Building a Champion

Posted in Learning Curve on December 31, 2003

By Brian David-Marshall

Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.

One of my most popular columns, this article presented four possible decks for States and actually resulted in an article on another site thanking me!

State and Provincial Championships are going to cause me physical harm. I'm fairly certain I am going to walk into an open manhole cover while trying to figure out what I want to play. Even worse, I am going to finally figure out what to play and while lost in the epiphany I will not see an oncoming truck. There seem to be so many decks that are possible with all of the cards in Core Set and Mirrodin. Last week I looked at a smattering of decks that I expected to do well.

The big three decks that I expect to be facing are Mono-Black Control, Goblins/Goblin Bidding and Astral Slide. None of those decks really strike my fancy. I want to play with new cards and test out new ideas at States. Yes, I want to win but I want to do it on my own terms with a deck slightly off the beaten path. I think the deck I want to build is an updated version of Aaron Forsythe's Angry Hermit deck from US Nationals in 2000. I have always had an unnatural affection for both Vine Trellis and Plow Under and I don't know if I can pass up the opportunity to dust off my old foils and play them on Saturday.

Moldy Hermit

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The potential for a turn three Plow Under (Birds of Paradise followed by Vine Trellis) is way too appealing for me to not play this deck. I am confident in its ability to battle against Mono-Black and I think it can hold its own against Slide. The match-up that concerns me is—of course—Goblins. I think that I can muster a fair game one with the Trellis and the Ravenous Baloth buying me time to draw into Starstorm. Pyroclasm for the remaining two games should even things out somewhat. I will be testing and tuning this deck and I hope to have it ready for action by Saturday.

I was definitely leaning toward Mono-Black Control for a while. I like the all purpose utility of the Oblivion Stone. I just don't like Karma. Whether it is literal or metaphorical, Karma is going to get you. I have tried to work around Swamps as best I can but you have only so many options.

Mono-Black Control

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Mind Bend gives you a pretty good option against Karma but you might actually need more blue—possibly some number of Polluted Deltas and an Island in place of four Swamps and a Unholy Grotto. You might be wondering where my Grid Monitors are but I want to be able to cast Visara and not have to wait for some way to get rid of my Monitor. That is definitely another direction the deck can go but my attentions have been pulled in the direction of the Red-Green deck listed above of late and I haven't toyed with the various MBC builds very much.

I was in Kansas City this past weekend doing Sideboard coverage of the Grand Prix. I had the opportunity to watch a number of players testing for their local Championships. One thing that kept standing out for me was the number of players trying to make Affinity decks work. The best draws would often see a turn three or four Broodstar hit play or a hasty Nim Shrieker (Lightning Greaves) would attack for six or seven on turn four. Unfortunately I also saw countless one-sided Jokulhaups when an opponent cast Akroma's Vengeance. I started playing with a deck that would put out large, fast threats and still have lands in play after a Vengeance.

White Weenie

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This deck leads to some very aggressive opening draws. You can attack for four damage on the second turn with a Savannah Lions and a Bonesplitter. If your Leonin Den-Guard picks up the Bonesplitter you have an impressive 4/4 creature that does not tap to attack. I saw some people testing out similar versions of this deck with Auriok Steelshaper where I have Savannah Lions. I prefer the Lions although that is probably just because I have been looking for an excuse to play my four Alpha Lions since they were reprinted.

In reality I prefer the Lions because the deck wanted to have a one-drop that could pick up the Bonesplitter and charge into combat with it on turn two. The Steelshaper is an excellent man and will undoubtedly see abundant use during the Mirrodin Block Constructed season. With eight pieces of equipment I had a hard time making room for another two drop in the deck.

Mask of Memory
I know that Empyrial Plate is a controversial card to leave out of this build but I prefer Mask of Memory. It costs less to equip—allowing you to cast it and equip it on turn three—and it gives you both card advantage and card selection. The Mask may shove Curiosity into a dark corner form whence it is never heard from again. Not only do you not have to warp your mana base to play the Mask in this deck but you don't lose any card advantage if the intended wearer of the Mask is killed in response to you equipping it.

One of the other decks I saw being played was a Blue-White control deck. Toward the end of the last PTQ season there were a number of regions that were dominated by Blue-White control. The deck should only get better in Standard where you have access to Mana Leak, Rewind and Wrath of God. Whenever I played Blue-White in the past I relied on Nevinyrral's Disk to get me out of tight fixes so I began to play around with adding Oblivion Stone into the deck. With the mana consistency generated by Eternal Dragon and Temple of the False God it should not be unreasonable to reach eight mana in enough time to push your reset button.

Blue-White Control

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This does not even begin to scratch the surface of possible decks. There is still a variety of mono-red decks to puzzle out. In addition to your basic land destruction there is the possibility of an all-haste-all-the-time deck with creatures ranging from Slith Firewalker straight up to Rorix Bladewing. There are still a number of Black-White decks and aggressive Zombie decks.

I haven't even given Story Circle and Blinding Angel enough thought--it can all be mind-boggling. Fortunately, I think I know what I am going to be playing. Hopefully I have given you some ideas to think about. I can't wait to see what everyone else has been working on—I guess I'll find out on Saturday.

Brian may be reached at

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