IntoTheAether+SeriousFun TeamUp

Posted in Feature on February 1, 2005

By Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar

JMS and Anthony Alongi team up!

It's a secret I have been keeping for months. After my look at online Emperor, Anthony Alongi wrote me to say that if I ever decided to do another feature on a multiplayer format that he would consider getting a Magic Online account to play. I don't know how serious he was at the time, but I certainly wasn't going to forget the offer.

Unfortunately, other topics demanded my attention. I looked at Prismatic, PDC, Tribal Wars, Singleton, never quite able to return to multiplayer. Then Champions of Kamigawa released online, then previews of Unhinged, then came my four-part Preconstructed experiment... all great topics, but still not multiplayer. Anthony's offer sat in the back of my mind like the leftover Indian food in the back of my fridge... always there, and me never sure what to do about it.

Then, finally, 2005 arrived and my column needed new topics. At the first of the year, I made my pitch to Alongi that, after the Betrayers of Kamigawa previews, I wanted to pair up with him and play Two-Headed Giant. He listened. I pleaded. He listened. I asked Scott Johns to plead. Anthony listened. And, eventually, he sent me this e-mail:

“God help me - yes.”

Followed shortly by a second e-mail:

“I'm already thinking of decks. (I hate you.)”

Woo hoo!

The Happy Couple (of Decks)

Last week, I talked about the basics of Two-Headed Giant and walked through my initial deck in the format. At the time, I described what happens if you want to just jump into a game with strangers. This week, I'll look at making team decks.

Let me say from the outset that most Two-Headed Giant games online are of the “pick-up with strangers” variety. When two people conspire to create team decks, they're often at an advantage versus those folks who show up completely unaware of their teammate's deck. As a result, sometimes team decks are frowned upon by the Two-Headed Giant crowd. Generally speaking, it's good to advertise that you are playing team decks and look for other teamed opponents.

As you might expect, Anthony and I were initially plagued by too many ideas. He suggested I play a five-color Honden deck with him packing a Snakes deck with River Boa (give the guy a break, he was new to online play). I was fine with Snakes, but a Honden deck seemed sort of boring. So I then offered to play either a Monoblue Uyo, Silent Prophet deck or a Monoblack Night of Souls' Betrayal deck. Anthony said to try Blue/Red with Uyo, and we kicked around decklists for a bit. He still liked Snakes, he said, but was flexible. I then said, hey, if I'm playing Uyo and you're playing Green, can you fit in Heartbeat of Spring? Anthony then said he could play a land accelerator deck, but it probably wouldn't be Snakes, which was okay because he wasn't wedded to Snakes, just liked them as a general rule. I said, hey, if he wanted to play Snakes that was okay and I could adjust. I certainly didn't need to make an Uyo deck, I said. We went around in circles like this for days.

I then sent this e-mail:

“Did you ever see the movie LA Story? In it, a bunch of Californians stop at a four-way stop, all waving for the other to go first, then they all floor it and crash into one another.

I feel like we're both waving. If you love Snakes, let's build around that.

Snakes and Uyo may not be a bad match, especially if you are planning to use something like Echoing Courage or Predator's Strike. If not and you're planning on packing the deck exclusively with critters, then here are some suggestions on my end...

Cowardice
  • A Genesis Chamber deck. That way you get lots of additional tokens with which to beat down, and I can... I can... I can figure out something to do with them too. {Sidenote: This is what triggered my Death Pit Offering deck from last week}
  • An Illusions deck with Mistforms that can take the type "Snake" and thus reap the benefits.
  • A Zo-Zu/lifegain deck, assuming you won't be playing much land.

That trigger any thoughts?”

Apparently it did. Anthony sent me an epic e-mail, clearing our mental whiteboard (no Snakes, he said) and working through a number of different options of “paired” decks. They were all cool ideas, but the one I liked best was:

“We do UG Cowardice featuring all the green untargetable creatures (Troll Ascetic, Kodama of the North Tree, etc.) and countermagic for board sweepers. The other deck is black-red or black-white, does lots of targeting, and uses comes-into-play creatures when possible.”

