A Deck for doctorjay

Posted in Feature on January 30, 2003

By Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar

Back in mid-December, I started the process of building my next Magic Online Standard deck. I brainstormed a list of 100 cards—4 of each color in Seventh Edition, Odyssey, Torment, Judgment, and Onslaught—and asked you to vote for which card you would like to see as the centerpiece of my new deck. Over the last three weeks, I have slowly (dang you, Legions previews!) unveiled vote-getters 100 through 4. Here are the top 3:

In third place, with 517 votes, was Scalpelexis. Apparently the lure of running an opponent out of cards is still alive and well. Maybe someday soon I can dedicate an article to Millstone-like deck strategies.

The runner-up, with 579 votes, was Clone. I'm actually thankful that Clone wasn't chosen, even though I voted for it myself (shhhh! I vote in my own polls!). The number of decks would have been ridiculous, and I'm not sure any of them would truly use Clone as a centerpiece as much as a fun trick. Still, it would have been a great ride.

Which brings us to the winner, with a whopping 663 votes: Kamahl, Fist of Krosa.

The rest of today's article concerns the great green Kamahl. I am using a slightly different style—more structure and an overabundance of bullet points—because I have a lot to say before getting you to the deck-vote at the end of the article. Thank you in advance for sticking with me during this longer-than-usual House of Cards installment.

Step 1: Know Thyself

First off, let me just say that I'm thrilled. Kamahl, Fist of Krosa is an interesting, beefy card that lends itself to lots of distinctly different deck ideas. Beyond that, it's green which as we all know by now is my favorite Magic color. Although I was very geared up to make decks around something like Earnest Fellowship, I love that the winner is Kamahl.

So okay, let's say for a moment that you have, through luck or conniving, ended up with four copies of Kamahl, Fist of Krosa and you desperately want to use them in a deck. Owning four copies of an interesting card is certainly the genesis of many, many decks out there.

(Incidentally, go here to see a discussion of deck genesis. I wrote it right after the release of Planeshift, and if I could make this old article a prerequisite for the one you're reading, I would. Luckily for you I suck at enforcing rules. So I'll just say that the cool people you know already read it.)

Clearly, four copies of a card do not make a deck. So where do you begin?

Here are some questions I think any deck with Kamahl, Fist of Krosa needs to answer in order to be successful. Given any card you want to make a centerpiece, you should generate a similar list based on possible uses for the card, its strengths, its potential weaknesses, and the strategy (or strategies) in which it fits. For Kamahl, I think a good preliminary list goes something like...

  • Do I want to animate lands? If so, do I want to animate my lands, my opponent's lands, or both?
  • Do I have enough other creatures to make Kamahl's built-in "Overrun" ability a legitimate threat?
  • How do I load my deck with mana to reliably reach to cast Kamahl and to use his dual abilities each turn?
  • What do I do with extra copies of Kamahl that end up in my hand, since he is a Legend?

These questions are Kamahl-specific, and should influence what kind of deck you make and what cards you eventually include in your deck. Other questions—for example, “Is my strategy aggressive, combo, or control-oriented?” “How do I deal with opposing creatures?” “How do I deal with opposing enchantments and/or artifacts?”—are a natural part of deckbuilding and should dictate your card choices as much if not more than the card-specific ones.

You should also at least think about your own boundaries for deckbuilding. Are you making a deck for Friday Night Magic? If so, you had better use Standard-legal cards. Are you on a limited budget? Have you vowed never to make a deck with Wonder? Do you need to beat your sister's monoblack deck?

For me, these boundaries look something like this:

  • The deck is going to be Standard, because Standard is my favorite format. Since I also want to use Legions cards, the deck will be Standard post-Legions.
  • I am not particularly enamored with trading my soul for the land in my deck, so I want the deck to be no more than two colors. If I can get away with it being monogreen, I will.
  • Similarly, a set of four Birds of Paradise continue to elude me on Magic Online. In order to not slow my playtesting—and so other people can reasonably create the deck—no Birds of Paradise for me.
  • I'm committed to keeping Kamahl, Fist of Krosa the deck centerpiece. If the deck starts to evolve away from Kamahl, it's time to rethink my deck.
  • I want this deck to be unique, so I'll shy away from ideas I think might “drift” into a popular archetype through playtesting (many blue/green decks come to mind).
  • The goal here is a fun deck to play, not necessarily a tournament-winning deck. I am not going to take the Pro Tour by storm with Kamahl, Fist of Krosa. But I sure can laugh my butt off when I beat my friends with it.
  • Admittedly, this is a pretty weird boundary list, and slanted heavily towards making this experiment an entertaining experience to read about. Then again, if your friend mocks you by saying “Kilnmouth Dragon is for losers. Now my unbeatable Astral Slide deck...” your list of boundaries would look pretty weird too. We live weird lives, you and I.

    Step 2: Brainstorm, Baby

    Now it's time to start scribbling decks onto a piece of paper, writing card names on your extra lands, or booting up Magic Online—however it is you make first-draft deck ideas. I prefer the old pen-and-paper routine.

