If you have been following along for the past two weeks, you know that I decided to hang my hopes on Emperor Crocodile, thus turning my deck into a dedicated Green/White beatdown deck. After several iterations, I left off here:
Once again, you all bombarded the Message Boards and my e-mail Inbox with suggestions on new cards to add to the deck and which cards to remove. Also once again, most of your suggestions were very insightful and influenced my thinking. In fact, if you read the Message Boards closely last week, I don't think any changes I make today will come as much of a surprise.
Something I need to occasionally remind folks is that unless otherwise stated, all of my decks are for the Standard format. Right now, that means the cards available to me are from Champions of Kamigawa, Betrayers of Kamigawa, Saviors of Kamigawa, Ninth Edition, and Ravnica: City of Guilds. That's it. If you're wondering why I generally stick to Standard, there are two reasons: First, it's a format that is very accessible to newer players, and second, it happens to be my favorite format because of how dynamic it is. Anyway, I found that a lot of people were suggesting cards like Armadillo Cloak, Noble Panther, and Overrun... all terrific cards for my deck, to be sure, but sadly not Standard legal.
Speaking of Standard, let's peek into the Casual Decks room of Magic Online to see how my aggressive token deck is faring...
Game 21: Black/Green Rat-Control
Game 22: Blue/Green Aggro-Control
He came at me with two Llanowar Elves, while I had Selesnya Guildmage and Scion of the Wild. He made a Rootwalla to block my 2/2 Scion, but during combat I played Scatter the Seeds to eat his Lizard. My opponent tried two more threats--Air Elemental and Phantom Warrior--while Boomeranging and Time Ebbing my Scion. I tapped down his Elemental with Sandsower, killed his Warrior with a pumped token, and cruised in for the win.
Game 23: White/Red Boros
I played Llanowar Elves, he played Lantern Kami. I played Selesnya Guildmage, he played Boros Guildmage. Woo hoo! A good old-fashioned guild fight! I then played an Emperor Crocodile, another Elves, and Fists of Ironwood on my Croc. When my opponent tried to Shock my Guildmage, I pumped my team with its ability. The next turn another Shock finally tagged my Guildmage, but by then I had pretty much trampled his forces and won.
Game 24: Black/Red Aggro
Game 25: Blue/Black Dimir Aggro-Control
He dropped a Teardrop Kami and Dimir Guildmage to my Selesnya Guildmage with Fists of Ironwood on it. I attacked with threat of Guildmage pumping, then made a token to kill his Kami on the counter-attack. I tried an Emperor Crocodile, which saw Mana Leak, then tried Tolsimir Wolfblood. He had a Perplex for Tolsimir, but I was happy to discard my Siege Wurm and second Guildmage for it. My opponent tried a Ravenous Rats as a blocker, but the added muscle from Tolsimir and my Guildmage were way too much for his two blockers.
That's five pretty dominant victories. I should point out that I played several non-logged games late last week and lost several of them, and those games as much as these are helping to shape my thinking about gaps in the deck. Still, the deck is coming along and taking on the “Hulk Smash!” personality I had hoped it would.
Jitte Must Die
As I said, I played some non-logged games last week after I submitted the article. Many of my games looked like those above. I also lost two games to Umezawa's Jitte, another to Plague Boiler, and still another to a Honden deck with Wrath of God. A Wrath deck is going to be tough for me no matter what, but I can do something about the Jitte-Boiler weakness.
OUT: 1 Tolsimir Wolfblood
Several people on the Message Boards last week noted that I never mentioned Tolsimir Wolfblood. Partly that's because I almost never drew it, and partly that's because the few times I have drawn it I've either a) been unable to get six mana to cast it, or b) won before I needed to cast it. Game 25 is, I think, the first time Tolsimir has played a significant role in any of my games. I still think it's a cool card, but it's more of a midrange card and my deck is definitely trying to maximize its aggression. The hope is that by the time I could cast Tolsimir Wolfblood, the game is already well in hand if not completely over.
IN: 1 Scion of the Wild
As folks noted on the Boards last week, my deck is particularly sensitive to Pyroclasm and Hideous Laughter now. As sensitive as it is to Wrath, in fact. A Pyroclasm, for example, will often be able to wipe out my tokens, then Scion of the Wild, then Emperor Crocodile all for two measly mana. I'm thankful for Watchwolf, and also for Selesnya Guildmage's pumping ability, but these feel like pretty dicey solutions. I guess I'll have to keep an eye out for how prevalent these cards are and how much of an auto-loss they are for me.