We agreed he would play Cowardice, I would work on a targeting deck, and then we got to work on our decks. I'll let Anthony talk about his decklist, but here is what I made:

Cowardice's Love Child

Download Arena Decklist

We wanted first and foremost to have our decks do fun things, and winning was sort of secondary. As a result, my decklist was all over the place, with sixty-one cards and Soul Burn thrown in for style. My intention was to make a deck that could reliably “ping” an opposing team's critters once Cowardice hit the table, and that would benefit from having its own creatures returned to hand. My first draft of the deck only used one copy of Kumano, but Anthony (very rightly) pointed out that he was nuts given my deck concept.

Note that Anthony and I chose to make our team decks complimentary, but also distinctly different. We also chose to make our decks viable on their own. These are choices to be made when building team decks. For example, we could have both chosen to run Cowardice decks, giving us eight copies between us (I am reminded of the Two-Headed Giant decks of Scott Johns and Doug Beyer, each using four Aven Shrine, Life Burst, and Test of Endurance). Anthony's deck could have been completely defensive-minded, with no victory conditions at all, so that I could load up on offense. Heck, we could have even played identical decks, maybe Samurai with Brothers Yamazaki or something. Anyway, the point is that Anthony and I didn't initially stretch the team concept nearly as much as it could have been stretched.

Night 1: The Night of Cowardice (or Lack Therof)

 

Kumano, Master Yamabushi
Despite time zone differences and busy lives, Anthony and I were able to connect on four separate occassions to play. The first time we played our decks one-on-one, mostly so he could get comfortable with the interface. On the second night, we took our show to the Multiplayer room...

Here are some highlights from our first--and by far longest--evening of Two-Headed Giant play.

Our first game was against penumbrawurm, playing a Saproling token sort of deck, and ZeddicusZulZorrander, playing a Black/White Cleric and Zombie deck. I was able to get Kumano, Flametongue Kavu, Nekrataal, and Phyrexian Rager into play to face off against my opponent's two Rotlung Reanimators, two Doubtless Ones, and a Whipgrass Entangler. Our side of the table was pretty much a stalemate, but Anthony couldn't find enough land and was run over by tokens. Lots and lots of tokens. We lost to a Tribal Unity for five on something like ten Saprolings. Not an auspicious beginning, to be sure.

The next game was the best experience with our two decks. We played energytap, who was sporting a five-color Urzatron deck, and tantalus01 who was also playing five colors for land-destruction and other Sorcery goodness (Burning Wish made an appearance, for example). Early in the game, I played Kumano, which died to tantalus01's Flametongue Kavu. I Flametongued his Flametongue during my next turn. energytap played Duplicant targeting my Flametongue, then on my turn I played Sculpting Steel on his Duplicant to remove it from the game. Craziness!

 

Triskelion
Despite the land destruction, Anthony was able to find and play Cowardice while I found Triskelion and my second Sculpting Steel (which doesn't target) for a second Triskelion. Bad things ensued for our opponents, and tantalus01 finally committed suicide via a nine-point Hurricane.

We won our third game, but Cowardice was nowhere in sight. We played against Sakon, whose deck was Blue/Red and built around Isochron Scepter, and Knapp2199 who was also playing Blue/Red with an Arcane/Splice bent to it. To be honest, they may have been using the same deck, and they most certainly were playing as a team. Sakon's second-turn Scepter with Echoing Truth looked scary until Anthony started dropping untargetable creatures and I played creatures with comes-into-play abilities.

Our opponents quickly figured out that to win they were going to need to send their burn straight to our heads. They would burn us on their turn, and Anthony would send his green dudes into combat on his turn. I played creatures that would usually be the target of a Spliced Glacial Ray, making me the official Sponge, I guess.

Eventually Knapp2199 found his own Scepter with Glacial Ray on it. I played Ravenous Rats to have him ditch a card, leaving him with two more Glacial Ray in hand. I then played Stitch Together on my Rats along with Kumano to soak up some burn and kill a Ray. My next turn had me draw another Ravenous Rats and Kumano, and that was pretty much game. Anthony's untargetable creatures survived from start to finish.

 

Avarice Totem
In Game 4, adamdunbar03 showed up with a Tel-Jilad Stylus-Avarice Totem deck and was teamed with Xeria, who played a Blue/Black discard deck with Megrim, Urza's Guilt, and Mortivore. The game moved slowly, and eventually adamdunbar03 apologetically said he had to leave. When he conceded, it was two-on-one against Xeria. Instead of conceding, Xeria fought on bravely with two Megrim, three Recoils, and three Chainer's Edicts but, honestly, two-on-one is only fair in kung-fu movies. We won without finding Cowardice and with Xeria wanting a rematch.

