Madbent! (Part 1 of 2)

Posted in Building on a Budget on June 11, 2007

By Ben Bleiweiss

  • Building on a Budget is dedicated to making decks that cost 30 tickets or less on Magic Online. Weekly deck testing is done using Magic Online.
  • This week's format? Standard. This includes Ninth Edition, Ravnica, Guildpact, Dissension, Coldsnap, Time Spiral, Planar Chaos, and Future Sight.
  • Playtesting will resume for next week's article!
Hello everyone, and welcome back to Building on a Budget! In this week's article, I'm going to take the lessons of some decks from the past, a couple from the present, and grind them into a deck for the future—namely next week's column. I present for you— the evolution of Madbent!

Let's rewind a couple of weeks. I wrote an article entitled Little Big Black, which centered around budgetizing a deck that Mark Rosewater had used to gunsling (played for fun against attendees) at a major event.

Mark Rosewater Black

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Unfortunately, the deck broke way past the 30-ticket budget for this column. After some wrangling and wheeling (which you can read about in that column!), I took out the Phyrexian Arenas and Snow-Covered Swamps, tested for a while, and ended up with this build:

Little Big Black

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In the forums of that very article, Latest Developments writer and Magic R&D director Aaron Forsythe had this to say:

"Having made the original deck for MaRo, I can say with authority that the Soul Spikes were only in there because of the 'guaranteed' extra cards the Phyrexian Arenas gave the deck—they were even better than Dark Confidant because the Bobs die too often.

Not sure the Spikes are right in a deck with no card draw. I'd try to generate some advantage with Garza's Assassin, or maybe lots of discard like Ravenous Rats. Of course at that point you're probably better off trying to budgetize the mono-black weenie decks built around The Rack."

Aaron then linked to this deck, as provided by Frank Karsten:

Naoko Sato's Monoblack The Rack Discard

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Naoto Sato definitely has a good-looking discard deck, but it doesn't fit into a budget mold either. I went into the seller's room of Magic Online, and looked up the prices of the Uncommons and Rares in this deck:

Main Deck:
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth: 4 Tickets
Stromgald Crusader: 0.5 Tickets
Dark Confidant: 5 Tickets
Garza's Assassin: 1 Ticket
The Rack: 2 Tickets
Smallpox: 0.25 Tickets
Funeral Charm: 0.5 Tickets
Cruel Edict: 0.5 Tickets

Main Deck Cost: 39.5 Tickets (Plus Bulk)

Blackmail: 0.1 Tickets
Withered Wretch: 0.5 Tickets
Garza's Assassin: 1 Ticket
Stromgald Crusader: 0.5 Tickets
Cruel Edict: 0.5 Tickets
Underworld Dreams: 1 Ticket

Sideboard Cost: 8.8 Tickets

Total Deck cost: 48.3 Tickets

If we took out the Dark Confidants entirely, this would put the entire deck (including sideboard) into budget range. There is a similar problem here to the one I found when adapting the Rosewater Black deck. Taking out Dark Confidant / Phyrexian Arena neuters one of the greatest strengths of both of these decks—card advantage.

Dark Confidant and Phyrexian ArenaBoth Dark Confidant and Phyrexian Arena are one-sided Howling Mines. Everyone loves Howling Mine—except that Howling Mine is strictly card disadvantage. It's all simple math. When you play a Howling Mine, you are down a card (the Howling Mine itself). Playing a Howling Mine in-and-of itself does nothing—you are putting out an artifact that will have no effect on your position until the following turn! This gets worse when your opponent draws for their turn. Suddenly, they are up a card from where they would have been otherwise. Even if they destroy the Howling Mine at that point, you are still down a card.

Best Case Scenario:
Your Turn: You play Howling Mine. (-1 Card Advantage)
Your Opponent's Turn: They draw their regular card, plus the Howling Mine card (-2 Card Advantage)
Your Turn: You draw your regular card, plus a Howling Mine card (-1 Card Advantage)

Worst Case Scenario:
Your Turn: You play Howling Mine. (-1 Card Advantage)
Your Opponent's Turn: They draw their regular card, plus the Howling Mine card (-2 Card Advantage). They then use a Naturalize to kill your Howling Mine (-1 Card Advantage—their extra card drawn takes out your Howling Mine).

