Interlude: Hidden Gems in Betrayers

Posted in Building on a Budget on April 11, 2005

By Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar

They go by many names. Bad rares. Junk rares. Jank rares. Cheap rares. Dollar rares. One-ticket rares. Trade bait. Scrub rares. Most hardcore competitive players see them, roll their eyes, and groan. They are often the cards people complain loudly about in Draft or Sealed Deck, and are the serious constructed players' bane. In fact, most constructed deckbuilders don't want anything to do with them at all. They are considered overpriced for what they do. Or underpowered. Or too narrow. Or just plain dumb.

Budget players, on the other hand, often see these cards in a different light. These folks see a “bad rare” sitting in the back of trade binders or in the Dollar Bin at their local store and use the word “challenge.” Or “underappreciated.” Or “potential.” They scoop up these cards with the gold logos and can't believe they got them at such a steal. They see possibilities, a chance at creativity and glory. In this way, budget players explore their inner Johnnies, experimenting with hard-to-use cards in hopes of finding new, undiscovered value.

Were you one of thousands who thought this card was worthless?

Sometimes it even happens. The fact that cards like Necropotence were once seen as worthless is hard to imagine, but the keen-eyed budget player snapped up four copies amidst scoffs because she thought trading life for cards sounds like a good deal. BDM showcased a number of these “once foolish, now gold” cards nearly two years ago. These are the legendary stories budget players often dream about as they try to build decks around the weirdness of, say, Mannichi, the Fevered Dream. If you have keen eyes when a set is first released, you can often obtain powerful cards for next to nothing.

I don't want to overstate this point, though. From a competitive standpoint, most bad rares end up living up to their label. As a result, I'm not going to try to argue that the “junk rares” I discuss today will one day win you a Pro Tour Qualifier. I'm primarily aiming my words today at the true intersection of budget and Johnny, the casual-minded deckbuilders who enjoy seeing ridiculed cards beat their Umezawa's Jitte-wielding friends. In many ways, today is a step back to my “House of Cards” roots.

Because let's face it: With a column on budget deckbuilding, I couldn't resist the opportunity to focus on my favorite of cards, the jank rare. I also couldn't resist focusing on Betrayers of Kamigawa before Saviors previews consume everyone's brain. I'm not exhausting the possibilities in Betrayers today, but below are three so-called-bad-rares that have caught my eye.

Without further adieu, let's enter the Trading Post and see what sort of fun awaits us in the Dollar Bin...

Considering Chisei


Chisei, Heart of Oceans
The card: Chisei, Heart of Oceans
Rejected because: It has a seemingly prohibitive drawback.

Chisei, Heart of Oceans is exactly what budget deckbuilders often don't have access to: An aggressively costed fattie. Don't get me wrong, beatdown has long been a staple of the low-cost decks, with access to super weenies like Mogg Flunkies, Pouncing Jaguar, and White Knight. But a true finisher -- a creature that sits atop your mana curve waiting to lead the smackdown parade -- those are usually rare and hard to acquire. Sometimes a gem like Hunted Wumpus will filter its way down to the uncommon slot, but infrequently outside of green and very infrequently with some sort of evasion.

Consider these comparisons: For a basic 4/4 blue flier, you must pay five mana for Air Elemental. Add any sort of advantage and the cost climbs to six or more, a la Uyo, Silent Prophet. You can usually get a five-power flier in blue for six mana, such as Mahamoti Djinn; Keiga, the Tide Star; or Quicksilver Dragon. Notice that all of the cards I've mentioned except Air Elemental are rare, and most are hard to find. (As an aside, this highlights two facts: First, that blue beefy fliers are prized possessions. Second, that Air Elemental is your budgetary friend.)


Thought Devourer
Probably the best direct comparison to Chisei, Heart of Oceans is to Thought Devourer. They're both 4/4 blue fliers for with a drawback that can be made less drawback-ish in the right deck. It's probably no surprise, then, that I had a deckbuilding love affair with Thought Devourer when it first came out and that I am brimming with Chisei decklists now.

In recent sets, I think there are two fairly straightforward ways to use those copies of Chisei you picked up from a friend. What you are aiming to do, obviously, is to drop a Chisei, Heart of Oceans onto the table on turn four with counters already on one or more of your permanents. Assuming you can keep the counters coming, you can keep Chisei swinging at an opponent's face and, pretty quickly, end the game.

My first idea with Chisei uses charge counters and +1/+1 counters from the infamous Mirrodin block. Indeed, any blue deck built around Power Conduit can probably also use Chisei, Heart of Oceans. Both Nate Heiss and Mark Gottlieb have discussed Power Conduit near to death, so I won't belabor their ideas here. Suffice it to say, a Chisei artifact deck might look something like...

Steel Oceans

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The second idea is to borrow some of the less artifact-reliant cards from the above deck and use ki counters to fuel Chisei. I like this idea slightly more -- possibly because it's more novel, or possibly because I like Callow Jushi so much -- but I also think there are fewer tools to make it work. Something along the lines of...

