each turn while Chris' permanents slowly dwindled away. He got Promised Kannushi, so I stopped attacking and instead relied on my Clocks and Thief. I eventually had enough mana to play Hana Kami and Choice of Damnations. He went down to five life, so I did it again the next turn with my second Choice. By the time I played it, Chris was at one life. He chose zero, lost all his permanents, and I attacked with my Thief for the win.

Game 3: Soul Train (0-2) vs. Dead World (0-0)


Forked-Branch Garami
What happens when two reanimator decks meet? They treat their creatures as very expendable, that's what. We attacked and blocked with no concern for our forces and each tried to be the aggressor. It looked like Chris might take the game with a Nantuko Husk, 4/4 Magnivore, and a Ravenous Rats, but I finally found my fifth land and dropped Arashi, the Sky Asunder, Forked-Branch Garami, and Jiwari, the Earth Aflame on consecutive turns. The tide swung my way, and although his alpha strike would have beaten me if the one card in his hand was burn, I survived to swing for the win.

Game 4: Dead World (0-1) vs. Soul Train (1-2)

This game, it seemed to me that Chris had a lot more reanimation than me. He soulshifted Promised Kannushi and Forked-Branch Garami, getting repeated uses out of a Ghost-Lit Raider, two Hearth Kamis, and a Shinen of Life's Roar. I was creature-light, killing his stuff with sorceries but otherwise not doing much. I Threatened his Raider twice to kill things, eventually dropping Anarchist and Gravedigger to put on some form of offense. I hit Chris down to ten, sitting at four life. He attacked for two and I took it, then on the next turn I dropped a 5/5 Magnivore with one card in hand and attacked with it and two 2/2s. His one untapped creature was Shinen, and he decided to block my 5/5. Was my one card a creature to use as a blocker, a sorcery to kill his Hearth Kami, or burn? Nope. I had a Mountain, so I conceded with him at six life.

Game 5: Soul Train (2-2) vs. Empire Maker (0-0)

This one was sad. Chris kept a hand with two Plains and a Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree. I started off with Shinen of Life's Roar, Sakura-Tribe Elder, and then a fourth-turn Arashi, the Sky Asunder. Chris drew... more Plains. He never played a spell while I romped over him, adding a Hearth Kami to the fray. I guess with five multicolor budget decks, that's going to happen now and again.

Game 6: Empire Maker (0-1) vs. Soul Train (3-2)

So of course, the game after Chris drew all Plains, I drew all Forests with Empire Maker. He, making up for the last game, got absolutely manaflooded. Chris channeled a Ghost-Lit Raider to kill my 4/4 Scion of the Wild, and his two Hearth Kamis blocked my two Llanowar Elves. I had a Selesnya Guildmage, though, and played Scatter the Seeds the turn before I finally drew a Plains. My token army went to work, summoning two Siege Wurms to his one Forked-Branch Garami. Chris kept drawing land while I attacked twice for the win.

Game 7: Soul Train (3-3) vs. Muted Footsteps (0-0)

I came out with a Sakura-Tribe Elder, Promised Kannushi, and Shinen of Life's Roar while Chris got out Dimir Infiltrator, turning into Ninja of the Deep Hours. I killed the Ninja with Ghost-Lit Raider, so he made another Ninja via the Infiltrator. After that we played a game where I attacked with a 1/2 Shinen, 2/3 Kannushi (thanks to Manriki-Gusari) and 1/1 Elder while Chris blocked with his Infiltrator and removed all blockers for his Ninja. I dropped to eight life, he dropped somewhere near there as well, and then I played Forked-Branch Garami. I attacked while Chris played Dimir House Guard and tutored for Nezumi Graverobber. We hit a stalemate of sorts, but his Graverobber was going to win him the game so I kept putting on as much pressure as possible. In the turn before he would have flipped to Nighteyes the Desecrator, I attacked with everything and snuck a 4/3 Hearth Kami (thanks to Burr Grafter) through for the win.

Game 8: Muted Footsteps (0-1) vs. Soul Train (4-3)


Honden of Seeing Winds
This game was about card advantage, plain and simple. I survived his early onslaught, then played Dimir House Guard, Honden of Seeing Winds, Honden of Night's Reach, and Nezumi Graverobber. There was no way he was going to out-maneuver me after that, especially with no enchantment removal in the deck. I played Nekrataal on his Forked-Branch Garami, using Graverobber to remove whatever he targeted with soulshift. I then transmuted a Brainspoil for Followed Footsteps on the Nekrataal. He didn't draw Ghost-Lit Raider, and I killed two blockers over the next two turns with tokens, winning with my House Guard and lots of scimitar-wielding madmen.

Soul Train ends the day 4-4.