In the worst-case scenario, that Howling Mine could have been any other card, and it would have given you more benefit – a land, a sorcery, anything. The net result, as a Howling Mine, is that you have played a card that benefited only your opponent (they drew an extra card first) and that extra card killed your Howling Mine, leaving them where they would have otherwise have been (one card drawn that turn) and you down a card (the Howling Mine that did nothing).

Phyrexian Arena and Dark Confidant are so powerful because they break this symmetry. Both only benefit their controller (in this case you), so there is no risk of card disadvantage by playing them.

Best Case Scenario:
Your Turn: You play Phyrexian Arena (-1 Card Advantage)
Your Next Turn: You draw your regular card, plus your Arena card (+0 Card Advantage)
Your Next Turn: You draw your regular card, plus your Arena card (+1 Card Advantage)
Your Next Turn: You draw your regular card, plus your Arena card (+2 Card Advantage)

In this case, you break even on the Arena the first turn after you play it, since the extra card you draw replaces the Arena itself. This is similar for Dark Confidant, except that Dark Confidant can also swing for 2 damage.

Worst Case Scenario:
Your Turn: You play Phyrexian Arena (-1 Card Advantage)
Your Opponent's Turn: They DisenchantPhyrexian Arena (+0 Card Advantage)

In the worst-case scenario, your opponent has traded one card (Disenchant) for one card (Phyrexian Arena) leaving this as a null-sum equation. This is different than the Howling Mine example, because in that case you gave them an extra card in the process of having your card-drawing engine killed. In the Phyrexian Arena example, the card you drew (one card: Phyrexian Arena) was killed by the one card they drew (one card: Disenchant).

Garza's Assassin
While the Rosewater Black deck tries to overwhelm the opponent by sheer volume of quick threats, the Sato discard deck wins through card advantage. Garza's Assassin can be brought back multiple times, so it is one card that can deal with many. Call to the Netherworld helps turn Smallpox into a winning proposition. If you have a board of only lands, you can kill an opponent's creature, land, and card in hand in exchange for a land, and Call to the Netherworld bringing back a previously-killed creature (three for two advantage—you end up with a creature in your hand, and a Smallpox and land in your graveyard, with your opponent ending up with a land, creature and card-from-hand in the graveyard. Your Call to the Netherworld is a wash with the creature that is now in your hand).

It's the interaction of Call to the Netherworld with self-discard effects that most piques my interest about this deck. I experimented with a black-red madness deck during my 10 Decks in 10 Weeks experiment.

BR Madness

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One huge problem I found with the black-red madness deck was that of inconsistent mana draws. The deck has double-black and double-red mana costs all over the place, including several color-specific activation costs on permanents (Phyrexian Totem, Jaya Ballard), upkeep costs (Stingscourger) and the practical impossibility of playing Smallpox back-to-back with Jaya Ballard and/or Haakon.

The easiest way to fix these sorts of mana issues are with lands. If you have lands that produce several colors of mana, then you will be able to play your spells with more ease. Unfortunately, these sorts of lands are usually rare, and usually cost a pretty penny. Here's the costs I found on black-red lands:

Sulfurous Springs: 3 Tickets Each
Blood Crypt: 10 Tickets Each
Gemstone Mine: 3 Tickets Each
Graven Cairns: 5 Tickets Each
Molten Slagheap: 0.25 Tickets Each
Tresserhorn Sinks: 0.25 Tickets Each
Terramorphic Expanse: 0.1 Tickets Each

Blood Crypt is entirely out of the realm of budget pricing—just three of them would total the cost of our entire budget! Likewise, Graven Cairns isn't really affordable right now. For the cost of 5 tickets each, I'd rather find a way to shoehorn Dark Confidant or Phyrexian Arena (4 tickets) into a deck. They would have a much greater impact on winning than fixing just four lands out of the deck.

The good news about the black-red madness build I had during 10 Decks in 10 Weeks is that it is a very low-cost deck as-is. Red Akroma runs for only two tickets right now online, Jaya Ballard is a single ticket, and Haakon costs 2.5 tickets each. Right now the deck costs 20 tickets, and several of the rares (the Akroma, Haakon, and Null Profusion) could be yanked if we wanted to make the deck look more discard-centric. Taking those out in favor of four Phyrexian Arena would leave us at +4.5 tickets (16 for the Arenas minus 11.5 for the other rares), which is still at a comfortable 24.5 ticket budget.