Spooky Waters

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Neither of these decks use a single rare other than Chisei, and both can reasonably assume to have counters available for Chisei to eat until you've won. In my games this past week, AEther Vial is definitely my most beloved counter-generator because it can plop Chisei into play as a surprise blocker and get around countermagic in addition to being prime Chisei food. Once Saviors of Kamigawa rolls around, it will be worth seeing if any good new blue Spirit/Arcane or counter-related cards show up to make this strategy a little more viable. That's the other thing about cheap rares -- they often age well and become better with the addition of new sets.

Trying To Twist


Twist Allegiance
The card: Twist Allegiance
Rejected because: It costs way too much to cast.

If you wonder why people have a hard time embracing Twist Allegiance, you need only look back a few sets at Grab the Reins. With the Reins, you can spend seven mana to take an opposing creature and “Fling” it directly at an opponent's face. Even better, for four mana you can choose whether to use the Threaten or Fling mode as your situation dictates, and at Instant speed. In other words, Grab the Reins is flexible and will almost always be useful.

Twist Allegiance, meanwhile, only has a seven-mana Sorcery-speed option. For that seven mana you get access to all of your opponent's creatures, but they also get yours. After the turn is over, everything returns to normal. In other words, Twist Allegiance is more difficult to use well, less flexible, and in many ways more temporary an effect than Grab the Reins. Besides, for seven mana you expect things like Form of the Dragon, Kilnmouth Dragon, or Inferno. A seven-mana card should be devastating and if it doesn't win you the game outright it should get pretty darned close.

You, clever deckbuilder, have other plans for Twist Allegiance, however. You don't see that your deck should use creatures at all, nor do you see why Twist Allegiance and Grab the Reins are mutually exclusive. Indeed, the whole idea of giving an opponent back her creatures once stolen is anathema to you. Seven mana is a hefty price, true, but you've used pricier spells that do less. No, Twist Allegiance has you salivating and muttering bizarre words like “Spawning” and “Pit,” then cackling with glee.

Do The Twist

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Would you lose to a creatureless, or even near-creatureless, opponent? Well, sure. You wouldn't see a single counterspell you would like, either, and you might very well die to a weenie rush before you ever ramp up to seven mana. Still, you know you want to try it, just to see Twist Allegiance resolve once and turn all of your opponent's creatures into Spawn tokens. Because when it works. It's. So. Cool.

Pondering the Patrons


Patron of the Moon
The card: Patron of the Moon
Rejected because: Who plays Moonfolk decks? Oh, and too costly to cast.

Betrayers has supplied us all with an entire cycle of yummy tribal fatties in the Patrons. Generally speaking, none of the Patrons are chase rares from the set, but some -- especially Patron of the Moon, Patron of the Nezumi, and Patron of the Kitsune -- are usually left alone for constructed purposes. The problem with budget decks around Patron of the Kitsune is that two of the best Kitsune -- Eight-and-a-Half-Tails and Sensei Golden-Tail -- are also rare. Patron of the Nezumi has better odds of making it into a fun budget deck, except that Rat's Nest is a potential winner of the next preconstructed experiment so I want to leave it alone. That leaves Patron of the Moon, probably the most maligned of the Patrons.

Why is it maligned? Well, first of all because Moonfolk are not what you would call a powerful tribe. At all. Meloku the Clouded Mirror is obviously faboo and Soratami Cloudskater is a solid quick flier, but after that quality tails off significantly. Making a Moonfolk tribal deck is just plain difficult, at least if you want to win more than one game in 10.

Secondly, there is already a legendary creature that can do pretty much the same thing for a lot less mana in Azusa, Lost But Seeking. Why pay seven mana when you can pay three (especially when you have a beefy flier in the same set for ... zing!). Any deck that truly wants to use Patron of the Moon's ability will be more reliable if it switches over the green and uses Azusa, Lost But Seeking.

Alas, poor Patron of the Moon. I tried the Moonfolk tribal deck and didn't like the results. Those Soratami are too pricey and blue has too little mana acceleration to support them for my tastes. I tried splashing green for mana acceleration, but that just made the exclusion of Azusa all the more apparent.


Riptide Shapeshifter
Then I thought about making an Online Extended Illusions deck, using things like Mistform Dreamer, Mistform Wall, and Mistform Warchief to power out a mid-game Patron. Then I happened upon Riptide Shapeshifter, which was another easy way to put a Patron on the board. Then...then...well, then I started hallucinating. In a good way.

Here is, in my world, a perfect sequence of events:

Clearly, I'm easily amused, but I found this sequence of events happening game after game. The deck became more and more and more fun the longer I played it. Riptide Shapeshifter transformed into a toolbox tutor, grabbing the Patron (Spirit), Meloku (Wizards), or Darksteel Gargoyle (Gargoyle) as needed. I cast ridiculously large Fireballs. I hard-cast Shoreline Raider, then followed it up with Rush of Knowledge. I had Patron of the Moon and Meloku the Clouded Mirror play in the same sandbox. It was glorious, and exactly the kind of experience I look for when making decks around “bad rares.” Even better, it used only one rare in addition to Patron of the Moon.