Game 9: Thief of Time (2-0) vs. Dead World (0-2)

The problem with this game from my perspective was twofold. First, I kept a slow hand with two Choice of Damnations, Blood Clock, Thief of Hope, and three land. Second, I stalled on four land for several turns. This wasn't helped by the fact that Chris came out with guns blazing, including a Ravenous Rats, Nentuko Husk, Hearth Kami, and a bunch of creature removal. Down went my Hana Kami blocker. Down went my Thief of Hope. Out came an Anarchist and Gravedigger for Chris, and the Husk thwacked me over the head until I was dead. Just as a late-night brain check, I cast Choice of Damnations on Chris to see if he was awake. He was cogent enough to choose a high number and lose life down to ten before he killed me.

Game 10: Dead World (1-2) vs. Thief of Time (2-1)

It turns out that Blood Clock isn't so good against other decks with cheap comes-into-play creatures. Chris made an early Ghost-Lit Stalker, which I killed with Cruel Edict while attacking with Hearth Kami and Ravenous Rats. He then dropped two Blood Clocks, so I bounced my Rats and a land each turn. That clearly wasn't working out, so Chris bounced both Clocks back to his hand. I replayed Edict thanks to Anarchist to kill his Thief of Hope, then another to kill Kemuri-Onna. Nantuko Husk joined the party, negating any Swallowing Plague he might try. That was pretty much game, and Chris' last draw was an Eerie Procession after he had already discarded his lone Island. Ouch.

Game 11: Thief of Time (2-2) vs. Empire Maker (1-1)


Choice of Damnations
This was a close one. I started off in control with Sakura-Tribe Elder, Thief of Hope, Kodama's Reach, and Kemuri-Onna. Chris had two Llanowar Elves, a Selesnya Guildmage, and a Viridian Shaman. I used Eerie Procession for Swallowing Plague. My intention was to kill the Guildmage (the whole reason I didn't get Hideous Laughter) but then he played Emperor Crocodile so I killed that instead. At this point I reached thirty life to his twelve. Chris made tokens with Fists of Ironwood, then a Siege Wurm. I played Choice of Damnations, destroying all but six of his permanents (Guildmage, Wurm, Elves, and three land). All I needed was another Plague or Hana Kami, but I drew another Reach, a Hideous Laughter, and land. I used Laughter as a last resort, but I misplayed it timing-wise and died to trample damage with Chris at five life.

Game 12: Empire Maker (2-1) vs. Thief of Time (2-3)

I forget, sometimes, how quick Empire Maker can be. I came out with Selesnya Guildmage, Scion of the Wild, Watchwolf, and Emperor Crocodile. Chris had Ghost-Lit Stalker, two Kodama's Reaches, and a Sakura-Tribe Elder. A Swallowing Plague killed my Scion, but it didn't slow me down much as I put Fists of Ironwood on the Crocodile and then played Siege Wurm. Chris untapped, thought a whole bunch, told me what was in his hand, and we both brainstormed about if there was any way for him to survive my next attack. I was tapped out. He was at ten life, holding two Thief of Hope, Eerie Procession, and Blood Clock with nine land on the table. He couldn't Procession for a Plague and kill one of my 5/5s, and Hideous Laughter wouldn't kill my two trampling fatties or Watchwolf. He opted for playing both Thieves, then Procession for the Plague he couldn't cast. I pumped my troops and attacked for the win.

Game 13: Thief of Time (2-4) vs. Muted Footsteps (1-1)

This game was a lot closer than it should have been. I played mana acceleration, Ghost-Lit Stalker, and a Blood Clock to his land, Dimir Signets, and Dimir House Guard. When he played Ravenous Rats, I bounced my Clock to hand. With Chris at eighteen life, I was staring down a House Guard with Followed Footsteps on it, three House Guard tokens, and a mess of mana. I drew Swallowing Plague and hit his original Guard for ten. I followed that up with Choice of Damnations to bring him down to eight life. He played Highway Robber and turned two tokens into Ninja of the Deep Hours. I hit the Robber for another ten-point Plague to keep me in the game. I then used Eerie Procession to get Hideous Laughter and kill all but a House Guard token and a Dimir Infiltrator. A second Choice spliced with Wear Away to kill his Honden of Seeing Winds dropped Chris to four permanents (three creatures and a Dimir Aqueduct). I had one turn to draw my third Plague, my second Procession, or Hana Kami. I drew a Forest, and then died to Chris' next attack.

