My League Deck, the Evolution Starts Now!

Posted in Feature on May 19, 2005

By Bennie Smith

Bennie Smith began playing Magic in 1994 and started writing about it shortly after. A Virginia State Champion, he enjoys few things better than winning at tournaments with home brews. Bennie has a weekly column on He also recently published The Complete Commander. Follow him on Twitter, on Facebook, and the occasional Commander games on Magic Online under the handle "blairwitchgreen."

League Play: Bang for Your Buck

One of the most satisfying parts of writing for is getting email from people who are just starting to tiptoe around the notion of “diving in” to the Magic waters. I've been playing Magic since very close to its beginning and have watched the game and the community grow by leaps and bounds, so it's great to get the perspective of a person who's discovering this brand new world for the first time.

A lot of the letters that come in ask about advice for trying out Magic Online; they express concern about the costs involved and wonder where do I begin? The answer I always give—try playing in a League. This was even before I had even tried League play online, but I was familiar with how leagues functioned in paper Magic down at your local game shop. The concepts are the same.

1. Reasonable start up costs. For the price of a movie, popcorn and large soda, you get a starter deck and two booster packs. Not a bad deal for many hours of fun, and a great start on building your collection.

2. Even playing field. For a new player, watching a constructed event where players field decks chock full of power rares can be intimidating. In League play (as with sealed deck), everyone starts on the relatively level playing field of a random selection of cards from your starter and booster packs. Play skill, deck building skill and lucky breaks on the cards opened will all play important roles in your success in the League, but it's nice to know everyone basically starts together on cards.

3. Practice makes perfect. In a sealed deck event, you can play your deck throughout the course of the tournament, but then it's over. You may just be starting to get the hang of some of the synergies and card interactions and then, boom! It's over. With League play, you and your deck get to hang together for at least 4 weeks! Each week you can play as many league games as you can find the time and opponents for. That's a lot of time to really get to know your deck's strengths and weaknesses and learn how best to play it.

4. Evolution! After playing your initial card pool for a week, you get to purchase another booster pack to add to your card pool each week after that. Here's your chance to get some “new blood” cards to strengthen themes, plug holes and maybe even break open some long games if your first week's cards were lacking. You may have even had a color with some cards you wanted to play but the color just wasn't deep enough to justify it - with the new booster(s) that could change. Pop the hood up, tinker around, tune that engine and take your deck out for another spin!

5. Community. League play seems to draw in several types of players: those who are new to the game and are interested in learning; those who are casual gamers looking to pick up games here and there for fun; and those Magic fans who have busy schedules that prevent them from playing in regular tournaments, but still want to enjoy the game and satisfy their competitive spirit. From what I've seen, most League players value fun and sportsmanship in their games, and it makes League play very enjoyable.

For more details on Leagues, go here and read more.

Come On In, the Water's Fine!

I was really looking forward to giving League play a try and found it incredibly easy. First, I clicked Leagues in the Main Room. In the first part of the Leagues room is a list of leagues that are running. I sorted the list by Starting Time, with Current Week 1 at the top of the list and picked the most recently started League (to give me plenty of time to get in my league matches). I then clicked Go To and entered the room for that league. In that league's room, I clicked Join, which then asks you to provide a starter deck, two booster packs, and two tickets (you will need to purchase, trade for, or otherwise have those on hand before you can try to join a League). I was then taken to the Deck Builder screen that reveals what cards the Fates have provided. Here was my card pool:


Download Arena Decklist
Artifact (1)
1 Konda's Banner
105 Cards

What I did next was to go over each card and make a judgment call on whether it was playable-- not necessarily great, but playable. If so, I right clicked on it and added it to my deck (all the cards start in your sideboard). Okay, let's see what we have, sorted by color.

I then go through and make some mental notes on what we have going for us.

1. Creature Removal. It's pretty light. We're fortunate enough to have the awesome Horobi's Whisper, but the rest of the black removal is either situational (Rend Spirit, Throat Slitter), or a bit clunky (Swallowing Plague). In red we have Pain Kami (which is decent) and Initiate of Blood (which is a bit sketchy). Blue gives us Consuming Vortex for a little bounce and that's about it. White is a wash with no coveted Cage of Hands.

2. The Samurai Angle. Call to Glory, Indebted Samurai and Nagao, Bound by Honor give us some nice Samurai synergies that are worth noting. Kitsune Blademaster, Silverstorm Samurai, and Battle-Mad Ronin are all decent, but with only five decent samurai in the card pool, we'll have to hope for some good samurai popping out of subsequent booster packs. Another legend or two would help too, making Konda's Banner a possibility.

3. Demons! Two of the rares are of the demonic variety, one of which (Kyoki, Sanity's Eclipse) is a beating, the other of which (Seizan, Perverter of Truth) is a big risk. We even get a Blood Speaker to make it tempting. Again, here's hoping that subsequent packs might bring us some of the uncommon demons to make the Blood Speaker amazing.

4. Green color fixing. With both Sakura-Tribe Elder and Kodama's Reach, along with the green/white dual land, we've got great potential for splashing a third or even fourth color for a game-breaking bomb if we run green as one of our base colors. The problem is that green isn't exactly chockfull of great cards; there's not even enough Snakes to make Sosuke's Summons decent. Plus, there are really no off-color bomb cards easily splashed that are worth the effort.

5. Meat & Potatoes (AKA, Spirits & Arcane). Spirits and Arcane synergies are the basic fuel that makes this format run. The more you can get your cards to play off each other, the better success you'll have. I decided to group the Spirit and Arcane spells by color to see which had the deepest selection.

