Game 12: Black/Blue/Green Spirits
My opponent's deck had all three colors' Zuberas, Thief of Hope, Iname, Life Aspect, Gibbering Kami, and, as a finisher, Devouring Greed. I made the mistake of attacking with Samurai of the Pale Curtain and allowing it to die, which “activated” his Zuberas and allowed him to climb back into the game. I had him at two life when he reached enough mana to start doing sick things with Thief of Hope and Iname, and I died to a huge Devouring Greed. Note to self: Don't treat the card that shuts down your opponent's entire strategy as expendable.
Game 13: Monoblack Spirits
This deck was similar to the previous one, but all black and with Gutwrencher Oni (which I can only assume means there were some Ogres in there too). In any case, he got a Wicked Akuba, Ashen-Skin Zubera, two Thief of Hope, and the Oni to match up against my Nagao, two Mothrider Samurai, Devoted Retainer, and Samurai of the Pale Curtain. This time I remembered to keep my Samurai of the Pale Curtain alive, and we traded blows. His Befoul and Rend Flesh slowed me down, but my Call to Glory and Cage of Hands allowed me to win at one life. Whew.
Game 14: 5-Color Aggro
I couldn't quite figure his deck out. At first I thought it was a Snake deck, with Orochi Sustainer, Kashi-Tribe Reaver and such, but then he started playing multicolor lands and things like Honden of Life's Web and Kitsune Blademaster. Whatever the case, I got him down to seven life thanks to Samurai of the Pale Curtain, Konda's Hatamoto, Kitsune Blademaster, and a timely Indomitable Will. When he was able to stall my ground game, I finally found my fourth land and dropped two Mothrider Samurai to finish him off.
Game 15: Green/Red Spirits
I got a quick Konda's Hatamoto and Kitsune Blademaster with No-Dachi support to match his two Soilshapers. He dropped Kodama of the South Tree and I decided that with the Soilshapers I should sit back and play some defense for awhile. Takeno, Samurai General improved the situation, allowing me to attack with the Hatamoto and drop my opponent to eight life. The problem was that I couldn't draw anything but Plains and both Indominatable Wills after he cast Pain Kami to kill Takeno. As we waited around, he managed to play Kami of Fire's Roar and then tromp right past my blockers.
Game 16: Green/Red/Black Spirits/Arcane
His deck was cool, and the best use of Splice onto Arcane I've seen yet. I had a defensive hand of land, Cage of Hands, Reciprocate, and Indominatable Will. Maybe I shouldn't have kept it, actually. On the third turn I found Devoted Retainer, but it died (and took the Will with it) thanks to Hana Kami and Kodama's Might. After that, he started doing Hana Kami tricks, with Kodama's Reach, Glacial Ray, and Soulless Revival to get lots of land into play while keeping the weenies I drew in hand. I managed to slip a Reciprocate onto his Hana Kami, but then he just played another one. Sigh. My Cage of Hands covered his Kami of the Hunt which only managed to ensure me a slow and painful death.
That's 2-3 in my most recent games, but probably should have been 3-2 if I had played correctly. The deck is certainly competitive, but I think more changes are warranted. Since this is a four-week experiment, you probably already knew I would say that, though, right?
Attack of the Samurai Spirits
Here is my next round of changes:
OUT: 2 No-Dachi
This isn't as easy a drop as it might appear. On one hand, No-Dachi is slow for a deck like mine. It means essentially burning two turns I could have been playing creatures or combat tricks, since you can't assume I have five mana to play-and-equip in the same turn. On the other hand, first strike plus bushido is very, very good. No-Dachi makes Devoted Retainer a scary threat instead of an annoying 1-damage plinker. In fact, playing Retainer, No-Dachi, equip in the first three turns is a fine start to a game. The power bonus to the often-unblockable Mothrider Samurai is also quite a boon.