OUT: 2 Conclave Phalanx
I don't have a lot of bad things to say about Conclave Phalanx. I'd like to dismiss the lifegain, but it has helped me stay in games when I might otherwise have died. I'd also like to dismiss its stats, but 2/4 has proved to be a good blocker. No, the only reason to drop Conclave Phalanx is that it doesn't fall directly in line with my chosen strategy of beatdown. Aggressive decks need to be focused on killing an opponent as quickly as possible, and the Phalanx doesn't help kill an opponent so much as it helps keep me alive. Conclave Phalanx still has a place in a lot of Selesnya deck strategies (great with Flickerform, great with Soul Warden, paves the way for a Rune-Tail, Kitsune Ascendent deck, etc.), but it's not right for my deck.
OUT: 2 Nullmage Shepherd
IN: 4 Viridian Shaman
I prefer the fourth option, Viridian Shaman. The disadvantages are that it can only hit artifacts and can't attack them at instant speed. The advantages far outweigh these problems, though. What I care about right now is Umezawa's Jitte and Plague Boiler, and the Shaman kills them fine. Viridian Shaman doesn't have an activation cost for it to do its job, and it's an aggressive creature that doesn't slow down my attack. Finally, as with Scion of the Wild I now have something filling the three-mana slot in my deck. I still think I need an answer for enchantments in the sideboard, but for maindeck hate I choose Viridian Shaman.
Cleaning Up (A Last Bath)
I'm almost to a decklist I really like. I think one more round of games and I'll be there. The guidelines say no more changes, though, until I play another round of games...
Game 26: Black/Green Golgari
I think his deck might have been an aggro version, but I didn't see a lot of it. He started with Golgari Guildmage, Infectious Host, and Elves of Deep Shadow. Believe it or not, that's all he was able to cast before he died. I had a second-turn Watchwolf, third-turn Scion of the Wild, fourth-turn Fists of Ironwood on my Scion plus Selesnya Guildmage. On Turn 5, my attack sent him to negative seven life.
Game 27: Monoblack Rats
Darn you, Royal Assassin! For the second time in two weeks, that little dude completely wrecked my game. My opponent got out Ravenous Rats, Nighteyes the Desecrator, Nezumi Graverobber, Stabwhisker the Odious, and Nezumi Shortfang while I had out Llanowar Elves, Sandsower, Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree, a 10/10 Scion of the Wild, and a mess of tokens. The kicker was a Royal Assassin, though, that prevented my attacking with Scion and crippled my ability to tap things with Sandsower. A second Assassin showed up, making my heart sink a little lower. I kept thinking that if only I would draw Fists of Ironwood or Overwhelm, I could tap his Assassins at the end of his turn and likely win in one mighty swing. Instead, he drew Diabolic Tutor for Marrow-Gnawer and that was game.
Game 28: Monored Burn
Game 29: Red/White Boros Aggro
His deck was aggressive, and scary. He started out with a Genju of the Spires and Boros Guildmage (a nasty combo, to be sure), while I had Selesnya Guildmage with Fists of Ironwood on it. My opponent killed the Guildmage with burn, then played another Guildmage and another Genju. I had Emperor Crocodile, then convoked out two Siege Wurms. A Watchwolf died to Lightning Helix and we stared at each other for several turns, each imploring our deck to offer up an answer to break the stalemate. I got impatient and at the end of his turn made a Vitu-Ghazi token, then played Scatter the Seeds. My hope was to draw another Guildmage, or Scion of the Wild, or Overwhelm. I drew none of the above, but went on the attack anyway. He blocked my Crocodile with a Genju, his two Guildmages blocked tokens and an Isamaru, Hound of Konda blocked a Siege Wurm to take him down to three life. Another Lightning Helix killed my Wurm to bring him back up to six. I was worried about the counterattack, so I played out my hand of Llanowar Elves and two Viridian Shaman. So of course my opponent played Umezawa's Jitte (aargh!), then equipped and attacked with a Guildmage. I took it down to twelve, then he equipped his untapped Guildmage with the legendary fork. I drew an Emperor Crocodile, swung again with everything, and my opponent dropped to negative two life despite two the Jitte counters. Whew!
Game 30: White/Blue Control
Ah, a weakness exposed. The game started out beautifully, with me getting a Selesnya Guildmage to his Kami of Ancient Law, then killing his Manriki-Gusari with Viridian Shaman. I convoked out a Siege Wurm, got ready to play an Emperor Crocodile and smash face.
Ouch. I got in one more big swing to take him down to single digits, privately hoping he would block something big with his Angel. It didn't happen, and I got into a lock, backed up by an Icy Manipulator. I conceded after four turns, but I shouldn't have since there was a possibility I could have drawn one of my two Sandsowers for the victory. Dang me and my beatdown impatience.
So, what holes feel like they still exist for this deck?
I need an answer for fliers, either maindeck or in the sideboard.
I need an answer for enchantments, either maindeck or in the sideboard.