Red: Blademane Baku, Devouring Rage, Ire of Kaminari, Kami of Fire's Roar, Pain Kami, Lava Spike

Green: Burr Grafter, Petalmane Baku

Blue: Teardrop Kami, Consuming Vortex, Eye of Nowhere, River Kaijin, Quillmane Baku

Black: Devouring Greed, Horobi's Whisper, Gibbering Kami

White: Kami of False Hope, Waxmane Baku, Kami of the Painted Road, Silent-Chant Zubera, Terashi's Grasp

White and red seemed to have the deepest selection of good Spirits and Arcane, though a quick check showed not enough Arcane spells to make Ire of Kaminari worth running yet. Waxmane Baku and Kami of Fire's Roar provide nice tempo boosting ability, and with few if any late-game breakers, going aggro and controlling the tempo of combat might be my only hope with this card pool. White and red also provide the small samurai synergies that might help win a game or two.

I decide to try out a red and white build, and this is what I put together:

IntoTheAether League Deck

Download Arena Decklist

At the last minute I decide to try and splash a tiny bit of green for Enshrined Memories. My thought is that, if the game goes long and I'm not able to secure the win with aggressive tempo attacks, then perhaps once the game stalls I can cast Memories for a bunch, draw three or four more creatures and bury my opponent in reinforcements.

My inaugural League match is less than auspicious. Clunky draws and unimpressive pressure easily allows my opponent to take me down in the first game. The second game I actually get the aggro tempo draw of my dreams, and paired with my opponent's slow draw I soon put the game away (hooray, Waxmane Baku!). The third game shows my worst fears realized, with an anemic early offense that is soon stalled while my opponent flies overhead and whittles me away to zero life; with no late game bombs to drop, it was only a matter of time.

Thinking about the deck later has me second-guessing my choices and color scheme. Really, my only big, late-game threat creature is Kyoki, and with a few other good black cards (including good removal), I think I'll retool the deck with black for match #2. Stay tuned next time for the Week 1 roundup and let's see what my new booster pack brings!

Vanguard: Ink-Eyes Revisited

Last week I went over playing my Ink-Eyes avatar in an Extended Vanguard tournament, and while I was ultimately unhappy with the deck I played, I was actually impressed with Ink-Eyes herself! She's dangerous, with the low starting life total and hand size risky, but her abilities are really good. I decided to retool the deck, taking a few queues from Paul's suggested Ink-Eyes deck from last week.

Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni

Download Arena Decklist

The Cabal Therapy synergy with Ink-Eyes' initial hand-peek, discard ability is just too good not to play if you can help it. To complement the hand destruction, I also liked Gerrard's Verdict from Paul's deck (and the incidental life gain that sometimes comes is golden for Ink-Eyes) and a couple Ravenous Rats (who then typically get sacrificed to flashback Therapy). Pulse of the Fields helps recoup the initial life handicap and fuels the reanimation ability quite nicely.

For creature control, Smother, Chainer's Edict and Wrath of God keep the heat off while providing you with plenty of reanimation targets. And speaking of reanimation targets, my favorite has got to be the ubiquitous Sakura-Tribe Elder. Everyone is playing it, so for two life you can scare up a chump blocker, accelerate your mana and thin lands out of your deck, every turn. In a deck as mana hungry as this one, that's just golden.

Mana is a tough issue. With a starting life of 13, you don't want your lands hurting you too much. Caves of Koilos is tolerable, but I figured City of Brass would not be, so this land configuration is what I've cooked up so far (in addition to the helpful Wayfarer's Bauble and Solemn Simulacrum). In the three matches I've played, mana hasn't been too problematic.

I've gone 1-2 with this deck so far, but I felt the deck was much more competitive; many of my losses stemmed directly from mistakes I made while trying to get used to this new configuration. Ink-Eyes has been a challenge, but she's also been fun!

Tips & Tricks

My call for time-saving tips got a nice response from people, many of whom wrote in with similar suggestions. I've talked about stops here before, but there's a fine line between stops being helpful and hurtful and I thought the subject warranted expanding on. Here are a few emails I wanted to share:

Sam Royes writes:

F2 and F4 are huge timesavers. Learn how to use them, and which one in which situation, and that can save you a couple of minutes each match. I play all draft games with my ring and pointing finger of my left hand resting on my F2 and F4 keys at all times.

Also, use your stops judiciously. I like to set a minimum to begin (main phase, 2-3 combat steps, opp end step) and then if I have a deck or card that warrants I will change my settings midgame. Setting a new stop only takes about 5 seconds or so, and skipping it when it is not needed can save you lots of time. I see people with stops set in upkeep all the time because maybe one of their decks has D. Top, but if they are playing a different deck than they should ditch that stop.

Expanding on the notion of setting stops mid-game, Simon Pearce writes:

I think that a lot of people have way too many stops. Personally I have stops in my main phases, declare attackers/blockers for both players, and my opponent's end of turn step. It is very rare that you need any others, so making you yield to them just burns time.

If you need to add a stop mid-game, you can click the icons in the bottom left to add them quickly. Shift-clicking adds a stop on the opposite turn. When you know you need a stop, then you add it on. For example, playing Whipcorder means you should put a stop in Beginning of Combat. Or playing Eternal Dragon means you should put a stop in Upkeep. Hope that helps.

Thanks everyone for the great advice, and keep sending in your tips and tricks!

Stars on Aether!

If it's Thursday, May 19th when you're reading this, the Magic Invitational is already underway! Click for web coverage, and make sure to check out the happenings live on Magic Online. See what hoops Mark Rosewater is going to make the Stars of Magic jump through for the privilege of having their image and card idea added to the game we all love!

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