The problem is that equip cost of three. It's just too mana-intensive for an aggressive deck. I love my creatures to get a power boost and have first strike, but I hate stranding my other combat tricks in hand because I've run out of mana. An equip cost of three means I can't usually attack with No-Dachi then move it over to a blocker on the same turn. I honestly think that if No-Dachi's cost and equip both cost two then I would have included four in the deck. As it stands now, Devoted Retainer will miss his big sword but I think the rest of the deck is better off focusing on something else.
OUT: 2 Indominatable Will
I'm really surprised to find myself dropping Indominatable Will. It's a terrific combat trick and keeps my weenies alive against the ever-present Glacial Ray. The problem, really, is that while the Will is pretty neat, it's not as neat as Call to Glory in a dedicated Samurai deck. When I have held an Indominatable Will in hand, I have always -- every single time -- wished it was Call to Glory.
OUT: 1 Plains
Many people have pointed out to me on the message boards that 24 land is probably too many for an aggressive Samurai deck. I agree. Especially with No-Dachi gone, about the only reason this deck wants more than four land on the board is Takeno, Samurai General (this may be a harbinger of Takeno's demise... we'll have to see).
Freeing up five card slots allows me add these cards:
IN: 1 Call to Glory
The reason I like Call to Glory so much is because of how versatile it is. It saves my creatures from lethal damage, it allows bushido to be used as surprise defense, and -- I think people often overlook this use of the card -- it acts as a way to do those last points of damage on offense. As long as I have a creature on the table, holding Call to Glory is comforting. And, as I mentioned before, if I have more than one creature on the table, Call to Glory is a lot more comforting than Indomitable Will.
Originally I had thought to have four copies of the Call in my deck, but I think with four copies that I would too often find them stranded in my hand with no creatures on the table. Three copies means I can reliably find them in each game but hopefully avoids too much of a glut. The number may eventually rise to four, but I doubt it.
IN: 1 Sensei Golden-Tail
I don't think adding a single rare at this point is too troublesome, especially since I already dropped Hold the Line. Having a lone copy of a legendary permanent in my deck is annoying, but there is no time when drawing Sensei Golden-Tail will hurt me. It fits right into the deck's mana-curve, is a white Samurai, helps out Konda's Hatamoto, and can make combat even more difficult for an opponent thanks to his “training” ability.
IN: 3 Kami of Ancient Law
What's this? Samurai working in cahoots with the spirit world? Theme purists will cringe at the idea of adding kami to a Samurai deck, but I would rather have a secret Samurai pact than lose again to a Honden deck. Let me tell you: Watching an opponent play Honden of any color is very, very demoralizing for a Samurai deck. Before, there was literally nothing I could do except race and pray. Now at least I have a, shall we say, fighting chance against Shrines. The great thing about Kami of Ancient Law is that it also fits snugly into the deck's central themes since it is a small, efficient white creature. Finally, although I don't think it will come up too often, it's possible to convert my Kami into Samurai thanks to the newly added Sensei Golden-Tail. Go go Samurai Spirits!
The deck now looks thusly:
To be perfectly honest, I'm getting a little anxious about the percentage of tricks in the deck. The creature base looks solid enough, but I worry that the deck won't be interesting for me to play with a bunch of bushido creatures and not much else. Keep in mind that this is my pet deck, and pet decks often need to do wacky things to satisfy their master. More thoughts on the “fun factor” after a few more games.
Game 17: White/Red Samurai
Poor opponent. He played three Mountains along with Ronin Houndmaster, Brothers Yamazaki, and Honden of Infinite Rage. His Honden killed my Devoted Retainer, but I also had Kitsune Blademaster, Nagao, Bound by Honor, and Konda's Hatamoto. For awhile I thought he was playing a monored Samurai deck, which blew my mind, but after he conceded he showed me a hand full of white Samurai. Ah yes, these are not the problems of a monocolored deck.