However, is this the best way to go with this deck? I've had a (some would say unhealthy) obsession with getting a black-red hellbent deck to work. My latest attempt came with my Back to the Rak deck a few weeks back.

Back to the Rak FNM

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That's a lot of black and black-red decks—but what does it all mean? Let's look at the strengths and weaknesses of each deck.

Rosewater Black
Strengths: Very fast kill. Resilient to removal due to Nether Traitor. Card advantage from Phyrexian Arena.
Weaknesses: Not budget. Can't deal with non-creature permanents. Can't force discard.

Little Big Black
Strengths: Fast kill. Resilient to removal due to Nether Traitor.
Weaknesses: Can stall out if it doesn't kill quickly. Can't deal with noncreature permanents. Can't force discard.

Naoto Sato Discard
Strengths: Very fast kill. Forces cards out of opponent's hand. Card advantage from Dark Confidant.
Weaknesses: Not budget. Discard is useless once opponent gets into topdeck mode—though the presence of The Rack helps mitigate this. Can't deal with non-creature permanents.

Black-Red Madness
Strengths: Lots of creature kill. Madness mitigates the disadvantage of mutual or self-discard effects.
Weaknesses: Horrible mana base. Slow. Can't deal with non-creature permanents.

Back to the Rak
Strengths: Fast kill. Lots of creature kill. Card advantage through Bottled Cloister.
Weaknesses: Bottled Cloister has a much bigger drawback than Phyrexian Arena or Dark Confidant—if it dies, you lose your hand! Can't deal with non-creature permanents.

Let's face it—black and red decks can't easily deal with enchantments. There aren't a lot of great artifact-kill spells that you'd want to maindeck in those colors. There could be a space for land destruction if warranted (Stone Rain, Demolish and Wrecking Ball spring to mind), but four of these five decks have something in common—they are looking to be the offensive deck. Yes, black-red madness was a defensive deck, but the other four come out of the gates swinging, and hope to keep the opponent on the ropes the entire time.

Gathan Raiders
Future Sight added quite a few interesting madness and hellbent cards to the mix. On the madness end, you get Grave Scrabbler and Ichor Slick. On the hellbent end, you get Cutthroat il-Dal, Gathan Raiders, and Keldon Megaliths. You also get Gibbering Descent, which has both madness and hellbent! Of these cards, two have already started seeing tournament play in both MSS events and Regionals testing—Gathan Raiders and Keldon Megaliths.

If we're to take the strengths and weaknesses of these five decks and combine them into one post-Future Sight concoction, we need to examine what we want out of the deck. This begs the following questions:

  1. Does this deck want to be offensive or defensive?
  2. Does this deck want to be mono-black, mono-red or black-red?
  3. What kill condition / mechanics do we want to focus on using?
  4. Assuming we want to maximize our budget, where are our tickets best spent?

Question #1: Does this deck want to be offensive or defensive?

Answer: Offensive. As stated, four of the five decks did well in testing, and all four of those decks were the offensive black or black-red decks. Black and red decks can be built that play the long game, but we're looking to keep things short and sweet. Both hellbent and madness reward this style of play—hellbent by encouraging playing all of your cards out of hand as fast as possible, and madness by encouraging you to discard cards out of your hand on purpose.

Question #2: Does this deck want to be mono-black, mono-red, or black-red?

Answer: I believe we want this to be a black-red build. I'm satisfied with Little Big Black as a mono-black weenie deck, and the Sato deck can easily be adjusted to lose Confidants in favor of either more discard, Bottled Cloisters, or some other budget card-drawing solution to make it instantly fall into budget range. Black and red have a lot of synergy, and so I want to take advantage of the colors together.

Question #3: What kill condition / mechanics do we want to focus on using?

Answer: The sky is the limit on this one. The two most obvious mechanics are hellbent and madness, and the two work together. If you want your deck to focus on discarding cards on purpose, this can both enable madness, and empty your hand quickly for hellbent. The two are not mutually exclusive—madness happens on the way to becoming hellbent.

Question #4: Assuming we want to maximize our budget, where are our tickets best spent?

Answer: Ah, now that's the million dollar question! With all the problems with budgeting in dual lands, Phyrexian Arena and Dark Confidant, can we make a black-red deck that doesn't run into major budgetary constraints that combines both madness and hellbent? Do we even want something like Phyrexian Arena in a deck that also contains hellbent cards?