In our fifth game, Xeria switched over to a Monoblack Control deck to team up with reddisciple835's Monored burn deck. The game started off well enough, with Anthony dropping some untargetables and beating down while I held reddisciple835 in check with pingers, Nekrataal, and Kavu. After a Cabal Coffers, though, Xeria played Decree of Pain to clear the board (and draw loads of cards), then did all sorts of cruel Black shenanigans that involved our life dropping while theirs skyrocketed. Eventually a Mortivore and Bringer of the Black Dawn chewed us up and kicked us aside. No Cowardice made an appearance.

Our sixth and final game of the night was easily the most frustrating. rephr was playing a Monowhite, 100-card Samurai deck. His teammate was schmutzighund, also playing Monowhite Samurai. Early in the game, rephr somehow found three of his four Wayfarer's Baubles and stocked his side with Plains while Anthony attacked with some untargetables. schmutzighund played a first-turn Devoted Retainer, followed by Sacred Nectar. I killed the Retainer with pingers and figured, quite honestly, that we would win easily.

Then rephr used all of those Plains to play Konda, Lord of Eiganjo.

Then schmutzighund played Takeno, Samurai General.

Then rephr equipped Konda with Konda's Banner.

Then schmutzighund equipped Takeno with Whispersilk Cloak.

Suddenly our whole game was in crisis. “Stall!” Anthony screamed over the winds of a perfect storm, “If we find Cowardice we win this thing!”

So I stalled. I killed all other Samurai with two Vulshok Sorcerers and a Kumano, Master Yamabushi. I attacked to try and put schmutzighund on the defensive. I killed Konda's Banner with Sculpting Steel. Anthony threw chump blockers in front of Konda, but our life was still disappearing in great chunks. Turn after turn passed... no Cowardice. Anthony used Condescend on my spells so he could dig. Still no Cowardice. We screamed in Private Messages. No Cowardice. We pleaded with his deck. We may have even cried. No good. No Cowardice. We died to colossal Samurai beatdown.

Here is what I realized about our team decks: On their own, they weren't very good. This in and of itself would have been fine except that the only time they really had great synergy was when Cowardice was on the table. That meant we were putting all of our eggs into a four-card basket out of a combined one hundred and twenty-one cards. In retrospect, it was sort of a silly plan, and our anemic record showed it.

Night 2: The Night of the Five-Minute Deck

Would we learn our lesson? I e-mailed Anthony and said that I didn't think our team decks were teamy enough. I suggested he stick with his deck (the untargetables were the coolest and best thing we had in our first evening of play), and that I either build a Blue/Red Corwardice deck or find some other way to make his creatures good. After some failed Cowardice decklists, I decided to make this Horobi, Death's Wail deck:

Fear's Wail

Download Arena Decklist

 

Horobi, Death's Wail
Now we had eight cards that would render things like equipment useless and allow us to control our opponent's creatures. We had a later start to our evening, which meant fewer games this time around:

At first we played Fallen, who had a Blue/White Morph deck, and his teammate Devoinc1, who played a Blue/Green/Black deck packed with good (and big) spells. Anthony did his usual trick of dropping untargetables without finding Cowardice, while I played two early Sun Droplets and prayed for more land. We were in a position, finally, for me to play Horobi, Death's Wail when Devoinc1 used Bribery for my Visara the Dreadful. Oy. To make matters worse, he then equipped my Visara with Lightning Greaves. That pretty much killed the Horobi plan, so we decided to race instead. Devoinc1's cycled Decree of Pain cleared our side of the board, then Fallen's Chromeshell Crab stole my Solemn Simulacrum. Darksteel Colossus, Seedborn Muse, and Laquatus's Champion joined my Visara, then another Chromeshell Crab stole my 21/21 Mortivore. It was a brutal beating.

Which may be why Anthony and I then had a conversation that went something like this:

AA: That's it. I'm done with Cowardice. I'm going to make a Snakes deck and play that.

JMS: What? Right now?

AA: Right now.

JMS: But... but... but... but what should I play?

AA: Whatever. I'm sick of Cowardice and I'm sick of not finding it.

JMS: Coat of Arms? Would that help?

AA: Just kill stuff to get it out of my way.

JMS: Um... okay.