Game 14: Muted Footsteps (2-1) vs. Thief of Time (2-5)


Nezumi Graverobber
These are the two slowest decks, so no wonder they produced the longest game. Chris murdered my hand early with Kemuri-Onnas and Ghost-Lit Stalkers, then dropped Blood Clock. I played Honden of Night's Reach, and otherwise lost all of my creatures to his three Swallowing Plagues and two Hana Kamis. I transmuted a Dimir Infiltrator for Last Gasp to kill his Onna, then transmuted a second for Last Gasp to kill his last Hana Kami. I drew a third Infiltrator in a row, so transmuted for Nezumi Graverobber. The Graverobber survived a turn of me being tapped out, and after that I removed his three Plagues, Hana Kamis, and eventually all of his graveyard. Nighteyes the Desecrator pulled a Sakura-Tribe Elder from his graveyard each turn, ensuring that Blood Clock didn't slow me down. Eventually--and slowly--I ground out the win.

Thief of Time ends the day 2-6.

Game 15: Dead World (2-2) vs. Empire Maker (3-1)

I cast a Cruel Edict on his first-turn Llanowar Elves, figuring that Edict would get useless against the Selesnya Conclave quickly. He dropped a Selesnya Guildmage and enchanted it with Fists of Ironwood. I played Nantuko Husk, then killed the Guildmage with Nekrataal. When he blocked my Husk with two tokens, I sacced my Nekrataal to keep it alive. He played Viridian Shaman, blocking my Husk again so I sacrificed my newly-cast Ravenous Rats. He played Watchwolf and I used Zombify on my Nekrataal. I Threatened his second Guildmage to sacrifice it to the Husk. By the time Chris finally found a fourth land, he had no creatures and a bunch of Emperor Crocodiles in hand. I won at twenty life, untouched.

Game 16: Empire Maker (3-2) vs. Dead World (3-2)

This was a much closer--and much longer--game. Chris played the usual shenanigans that Dead World can play... Nekrataal, sacrificed to Nantuko Husk for Zombify, then Anarchist to get Zombify on Gravedigger... that sort of thing. I was accumulating a nice army of 1/1 and 2/2 creatures, with him killing anything larger. I had Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree, so I resolved to kill him with tokens. He tried Fireball to clear the board, but I had Bathe in Light. A second Bathe saved my Watchwolf from Nekrataal. After that we were both in topdeck mode, the game swinging back and forth slightly but mostly we were at a creature stalemate. I would get the numbers advantage, attack him so that he would have to sacrifice some creature to the Husk, and then he would Threaten something and do it back to me. I finally drew Siege Wurm and two Emperor Crocodiles, allowing me the muscle to start attacking without taking losses. Vitu-Ghazi kept me with blockers in case he got crazy, and I won at eight life.

Game 17: Dead World (3-3) vs. Muted Footsteps (3-1)


I came out on the offensive, killing his creatures and attacking with a Hearth Kami and Nantuko Husk. He transmuted a Brainspoil for Honden of Seeing Winds, then played Honden of Night's Reach. He only had one Dimir Signet to produce Blue mana, though, so after I attacked for four, I sacrificed my Kami to kill his Signet. Chris proceeded to not draw an Island for about five or six turns while I brought him down to eight with a Gravedigger. He finally drew an Island, played Clone to get his own Gravedigger, which returned Nezumi Graverobber to his hand. The next turn he played Honden of Seeing Winds, then Followed Footsteps on his Gravedigger. It was going to get ugly fast. I was at twenty life, but had no cards in hand. I had about four turns to draw Fireball to kill him before I died. It didn't happen, and he swarmed over me.

Game 18: Muted Footsteps (4-1) vs. Dead World (3-4)

I had a removal-heavy hand, so I decided to let Chris make the first move. Apparently Chris was in the same boat, so all we did was lay land for five turns until I played Honden of Seeing Winds. That may have been the play of the game, because after that I was in control. He played a Nekrataal on an empty table, so I put Followed Footsteps on it. My first token killed his 1/1 Magnivore, then I transmuted Dimir Infiltrator for Nezumi Graverobber. I flipped into Nighteyes the Desecrator, killed his Gravedigger with Last Gasp, reanimated it to get back my Infiltrator, then replayed it. As Chris said, “That is so wrong.” Inevitably I transmuted a Dimir House Guard into my second Honden and won beneath an avalanche of Nekrataal tokens and reanimated critters.

Dead World ends the day 3-5.

Game 19: Empire Maker (4-2) vs. Muted Footsteps (5-1)

And so the final two games pit the two best--and most recent--decks against each other. I was with the aggressive deck, so I played aggressively. A Llanowar Elves, Selesnya Guildmage, and Emperor Crocodile hammered Chris down to six life while he dropped land, a Dimir Infiltrator, then turned it into Ninja of the Deep Hours. He killed my Guildmage with Last Gasp, attacked with the Ninja, then said “I am so lucky.” Chris apparently drew a second Gasp from the Ninja, which killed my Elves and Crocodile in one fell swoop. After that he started to rebuild with his recast Infiltrator, Ninja, Dimir House Guard, and Honden of the Seeing Winds. I actually thought he was going to climb back into the game, but I played Viridian Shaman, Fists of Ironwood, Llanowar Elves, and Watchwolf, biding my time until I drew something to break through his blockers. Chris transmuted for both Nekrataal and Followed Footsteps, but before he could cast either I topdecked Bathe in Light and won.

