Rough, Tough, Etc.

Posted in Feature on February 14, 2007

By Chris Millar

Greetings, all. We've hit the middle of Bluff Week - or have we?

Er, we have. That's pretty tough to deny. There's no hiding the fact that it's Wednesday, unless you live in a part of the world where it isn't actually Wednesday right now. If that's the case, then I say, "Gotcha!"

It's a tap!

So, yeah, it's Bluff Week. What the heck do I know about bluffing? Not much, in truth. My game is about as tactically sound as Admiral Ackbar's. I'll figure out it's a trap … eventually. Moreover, the whole "when to hold 'em, and when to fold 'em" is also a little fuzzy. Even if I did know when to run away, I would probably still walk, due to a general lack of physical fitness.

I guess sarcasm is a kind of bluffing. When I lump Giant Solifuge in with Sky Swallower and Hatching Plans as representatives of Guildpact's "reject rares," I'm either being ironic … or incredibly stupid. It's hard to tell. Regular readers will know that I attempt this sort of humour on a regular basis, which is nice, because now when I actually say something incredibly stupid, I can pass it off as irony, oh, the irony. See, it's kind of like bluffing.

To better understand this thing we call "the bluff," I did what any creditable researcher would do and I Googled the hell out of it. I gave the word an unmerciful Googling, the kind of Googling you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy. From my intensive research, I learned that "bluff" is a verb that means roughly "to deceive by pretending to be something you aren't," a noun that means "an act of bluffing" (very helpful), and, strangely enough, an adjective that can be used to describe someone who is, among other things, "cheerful, honest, and plain-spoken." So the bluffer you are, the less likely you are to be a bluffer. You probably wouldn't bluff bluffly, either. Since "bluff" can be used as so many different parts of speech, you could get away with saying:

The bluff man bluffed with a bluff.

Depending on where he did it, that sentence could get even sillier.

Incidentally, there are a number of Magic card names that happen to be synonyms for "bluff," including Bamboozle, Bravado, Feint, and Hoodwink. You might even be able to stretch the definition a little and add Deception, Duplicity, Treachery, and Betrayal. Add it all up and you get … not a whole lot. Barely a hill of beans. Luckily, I've got something bigger than a mere hill in mind.

Battle on the Bluffs

House of Cards is about building decks. Bluff Week is about bluffs. How do I merge these two things, seemingly at odds? How do I get the peanut butter of bluffs into the creamy chocolate of deckbuilding? And what of the chewy nougat of subverting this week's theme? The answer, coincidentally, is the site of a territorial dispute:

Contested Cliffs

Contested Cliffs!

Please don't think I've bamboozled, hoodwinked, or misled you. You see, a bluff is also a noun that means "a steep cliff." It's the cousin of the crag, the brother of the brow, the, uh, estranged uncle of the escarpment. This turn of events is painful, I know, but if you had examined the Bluff Week banner, you would have seen this coming.

Contested Cliffs is a card with some tournament pedigree, having appeared in big events alongside many Baloths and Tuskers, but very few Berserk Murlodont. Unlike green and red, white doesn't have many beasts in its stable. It's got plenty of cats and tons of talking elephants, but almost no beasts. If you leave out the gold cards (Phantom Nishoba, Sabertooth Nishoba, Anurid Brushhopper, and Flowstone Charger) and the silver (bordered) one (Lexivore), white is limited to just three beasts, all of them recent: Dromad Purebred, Woolly Razorback, and Calciderm. I'm going to eliminate the latter from consideration first off, because it's untargetable and you can't even use it with Contested Cliffs. I was pretty jazzed about putting Dromad Purebred in the deck, until I found out that you don't gain life equal to the damage dealt to it. You just gain one life each time its dealt damage. Too bad, Dro-mad. (It doesn't help that it's a 1/5 for five.)

That leaves us with Woolly Razorback. Lovely. No, seriously. Is there a beast that needs Contested Cliffs more than Woolly Razorback, the swine who came in from the cold? The poor guy is 7/7 but he can't even attack (at least not right away). Note that only Woolly Razorback's combat damage is prevented. He's free to spend his downtime heaving goblins, elves and, heck, even dragons off the side of the cliff, which augurs well for the hoary boar. Once the great white hog becomes the undisputed heavyweight champion of the cliffs, you can make him do battle with other creatures in the Arena.

The other beast that I want to use is Coalhauler Swine. Throughout the past several months, many readers have sent me combos involving the load-bearing pig, the most popular of which is Coalhauler Swine + Pariah's Shield + something to ensure the Swine can't be destroyed (either Blessing of Leeches or Shield of Kaldra). James Waddington, Justin (a.k.a. Phelios), Stephen Whitworth, Aaron Fernandez, George S., and Joseph Durel have all sent me some variation on this idea and this seems like as good a time as any to use it.

Coalhauler Swine
Pariah's Shield
Shield of Kaldra

Basically, once you get the Swine in play and equipped with both Shields (and what could be easier?), all you need to do is a single damage to either the Swine or yourself and you'll set off a nifty damage loop, which ought to result in the death of everyone but you. Although this is tough to pull off, the good news is that most of the cards work well with the rest of the deck. Being indestructible is nice when you're having a contest on the cliffs, for instance, as is wielding a Loxodon Warhammer.

Being in white means having access to Steelshaper's Gift (to find the equipment), as well as Weathered Wayfarer (to find the lands).