Mooning You

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This is one of the weirder decks I've made in awhile. It's not "Gottlieb Weird" mind you, but my opponents found it impossible to predict each of my turns. Even better, I managed to avoid making all monocolored decks today, albeit barely.

Fool's Gold: Two Words Of Caution

What sorts of cards did I search out of the Dollar Bin? Two fattie fliers and a game-swinging Sorcery. Again, these are the sorts of cards that are difficult to find in the common and uncommon cardpool, so it's worth stretching your imagination to make them work. Lifegift, Tomorrow, Azami's Familiar, Enshrined Memories...these are cards worth bending to your budgetary will.

This is not to say that all bad rares are good for the budget deckbuilder. In fact, many junk rares will drift to the back of your trade binder with lightning speed whether you happen to be on a budget or not. Here are some examples from Betrayers, by way of illustration:

Caution 1: Budgetary Nemeses

Day of Destiny and Yomiji, Who Bars the Way are both “underappreciated” rares these days, yet neither is something you as a budget deckbuilder want to obtain. If you build a Day of Destiny deck, you are packing your deck full of legendary creatures, and -- you guessed it -- most legendary creatures are rare. Same goes for Yomiji, who has the added difficulty of being incredibly expensive to cast and best coupled with comes-into-play (legendary) creatures. In other words, both cards beg adding more rares to a deck rather than less. They may be cheap cards to obtain on their own, but they are not your budgetary friends.

Contrast these two cards with Shirei, Shizo's Caretaker. Shirei is a great budget-focused card because instead of interacting with legends, it interacts with creatures with low power. Well, it just so happens that a whole army of 1-power (or less) creatures are common or uncommon, so Shirei is a budgetary gem. Think of it as the Salvaging Station of Betrayers. In fact, the only reasons I didn't build a few Shirei decks are that I ran out of time and already focused on him (admittedly with a non-budget deck).

Caution 2: Narrow Is As Narrow Does

Reduce to Dreams and Hero's Demise aren't bad cards, per se. I'm not even suggesting that you avoid nabbing a few if you see a good deal. They are not, however, the sorts of cards you want to showcase in decks or build decks around because they are too narrow in function.

Consider Hero's Demise, and let's assume for a moment that you could magically transform your opponent's creatures into legendary creatures through some odd three-card combo. Guess what? You've just done an incredible amount of deck gymnastics to get a reliable Terror that can be used exactly once. Reduce to Dreams is a little more compelling simply because of the existence of cards like Mycosynth Lattice and Myr Landshaper, but again I'm not sure it's worth the effort.

The bottom line is that some cards are meant as sideboard cards or to keep other deck types in check. You should wrack your brain for hours to ensure that a card is too narrow for you to use, because goodness knows I wouldn't want to stifle your creativity. In the end, though, you should only really start collecting Hero's Demise to combat your annoying rich friend and his Day of Destiny deck.

Don't Worry. Be Happy.

So ends a quick look at junk rares in Betrayers of Kamigawa. Today has been, as I said, one part House of Cards and one part Card Evaluation 101. Remember, though, that this column is about budget deckbuilding in its broadest sense, so you should expect these “interludes” to run the gamut in terms of topics.

Sometimes, like today, I'll let loose my inner Johnny or Timmy, Power Gamer. I'll just as often discuss basic deckbuilding principles, lists of power commons, and trading. These articles will often follow the theme weeks more closely than my preconstructed thingies. For example, if I wasn't so eager to do a “bad rare” article, I would have easily found material on the topic of budget discard decks. Ah, well...perhaps another time.

If you have topics you think I should cover during these interludes, pipe up on the Message Boards or send me an e-mail. I like to think I'm pretty responsive to the feedback you all send me.

Club Ninja

Last week I asked for a simple, catchy name for my Ninja deck and you all flooded me with options. Here are my favorites from the suggestions (drum roll):

8) Secret Ways (Ibanez_bw)
7) Hello? What? Ninjas!? Commons!? (Mr Dark Avocado)
6) Budget No Jutsu (LordMongoose)
5) The Bouncing Blade (Landman)
4) Blueblood (The_Zed)
3) Ninjaytsu (Oporaca)
2) Roosevelt (SetzerRori)

My favorite of the bunch was “Club Ninjutsu” by DoubleNegative. The more I said it aloud, though, the more I liked simply “Club Ninja.” It's my deck, I suppose, so...

Club Ninja

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Oh, hey! That reminds me! I'm not revealing which preconstructed deck we'll start evolving next week (though I know... muhahaha), but I will unveil the format. We're heading back into Standard, baby. Now Club Ninja will have a girlfriend, er... or something. I can't wait!

Poll 2: For which format will Jay be building his deck?
Standard 3933 58.1%
KBC 2840 41.9%
Total 6773 100.0%

Until then,


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