The answer to the last question is "Yes." If the deck contains multiple discard outlets, it doesn't matter if we're drawing multiple cards a turn—we will find a way to get rid of those cards if we need to enable hellbent. So for the first time, let's start this sucker up with four copies of Phyrexian Arena. Feel the power! There go 16 tickets of our 30 ticket budget!

In: 4 Phyrexian Arena

Now there are a number of good madness cards out there right now, and the best of them in Standard are Fiery Temper (4 for a ticket), Reckless Wurm (4 for a ticket), and Call to the Netherworld. Let's add in copies of each of these to the deck.

In: 4 Fiery Temper, 3 Reckless Wurm, 3 Call to the Netherworld

In order to make sure that mana isn't too big of an issue for this deck, we're going to focus on the majority of the deck being Black, with Red as the splash. If all goes according to plan, both Fiery Temper and Reckless Wurm will only cost a single red to play (madness), so they are an easy splash.

Gathan Raiders have been making a splash as well—they are a great madness enabler, plus they can quickly pump from 3/3 to 5/5 in the mid-game. With madness to mitigate their morph / discard effect, they are a 3/3 for three that can have an advantage! As a morph, they might as well be colorless—I can play them regardless of which lands I have in play.

In: 4 Gathan Raiders

This deck will have a powerful punch to throw out there starting on turn three, but it won't be a great beatdown before then. Because of this, Smallpox is still an ideal choice for the deck—it can kill early creatures, enable madness and hellbent, and garner card advantage through madness. Phyrexian Totem also works well with hellbent and Smallpox—it can dodge this particular removal spell, and it is a threat that you can play to the board early and enable later.

In: 3 Phyrexian Totem, 3 Smallpox

Deepcavern Imp
There's another creature along the lines of Gathan Raiders that saw print in Future Sight: Deepcavern Imp! This is the black version of Skyknight Legionnaire, which was a fine, playable card. As with the Raiders, the drawback of "discard a card" can easily be turned into card advantage with madness and hellbent.

In: 4 Deepcavern Imp

As additional early offense, Mindlash Sliver is a fine choice for the deck. It can cause discard at instant-speed, plus it helps to enable hellbent and madness. Rakdos Guildmage acts as both creature removal and discard, so it has a place in the deck as well. It won't usually enable madness, but it will help with hellbent.

In: 4 Mindlash Sliver, 4 Rakdos Guildmage

This brings us up to 36 cards and 20 tickets in budget. As for lands, we can easily shoehorn four copies of Tresserhorn Sinks into this deck—we don't need mana usually until turn two, so the comes-into-play tapped effect on the Sinks isn't too bad.

One of the best reasons to play for hellbent is Keldon Megaliths, the newest Prodigal Sorcerer variant—except as a land! Three Megaliths seems about right for the deck, since we are more black-than-red heavy, and the Megaliths are another land that comes into play tapped.

Keldon Megaliths
As for the rest of the deck, I added ten Swamps and seven Mountains as the initial mana base.

In: 3 Keldon Megaliths, 10 Swamp, 7 Mountain

This leaves us at 60 cards main-deck, and a budget of 21.5 tickets. Since this is going to be tested in the tournament practice room, we still need to build a 15-card sideboard.

Blood Moon still only costs 1 ticket each, and it is a great hoser in this dual-land filled world of color-fixing. They are a four-of for this deck. Weenie-hoser favorite Pyroclasm is an additional four-of, for a total of six tickets in sideboard budget with seven cards left to go:

Sideboard in: 4 Blood Moon, 4 Pyroclasm

Dealing with the graveyard is important, especially since a lot of people are going to be running dredge decks that are centered around Bridge from Below. Yixlid Jailer (0.5 tickets each) will hose these decks, leaving us at 29.5 tickets, with three sideboard slots left. For the last three slots, I'll add in triple Shadow Guildmage, to help deal with weenie decks (these are commons out of Mirage).

Sideboard In: 4 Yixlid Jailer, 3 Shadow Guildmage


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Tune in next week as I take MadBent! for a whirl in the tournament practice room, make changes to the deck, and answer the age-old question: how many mechanics is too many mechanics? Until then, see you next week!

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