Then Anthony disappeared, giving me literally about five minutes to cobble together a deck. I stuck with my Coat of Arms idea, then tried to think of a tribe that would overlap with Snakes (either Warriors or Shamans... I chose Shamans), then focused on removing blockers. Here is the rushed deck I made:

Snake-Friend

Download Arena Decklist
 

 

Coat of Arms
And you know what? We never lost again. I was so frazzled by Anthony's announcement and my own mad deckbuilding scramble that I neglected to write down our opponents' names, the kind of decks they were playing, or game results. We played two games with the decks, though, and I remember a Coat of Arms hitting the table in the first game to make everything huge, including my Spikeshot Goblin to remove blockers and Anthony's 7/7 Mistform Shrieker and immense Sachi, Daughter of Seshiro.

The second game is a bit more of a blur, except I remember us getting our opponents down very low on life when they cleared the board, then Kiki-Jiki and some of Anthony's Snakes finished up when they couldn't find a second answer. I also remember one opponent playing a Flashback deck while the other played Black/Red Samurai, but maybe that was the first game. Bah! If you were one of my opponents, I apologize and please post your recollections on the Message Boards. What I do remember from both games was Anthony playing Mystic Snake, like, four hundred times and finding Opposition (and the mana to play it) to great effect.

Which leads us to the third and final night of play...

Night 3: The Night of Kusari-Gama

Rather than tinker with our cobbled decks, we decided to use our limited time to play. First up was Ryu Shadow Maxium, playing a Monogreen fattie deck, and pumasunam, playing Monogreen Spirits/tokens. Early on I killed Ryu Shadow Maxium's Gorilla Chieftain with Yamabushi's Flame, then used Eternal Witness to return it to my hand. Anthony had found three Snakes, so I figured it would be fun to play Coat of Arms. It was a huge mistake, because I was light on creatures while the opponent across from me played two Dripping-Tongue Zubera along with Honden of Life's Web. To make matters worse, his mana accelerators were Snakes, so his army grew to mammoth propotions and knocked us to twenty life. I played a Viridian Shaman to kill my own Coat, Anthony played Opposition, and then he kept us alive by tapping Ryu Shadow Maxium's Penumbra Wurm and pumasunam's Jugan, the Rising Star. We stabilized on both sides of the table and waited.

Anthony eventually Restocked an Orochi Hatchery to take control with Opposition. About the same time I got an active Kumano, Master Yamabushi and started killing Spirits in vain. Eventually I felt settled enough to play another Coat of Arms, and we did our forty damage in two attack phases.

As Anthony would say about ten times a game: YAY SNAKES!

 

Kusari-Gama
In our final game of the week, we matched up against Hukuma playing a Blue/Red Spirit/Arcane deck and smashing_ewoks playing Black/Blue reanimator deck based on Oversold Cemetery and Cavern Harpy. Amusingly enough, neither Anthony nor Hukuma could find land, so they just sat there grumbling while smashing_ewoks and I played a near one-on-one duel. Hukuma played a Floating-Dream Zubera, which hit us a few times. Anthony, meanwhile, only played Kusari-Gama. The opposing team made fun of his equipment (which is never a nice thing to do), but Anthony assured them that “Kusari-Gama owns you.”

Meanwhile, I played two Troll Ascetics while my opponent had Oversold Cemetery, Phyrexian Arena (which Anthony Naturalized... Yay Snakes!), and two Gravediggers. My Trolls kept attacking while my other Shamans like Spikeshot Goblin and Eternal Witness died. I played Coat of Arms to make my Trolls huge, then played Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker to give me a third (huger) Troll. smashing_ewoks tried to play a Crystal Shard when I tapped out for Spikeshot Goblin, but by this time Anthony had found the mana for Mystic Snake. I attacked with enormous Shamans to drop the opposing team to three life, Anthony tapped the Zubera with Opposition, then... wait for it... equipped his Snake with Kusari-Gama, pumped it once, and attacked for the win.

Thus ended my final Two-Headed Giant team games with Anthony Alongi. Ending on Kusari-Gama makes me strangely giddy.

Hopefully today's article shows how (and how not) to make two compatible decks for Two-Headed Giant. It's a format I thoroughly enjoy, and I expect I will be back in the Multiplayer room often in the coming weeks. I also expect Anthony to do the same. Don't tell him I told you, but I think he's fairly hooked on Magic Online.

Thanks to Anthony for being willing to enter the digital world of card-flipping and thanks to everyone who either played against us or watched the games. A fun time, I hope, was had by all.

Until next week,

-j

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