I need either more Overwhelms or another way to break stalemates.
Let's see if I can address any of these with my last round of changes, then focus on my sideboard...
OUT: 1 Overwhelm
For me, the decision was whether to increase the number of Overwhelms or to find something new. Although people on the Boards have bad-mouthed Overwhelm, those people I think aren't reading my game logs. On the few occasions when I've managed to draw my lone copy, it has absolutely been a game-finisher. Yes, it looks bizarre, because in order to cast it I often have to tap creatures who now can't attack. In reality, though, I usually only have to tap two or three 1/1 creatures in order to send over thirty or more points of offense. So why am I dropping it when it's been so useful? Mostly because I think there is another card that works just as well as a game-finisher yet also manages to keep me alive versus Pyroclasm.
IN: 3 Bathe in Light
OUT: 2 Sandsower
Unfortunately, a single copy of Bathe in Light doesn't make any sense so I need to drop something else from my deck in order to make room for the second and third copies. As much as it makes me sick to do so, Sandsower is the only truly obvious candidate right now. Its tapping ability is antithetical to what my deck is trying to do, and the fact that it's so much worse than Glare of Subdual bugs me. Yes, it could have saved me from Blinding Angel, something Bathe in Light could never do. Strategically, though, Sandsower is a card begging the game to go long because it gives me an advantage in drawn-out affairs. My new beatdown deck doesn't want long, drawn-out games, and I'm willing to weaken the deck in the long games in order to help ensure my games are shorter. The gamble of aggressive decks is that they put all of their energy into the short sprint knowing that if faced with a marathon they will lose.
Here, then, is the deck I'm willing to call my final version. For those who are longtime readers of this column, you will recognize the creepy pattern of version 1.6 becoming my final decklist.
As always, I played this deck a fair amount once I hit what I considered to be a final decklist. In those games, I went 19-5-1 (the draw was versus geo_shark's White Weenie deck, in which he used Shining Shoal on my lethal attack to kill us both simultaneously... very fun game). Take these results with a grain of salt, since the Casual Decks room is a very mixed bag. To give you an idea: At one point I played six Selesnya token decks in a row. Still, I think most people agreed that the deck can be explosive-fast and seriously punishes an opponent's bad draw. It's one of those decks that can get “Oops... I win!” hands against any deck, and Bathe in Light has been superb at guarding against lots of Black and Red removal as well as providing alpha-strike capability. All in all, I'm quite pleased.
If I still wanted to tinker with the deck, I might try dropping a Vitu-Ghazi, the City Tree (with others in the sideboard) for a Plains and dropping one Siege Wurm for another Scion of the Wild. That's tinkering, though. The deck does just fine as-is and is a good base from which to start if you want to mess around with it on your own.
It's time to dub the deck since it no longer feels much like “Selesnya United.” If you have an idea for the deck's name, post it on the Message Boards and I'll officially christen it next week. Remember that I tend to like short and catchy names that highlight what the deck is all about. That said, let your imagination wander free.
Speculative Sideboard Time!
Now that I have the maindeck nailed down, it's time to look at what sort of sideboard I would put together. True, my decks aren't meant for competition, but I think most of my final decklists would make for a fun Friday Night Magic or a home-brewed tournament with friends. As such, it's fun for me to think about what sort of sideboard I would put together if I were taking the deck to a FNM. Keep in mind that this section is a thought experiment with no testing behind it.
Sideboard: 4 Matsu-Tribe Sniper
Sideboard: 4 Seed Spark
I went back and forth between this and Tempest of Light. I finally decided on Seed Spark because it might be nice to have additional artifact hate in my sideboard as well as an answer to enchantments like Honden, Ghostly Prison, Faith's Fetters, and the like. I still think Seed Spark is a tad slow for my deck, but the addition of two creatures to a beatdown deck is beautiful.
Sideboard: 3 Devouring Light
Although my deck is meant to be focused on offense, there are some creatures--Stinkweed Imp, Blinding Angel, and Kokusho, the Evening Star come to mind--that would really slow me down. Devouring Light not only takes care of unwanted attackers and blockers, it also keeps them from hitting the graveyard. This is important against reanimator decks or decks based on the dredge mechanic, too, and oddly easier to cast (thanks to Watchwolf and Selesnya Guildmage) than Samurai of the Pale Curtain. Another potential option here is Faith's Fetters, which is also an answer to Royal Assassin, Umezawa's Jitte, etc. I like the permanence of Devouring Light, though.
Sideboard: 2 Vitu-Ghazi, the City Tree
These last two slots might be the wrong call. I figure that against decks with board sweepers like Wrath of God or Final Judgment a key to victory will be Vitu-Ghazi. I suppose in a pinch I could also add these versus land destruction decks. Maybe Otherworldly Journey would be a better answer to Wrath, which is certainly another consideration for this slot.