Woolly Bully

Download Arena Decklist

Flank in earnest

Vesuvan Shapeshifter

If there's one thing I'm good at, it's completely forgetting about something. Fortunately, it's pretty hard to forget about morph if you're brainstorming ideas for Bluff Week. Morphs are tricky no matter what they are underneath it all, but they get even trickier when they turn out to be a shapeshifter of the Vesuvan persuasion. When you un-morph Vesuvan Shapeshifter, it becomes a copy of a creature in play and sets off any morph triggers the copied creature might have. We've all seen what happens when you combine the Shapeshifter with Fathom Seer and/or Brine Elemental.

One thing you won't get to do when you un-morph the Shapeshifter, is trigger any comes-into-abilities of the creature it clones. If, for example, you un-morph it and clone a Cloudchaser Kestrel, you won't get to destroy an enchantment. You'd have to play Vesuvan Shapeshifter from your hand to do that. While this sounds like a bit of a bummer, the upside is that there are some creatures whose comes-into-play abilities you don't want to have trigger. Like, say, Hunted Phantasm.

Allow me to take a slight detour. One of the perks of writing this column is that I was asked to build a deck for last year's Magic Invitational. Dutch pro Julien Nuijten ended up playing my deck, so naturally I was rooting for him. Perhaps more memorable than going 2-1 (though not for me), was this little tidbit from the coverage:

"Nuijten was seen triple-blocking a Jolrael's Centaur with three 1/1 Insects. Afterwards he said, "I thought it was Bushido!""

Keep in mind that this was pre-Time Spiral, so knowing exactly how flanking worked wasn't as relevant on a day-to-day basis. Basically, each creature that blocks the flanker gets -1/-1, so Julien lost all of his Insects to the Centaur. This got me to pondering: If I built a deck with Hunted Phantasm and a bunch of flankers, how many people could I sucker into gang-blocking my flankers with their goblin tokens? Sadly, the answer turned out to be zero. In all of my test games, I couldn't convince a single person to put three guys in front of my Knight of the Holy Nimbus. Still, do try this at home. Surely someone else will make "the flank mistake" at some point.

The core of the deck was made up of Shapeshifters, Hunted Phantasm, and some flanking knights. Coral Tricksters are, believe it or not, pretty tricky, and run interference for your more important morphs. To successfully bluff a morph, it's nice to have at least a few weird one-ofs, so I included a Willbender, Fledgling Mawcor, Slipstream Serpent, and a pair of Weathered Bodyguards.

You can't have a sneaky deck without some combat tricks, so I turned to the unlikely duo of Trial // Trial and Valor Made Real: Two mediocre tricks that trick mediocre-ly together! Trial is great if your opponent tries to gang block one of your non-flanking, non-unblockable creatures with the goblin tokens you gave him with Hunted Phantasm. Bye-bye, my little green friends! Valor Made Real, meanwhile, is arguably the worst combat trick ever made, but it works okay with Vertigo Spawn, or better yet, Stuffy Doll. Since I was already using Outrider en-Kor (to flank with), I figured I might as well use Stuffy, too.


Download Arena Decklist

Here's a slightly different take on the concept. This deck is much more straightforward, with a pile of flankers, a short rebel chain, and Hunted Troll at the top of the curve. For combat tricks, I used Strength in Numbers and Wildsize, since the trample is very useful when you're attacking with an 8/4 creature that could otherwise be trumped by a Kobold.

Flankie and Johnny

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Games of Chicken

Okay, now that I've successfully shirked (or is it skirted?) my Bluff Week responsibilities, it's time to, uh, un-shirk (or un-skirt) them. As many of you are probably aware, one of the most famous types of bluffing contest is the "game of chicken." It's like chicken-boxing, but much more dangerous. Most famously, a game of chicken involves two drivers heading towards the same point from opposite directions. If one driver swerves, he is considered a chicken. If neither driver swerves, they are both toast. Either way, someone ends up being part of a club sandwich.

Well, how better to explore games of chicken than with actual (magical) chickens?

The common household chicken, or recipia clandestinus, is an underrepresented creature in the Magic world. You need to travel great distances to see one. Get your passports ready, folks, because we're about to cross a silver border. Chicken à la King, the chicken lord, is a great card to build around, especially in this day and age. It is also, to my knowledge, the only Magic card named after a recipe. (If someone's grandmother makes a mean Mistform Ultimus, I'll be very upset.)

Chicken à la King

The reason Chicken à la King is so much more delicious is because of Graft. Roll a six, beef up your chickens. Play Cytoplast Root-Kin, really beef the flock up. To get the most out of Chicken à la King, you'll want to play with lots of tappable chickens and some ways to untap them. Once we've got some graft, a set of Vigean Graftmages seems like a very-small-brainer. As for the chickens, I decided to keep the deck U/G and use Free-Range Chicken and, of course, Mistform Ultimus. Interestingly, due to recent efforts to consolidate the creature types, Portal Three Kingdoms' Zodiac Rooster has transformed from a Rooster to a Chicken. That had to hurt.

A game of chicken is a serious gamble, a dangerous bet, and what would a bet be without a bookie? In particular, a little green Goblin Bookie?

To round things out, I added an Evolution Vat (or bucket of chicken), a Riptide Laboratory (coincidentally, where KFC is made), and a Doom Cannon (because nothing strikes fear into the hearts of your enemies quite like clucking ammunition). For a little extra flavour, I also added my own special blend of very ugly herbs and spices: a Cockatrice and a Protean Hulk. According to Borborygmos, Protean Hulks taste like chicken. Last of all, I threw in an Ambiguity. You must be familiar with that age-old question. Which came first: the chicken theme-deck or the egg theme-deck?

A Poultry Sum

Download Arena Decklist

Until next time, don't show any tells.

Chris Millar

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