Chris and I decided that if Empire Maker won this one, we would crown it the winner and eschew a Finals. If Muted Footsteps won, we would play a one-game Finals.

Game 20: Muted Footsteps (5-2) vs. Empire Maker (5-2)


Keening Banshee
I mulliganed to six, keeping a horrific hand of Followed Footsteps, Dimir Infiltrator, and four Swamps. I drew Nezumi Graverobber, then Keening Banshee, but when I cast the Banshee Chris played Bathe in Light on his Watchwolf, giving it and his two Llanowar Elves protection from Black. My Keening Banshee killed itself, and when I tried to Last Gasp his Watchwolf (now with two Fists of Ironwood on it), he had a second Bathe in Light. That was pretty much game. I flipped into Nighteyes the Desecrator, but Chris powered out a Siege Wurm and Emperor Crocodile. I survived one alpha blitz thanks to a reanimated Banshee, but the next attack pounded me into a smoking crater.

Which means...


Winners and Losers

For me, it's fun to sit back after these tournies and reflect on each deck's performance. Here is some aftermath musing:

Loser: Thief of Time 2-6


Thief of Hope
Honestly, before the Smackdown! started I confided to Chris that I worried about Thief of Time going 0-8. It's not that it's a bad deck, because it's not. The fact that it's a Kamigawa Block deck and very slow really worried me, especially against decks that could easily take advantage of Blood Clock via comes-into-play creatures. I also think that a good portion of my wins during the evolution were because both Blood Clock and Choice of Damnations are difficult cards to play against for inexperienced players. Chris is a good player, so a lot of the deck's quirky, surprise effectiveness was negated. When the deck started out 2-0 I was really happy, but it never won another game. Ah well. Thief of Time is still a great and fun casual deck, which Zvi recently demonstrated.

Loser: Dead World 3-5

I really thought that Dead World would have more game against a crop of decks relying heavily on creatures because of its massive amount of removal. It turns out that it had by far the least ability to survive a long game--No Selesnya Guildmage, Vitu-Ghazi, or Forked-Branch Garami, for example. This means that either the deck comes together just right in those crucial early turns or it runs out of steam. To be fair, though, only the last game against Muted Footsteps was a blowout. In the other four losses, it seems like one more turn would have won Dead World the game. Maybe this is a deck that could benefit from Ravnica, and it's certainly a deck that will excel when the Rakdos Cult make its way into Standard. For now, the deck has a bit too little firepower against my other creations.

Winner: Soul Train 4-4

It may seem strange to call Soul Train a “winner” when it lost as many games as it won. The thing is that Soul Train is a Kamigawa Block deck competing against Standard decks, going 4-2 against those decks. It's also the cheapest deck to build of the bunch, with only a single copy of Arashi and Jiwari as its rares. More than that, though, I found that I really enjoyed playing Soul Train again. It may be my favorite deck of the five to play--I've always loved midrange decks with fatties best, for some reason, and Green/Red is likely my favorite two-color combination. Promised Kannushi and Forked-Branch Garami are two cards that will make me smile for years to come.

Winner: Muted Footsteps 5-3

For a minute there, it looked like Muted Footsteps might go 7-1. That would have blown me away, since I had been focusing so much on whether this deck was or was not a true Footsteps deck that I never paused to consider how good it can be. Chris told me after the Smackdown! that this was his favorite deck of the bunch because of its versatility and how it rewards skillful play. He still thinks he would have won Game 19 if he had played differently, which could have resulted in Muted Footsteps winning the whole thing. I'm surprised and pleased with this deck's performance and its ability to handle a variety of opposing strategies.

Winner: Empire Maker 6-2

Keep in mind that one of Empire Maker's two losses was due to utter manascrew in a game where it couldn't cast a single spell. Unlike Muted Footsteps, I wouldn't have been surprised to see Empire Maker go 7-1. The combination of cheap fat, Bathe in Light, and Selesnya Guildmage makes this deck the one most likely to succeed at a “real” local tournament because it can punish bad opposing draws mercilessly.

So ends all of the loose ends I had hoped to tie up from 2005. I've pitted my most recent decks against one another, and now I'm ready to start building decks for 2006.

Since Guildpact won't be available online for a while, that gives me some time to cover the other half of the Ravnica guilds, the Golgari and the Boros Legion. But which first? That, of course, is something for you to decide in the poll below. We won't be starting from a precon this time around, but I will be putting my own non-traditional stamp on whatever guild wins the vote. In other words, I wouldn't bet that my Boros deck will be White/Red weenie or that my Golgari deck will be all about dredge.

Think hard and have fun,


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