    Here is what I did to generate this list of decks:

    • I looked at every single card legal in Standard and asked myself, “How would this work with Kamahl?”
    • If I had a deck idea, I scribbled the idea down on a piece of paper.
    • When I was done looking through the cards, I started at the top of my list and started writing down decklists.
    • If a new idea popped up mid-list, I made sure to write it down.
    • When I was finished making decklists, I looked to see if I had every two-color green/X combination covered. I then challenged myself to think of ideas in the missing color combinations.
    • I carried around my decklists for a few days, looking at them in idle moments and making changes (based solely on theory at this point).
    • I tossed out the ideas I didn't like.
  • The result is seven initial decklists I might enjoy developing further. In the real world, I would probably gravitate towards 1-2 of these decklists and start there. Today, though, I've decided to let you decide which deck idea I pursue.
  • Below are my deck ideas, including a brief description of the idea and a first-draft decklist. I feel the need to point out that the decklist will drastically change through playtesting. So as much as possible, focus on the deck idea first, and the specific decklist second. The idea will dictate the final deck a lot more than my silly first draft.
  • Deck 1: Elf Beatdown

    A six-mana-Legend-Overrun-on-a-stick is weird in that it suggests both an aggressive focus and a lot of mana. Luckily, some creature themes allow for a deck that is both mana-intensive and creature-focused. Back in the days of Urza's Saga, a deck called Elf-Ball surfaced that either used lots of Elf mana via Priest of Titania to fuel a big Fireball or smashed face with Coat of Arms. Since Elves are back with Onslaught (albeit without Priest of Titania), a similar deck can probably work well with Kamahl. The goal here is to get Elves out for early damage and mid-game mana to let Kamahl do his thing.

    The Elf Deck

    Download Arena Decklist

    Deck 2: Goblin Beatdown

    Oddly enough, Onslaught also provides means for Goblins to generate explosive mana. Unlike the Elves, Goblins rely on one-shot bursts of mana that better kill a lot of stuff—preferably your opponent—before the dust settles. This may make Goblins appear an inferior strategy, except that Elves will never give you: Goblin Machinist, which is another mana-sink like Kamahl; Goblin Sharpshooter, which can kill off opposing animated land (more on this in Deck #4), and Goblin Goon, which shines when Kamahl animates your own land. Squee would be so proud.

    The Goblin Deck

    Download Arena Decklist

    Deck 3: Druid Beatdown

    The final “tribe” deck I offer up is based directly on Kamahl himself. He is a Legend, but he is a Druid Legend. Thanks to Seton, Krosan Protector, the Druids have their own Elf-Ball feel to them. In fact, Druid Lyrist can do everything that Elvish Lyrist can do, Werebear with threshold can kick Llanowar Elves's butt, and Nantuko Tracer helps combat those annoying Wonders and Roar. My favorite aspect of Druids, though, is Broodhatch Nantuko, which interacts with a built-in Overrun in very fun ways. For theme purists, a Druid Deck lets Kamahl hang out with his own people and his best buddy from the Odyssey storyline.

    The Druid Deck

    Download Arena Decklist

    Deck 4: Sharpshooter LD

    When I mentioned Goblin Sharpshooter and Kamahl, you may have said “!” I don't usually like to play land-destruction (LD) decks for two reasons: 1) They tend to be un-fun to play against, so it's hard to find repeat opponents, and 2) They either work wonderfully or fall flat on their faces with no middle ground. So in the past I have only liked LD decks if they were quirky and destroyed land in unique ways. I think the Sharpshooter-Kamahl trick, Price of Glory, and Custody Battle definitely qualifies as quirky. Heck, it might be the most fun way to lose to LD I have ever seen.

    The Goblin Sharpshooter Deck

    Download Arena Decklist

    Deck 5: Last Laugh LD

    I thought of a second quirky LD strategy in Last Laugh. Last Laugh has always had that BOOM! aspect to it, setting off a chain reaction that eventually cleared the table of creatures. With Kamahl, though, those “creatures” can also be opposing land (I thought to use Screams of the Damned for this same trick, but liked the feel with Last Laugh better). This deck, more than the others, probably needs the most revision right out of the gates to be competitive, but the idea is to make opponents' land into creatures and then blow up the world. Or, at least, their side of the world. As a Last Laugh player might say, Tee Hee!

    The Last Laugh Deck

    Download Arena Decklist

    Deck 6: Land Deck

    Many moons ago—or October 24th—I discussed a particular kind of mana-intensive deck I called a Land Deck. Land Decks make me happy; They get lots of land onto the table while thinning land from your library so that later in the game you are casting big spells with big effects. Kamahl is a big spell, big effect kind of guy who happens to love land enough to attack with it. It should come as a surprise to no one, then, that a Kamahl Land Deck was my first deck idea in this brainstorming exercise. I particularly like splashing white for Mirari's Wake, which has tons of synergy with Kamahl.

    The Land Deck

    Download Arena Decklist

    Deck 7: Wall-Wonder

    Lastly, there is a different tactic to take with Kamahl. Rather than trying to accelerate my mana, I could instead focus on defending myself from harm while allowing my mana base to develop normally. This strategy means dropping Walls early and bouncing away threats via AEther Burst. With enough mana, it is then time to swing to the offensive strategy and beat down with a big, trampling, flying (thanks to Wonder) army. I worry that this deck might become a normal Wild Mongrel blue/green creation, so the card choices might vary dramatically later. For now, though, the idea of attacking with huge flying Walls makes me kind of giddy. (Where is Wall of Wonder? –Aaron)

    The Wall Deck

    Download Arena Decklist
    Sorcery (4)
    4 Deep Analysis
    Land (24)
    12 Forest 12 Island
    Other (4)
    4 AEther Burst
    60 Cards

    Just so you get a sense of the breadth of my brainstorming, here are some other ideas that I decided, for various reasons, not to pursue:

    Okay, now that you have picked my deck centerpiece, it is now time to pick where I start my journey. Which idea would you like to see me pursue? Vote for one deck idea, and I will start my Magic Online building and playing. In a month or two, I'll check in to show you how the deck changed through playtesting and how my first-draft deck evolved into a final, fun deck.

    Next Week: I am one with the feather.


    Jay may be reached at houseofcards@wizards.com.

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