Game 18: Monoblue Spirits
As soon as he started dropping Islands, I knew I was in for a race to see if I could kill him before he started doing mean things to me. Thankfully, I was able to find a Samurai of the Pale Curtain, Devoted Retainer, then Mothrider Samurai and Konda's Hatamoto, to put on the pressure. A Cage of Hands stranded his Teller of Tails, and he soon ran out of Arcane spells to cast and splice to slow me down. I had six Plains and Takeno in hand, but I needed my mana to recast the weenies he bounced with Consuming Vortex. In any case, I overwhelmed him with damage before he could do something silly like find The Unspeakable.
Game 19: White/Red Samurai
His deck had Brothers Yamazaki, Pain Kami, Yamabushi's Flame, Tenza, Godo's Maul, and Godo, Bandit Warlord along with the usual assortment of white Samurai. In the early game we traded blows, him losing a Brothers and me losing a Samurai of the Pale Curtain. My two Kitsune Blademasters were giving him fits because of their first strike, but eventually he had enough mana to cast Godo and get out Tenza. After that we stared at each other for a long while, him at twelve life and me at twenty. I stockpiled Samurai while he stockpiled land, and eventually I just started swinging with my guys. He dropped to five life, then felt it was okay to attack with Godo and his Mothrider Samurai. I blocked and killed the Mothrider with my own, then Reciprocated Godo before his second attack. After that he couldn't muster any defense and conceded.
Game 20: White/Red Samurai
Basically I spent too much time playing with Sensei Golden-Tail in this game. My opponent was stuck on three Plains, but I was too busy giving the Sensei and a Samurai of the Pale Curtain bushido counters to take advantage of her manascrew. By the time she found her fourth Plains and dropped Nagao to go along with her four Devoted Retainers, I was immediately on the defensive. Then a Mountain and Ronin Houndmaster came to play and I was scrambling to survive. I stabilized the board at one life and was prepared to go on the offensive when Glacial Ray struck me between the eyes. Ouch.
Game 21: Green/Red Snakes
I think that this too was a modified preconstructed deck, or at least it played Snakes, Sachi, Daughter of Seshiro, Orochi Hatchery, and splashed red for Honden of Infinite Rage and burn. All my opponent could muster early on was two Orochi Leafcallers, an Orochi Sustainer and the Honden, while I had two Konda's Hatamoto and a Kitsune Blademaster. I played Kami of Ancient Law to kill his Shrine (woo!), then Nagao, Bound by Honor and a Mothrider Samurai. His Sachi and Hatchery with three counters were too slow to stop my onslaught and I won at nineteen life.
The Benefits of Good Breath...
...Or “I've thought a lot about the creatures in the deck and now need to start thinking about the combat tricks.”
OUT: 1 Candles' Glow
Okay, Candles' Glow was really cool the first couple of times I cast it. I especially liked how it balanced out the life I lost taking a hit before a Reciprocate. Then...then, well, I realized that it didn't do nearly as much as I hoped it would do. I mean, yes it helps keep Samurai (or me) alive and gives me a life pad in the process. But think of it this way: Do I want three or four copies of a Healing Salve effect in my deck? I think the answer is no...it seems silly to include four copies of Candles' Glow. Do I keep my single copy around, then? Again, no. With only one copy, I can't reliably count on the life pad or the damage prevention. As a result, Candles' Glow is pretty neat, but not neat enough to keep when there are other, better alternatives in the “combat tricks” category. Now, if Test of Faith were around in Kamigawa Block, I think that would be a very spiffy effect for a Samurai deck.
OUT: 1 Otherworldly Journey
Like Candles' Glow, Otherworldly Journey doesn't make sense to have as a single copy because it shows up so sporadically. Unlike Candles' Glow, I think Otherworldly Journey is a really, really cool effect. I loved Flicker back in the day, and I've pretty much loved every Flicker variant. So why drop it? (And why do I keep asking questions when I'm about to answer them?) Basically because I don't think a monowhite Kamigawa Block Samurai deck is the right place for this card. None of my creatures have “comes into play” or “leaves play” abilities. Board sweepers have been practically nonexistent in the decks I've faced; There are no Wrath of God cards to speak of, either, and I haven't seen a single deck based on Hideous Laughter, Earthshaker, or Ryusei, the Falling Star. I think Otherworldly Journey is a mighty fine combat trick, I just think it's better used somewhere else.