Sideboard: 2 Ivy Dancer
Recall that I faced a ton of token-based decks in a row. I also know that two of the four guilds in Ravnica use Green, a color that was already dominant before Ravnica came along to boost it. Ivy Dancer seems sort of dumb, but I can imagine it hooking up with Scion of the Wild, Emperor Crocodile, or Siege Wurm to end a stalemate or to simply get past annoying blockers like Traproot Kami. I'm willing to admit that these two cards could be something else, such as a fourth Devouring Light and Bathe in Light.
That's where I would start, though again I haven't put nearly the thought into my sideboard as my maindeck. Sideboards tend to be at least as much about what to take out in certain matchups as what to add, something that could seriously alter my thinking above. Still, it's a starting place. If you have other ideas, feel free to post them on the Boards.
Adding Money To The Deck
I'm keeping this section relatively brief for two reasons. First, there are just way too many options for cards you may want to add to my deck if your budget isn't tight. Second, I'll be addressing many of these cards again in next week's article. Consider the below options as a sampler platter of ways to beef up a Selesnya beatdown deck like mine. Keep in mind that my focus is on a beatdown deck, though, not Green/White decks in general.
Sometimes in playing my deck I wistfully dream of dropping eight Plains for four each of Temple Garden and Brushland. In case you missed it, I have a fair amount of passion on the topic of good multi-color lands and consider them essential in the new Standard. Thus if you were to add one rare to the deck, I think the single best option is the color-fixing goodness of either Temple Garden or Brushland (with Temple Garden getting preference if you could only choose one). Without them, you have to constantly decide how many gold cards are too many in the deck and agonize over mulliganing a hand of Llanowar Elves, Watchwolf, Scion of the Wild, Fists of Ironwood, and two Plains. I still say that if you like Green/White, your wisest investment is in these lands.
As much as I hate it, if your deck is relying on creature-based combat damage to win then you should probably be using Umezawa's Jitte. Imagine a trampling 5/5 Crocodile wielding a Jitte, surrounded by token buddies, and let your mind wander free.
Contrary to popular belief, I don't think of Glare of Subdual as appropriate solely for control decks. For example (assuming the deck has good multilands), I could see replacing Bathe in Light with three copies of Glare and keeping the deck highly aggressive. Glare of Subdual is one of those cards that I think will rise in popularity as people use it and realize how good it is. I think it's probably better in a more midrange or aggro-control deck, but honestly it fits into a wide spectrum of strategies.
The advantage of Birds of Paradise over Llanowar Elves is that it can produce White mana and flies. The disadvantage is that it can't attack for one damage. One way around this is to include something like Moldervine Cloak or Glorious Anthem. Without those creature-pumpers, I think there's a debate as to the relative merits of Birds versus Elves. With those creature-pumpers, Birds of Paradise wins hands down.
Other Rare Critters
I'll use this final category as a catch-all for the juicy, beefy creatures you may want to add to a Green/White beatdown deck. Emperor Crocodile could easily become Iwamori of the Open Fist, Kodama of the North Tree, Yosei, the Morning Star, or Arashi, the Sky Asunder. Vinelasher Kudzu could easily replace one of the two-mana creatures and pave the way for Sakura-Tribe Elder's inclusion (who can believe I made a two-color Green deck without the Elder? Not me). I also think you could make a case for Isao, Enlightened Bushi and/or Masako the Humorless in my deck. If you own any of these creatures, feel free to try them out to see what you think.
What?! No “Paths Not Taken”?
Another title for this section could be “Don't You Think This Article Is Long Enough Already?” As you all know, my first week in this experiment was a bit truncated as I waited for Ravnica to be released online. In addition, I am nigh overwhelmed by the possible directions in which I could take this deck. One strategy would be to limit today's discussion to Paths Not Taken for a Green/White beatdown deck, which would include a Monogreen look, a more balanced Green/White look, various flavors of heavy White decks, and possibly Green/Red. Most of these options have been covered by the Boards posters, though. Instead, I would rather look at the broad umbrella of decks that fit into the category “Selesnya Conclave,” a discussion I'm going to save until next week. For those who love the Paths Not Taken section of these series, next week should be a particular treat.
Yes, I'm just full of surprises today. Normally I would wait until next week's Interlude for a poll to kick off the next deck evolution. The next deck is going to involve a two-part poll, though, so I need to start today. I've decided that instead of beginning with another preconstructed deck as a base, my last deck evolution of 2005 will involve a “budget rare” similar to what I did with Blood Clock.
First things first:
Next week I'll supply some options for deck centerpieces and we'll go from there. I can't wait!
Think hard and have fun,