OUT: 2 Cage of Hands
There are two kinds of creatures I think my Samurai deck really want Cage of Hands to combat: Dragons and Demons (because frankly Dragons and Demons are better left alive and immobilized than dead). Everything else will die to my bushido superiority and various combat tricks. What I have found, though, is that very few people play either Dragons or Demons. In fact, I have seen a grand total of one Demon and zero Dragons in 21 games. That tells me that Cage of Hands is a sideboard card at best.
Let me be clear: Against everything else, I haven't found Cage of Hands to be that great. Spirit decks sacrifice their Spirits. Snake and Samurai decks play too many creatures for two Cage of Hands to make a difference. Honden decks laugh at Cage of Hands. Blue decks bounce their creatures back into their hands. All of these decks either make Cage of Hands ineffective or mediocre at best.
Okay, so I've dropped four of the deck's more entertaining combat tricks after grousing that the deck needed more tricks. Luckily, the remaining cards in the deck are worth increasing in number.
IN: 3 Blessed Breath
Blessed Breath is the versatile card Otherworldly Journey wants to be. It can save a creature from combat damage, prevent a creature from being targeted, make an Enchant Creature fall off, make a creature unblockable, and with four copies it can even be spliced every once in awhile. It doesn't provide the +1/+1 counter of the Journey, but the unblockability and reduced cost make Blessed Breath more attractive. I've also had it played against me often enough to realize its effectiveness. The only time I have held Blessed Breath and been unhappy with it are the times I didn't have a creature on the board.
IN: 1 Reciprocate
It's odd that Cage of Hands is so mediocre in this deck and yet Reciprocate is very good. The single mana casting cost is a big reason why Reciprocate can shine in this deck, but mostly it's because creatures are removed from the game. Here is an answer to opposing Dragons (if they ever show up), and any Spirit that dies to Reciprocate is never coming back. Notice my previous games, too, when cards like Godo, Hana Kami, Meloku the Clouded Mirror, and Kumano fell to Reciprocate. Except for Godo, all of these cards would have been just as deadly with Cage of Hands on them as without. Sure there are the odd games against a Honden deck when Reciprocate is dead in my hand, but so far its value has vastly outweighed these moments of impotence.
That's it for combat tricks...four Blessed Breath, and three each of Reciprocate and Call to Glory. We'll see if these are enough or whether I need to spice the deck up a bit more. The next minor change, I must admit, was motivated by Mike Flores' recent article, as you will clearly see.
OUT: 1 Plains
I still may drop to 22 land, but not while Takeno, Samurai General is in the deck. Instead, I want to add a card that is almost “strictly better” than a Basic Plains...
IN: 1 Eiganjo Castle
I now have five legendary Samurai in the deck, which is surely enough to justify a single copy of Eiganjo Castle. If I ever do face off against a Horobi, Death's Wail deck, it's nice to know that I have some way to get rid of it, too.
After those five card-swaps, my Samurai deck looks like this:
I'll post a few more games before my thoughts on what happens next week. Suffice it to say, I'm feeling at a bit of a crossroads right now.
Game 22: Black/Green Spirits
A lot of really cool things happened in this game. I saw my first Dragon Spirit -- Kokusho, the Evening Star -- which I was able to Reciprocate. I had Kami of Ancient Law and Sensei Golden-Tail in play at the same time, allowing me my first glimpse at a Samurai Spirit. And, to top it off, I successfully cast Takeno, Samurai General with four Samurai (Spirit included) in play to take down my opponent. He managed to recycle a Spreading Plague twice with Hana Kami, but otherwise I pretty much walked over him.
Game 23: Red/Blue Spirit/Arcane
My opponent was a little land-shy, while I managed to drop a Plains every turn along with Samurai of the Pale Curtain, two Kitsune Blademasters, Kami of Ancient Law, and then -- BLAMO! -- Takeno, Samurai General. My opponent killed one Blademaster with Glacial Ray and played Brutal Deceiver, but after Takeno he commented “I don't have a prayer” and conceded. Good thing, too, as I was holding two Call to Glory in hand.
Game 24: White/Black Samurai
I liked his deck: White Samurai, plus Konda's Banner, Eight-and-a-Half-Tails, and black for Cursed Ronin, Nezumi Ronin, and Kokusho, the Evening Star. We both played first-turn Devoted Retainers, with me dropping two Konda's Hatamoto for his Eight-and-a-Half-Tails and Konda's Banner. Two Blessed Breath on my part removed two Cage of Hands on my troops. When he tapped out for Kokusho, I removed his legendary Cleric via Reciprocate and went on the attack. He tried to race me with his 7/7 Dragon, but my two Call to Glory messed up his combat math and I did exactly enough damage to kill him the turn before I died.
Game 25: Green/Red Spirit/Arcane
It's comforting to know that when I get stuck on three land I can still pull out a win against a solid deck and solid player. My opponent had three Soilshapers, but I matched him with what he called my “Three Musketeers” -- three Kitsune Blademasters. I dropped two Devoted Retainers as well, which kept him on the defensive and killed a Kami of the Hunt and Hearth Kami. Most of my creatures survived the repeated attacks thanks to two Blessed Breath, but we eventually stalled the ground -- he with a few cards in hand plus plenty of land to go along with his Soilshapers and me with my Samurai army. I finally found my fourth land and played two Mothrider Samurai, forcing him to use his Kodama's Might to splice and then play Glacial Ray to kill them. With no cards left in hand, he conceded when I played Nagao, Bound by Honor.
Game 26: Black/Green Spirits
I kept a hand with five Plains, Konda's Hatamoto, and Kitsune Blademaster. What I end up playing was the Hatamoto on the second turn, Blademaster on the third, Nagao, Bound by Honor on the fourth, Mothrider Samurai on the fifth, and Takeno, Samurai General on the sixth. My opponent played Thief of Hope, Kodama's Reach, Rend Flesh on my Nagao, and... that's it. Yeah, I won that one.
That's 9-1 with my last two versions of the deck, letting me know that I'm basically on the right track. I did mention I was feeling a bit at a crossroads, though...
A Note on Adding Colors
What I have now is a solid monowhite Samurai deck. The deck no longer has what I perceive as major weaknesses, and it's something that should perform quite well against the varied field in the Casual Constructed room. For the beginners in the audience, I hope these past two weeks have served to illustrate the kind of decisions that deckbuilders tackle on their way to making decks.
Now it's time to get creative.
Next week I'll decide whether to keep the deck monowhite or add a second color. Some people have worried aloud that with my Guidelines -- especially the “I will change no more than five cards per revision” guideline -- it is virtually impossible to add a second color to a monocolored deck. After all, if I am including land in my five-card limit (which I am), how can I possibly splash more than a single off-color card?
Let me assure you that if I decide to add a second color, the Guidelines won't stand in my way. This is why I termed them “Guidelines,” after all, and not “Rules.” The Guidelines are there to keep me sane and to ensure I don't change the deck too drastically without reason. I can splash a second color by adding somewhere along the lines of 6-8 cards and use that as a foundation with which to make further changes. Which is all to say that I should be fine if I add a second color, still keeping my sanity and without too drastic an initial change.
Because last week I received somewhere on the order of twice as many message board posts and ten times the e-mail as usual, I've decided to keep this second article focused on the preconstructed deck experiment. I encourage you to keep posting your opinions on the message boards (I like the e-mail too, but I'm more likely to respond via the boards) and to let me know what you think of this deckbuilding foray. Your feedback has already shaped many of my choices and given me lots of ideas for next week, so keep it coming.
Have at it! Discuss!