Way of IntoTheAether

Posted in Feature on November 23, 2004

By Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar

Let's jump right in! Here's what you chose in last week's “Constructing Preconstructed” polls:

Poll #1: Which deck do you want to see JMS play and change?
Way of the Warrior 1674 28.6%
Snake's Path 1563 26.7%
Kami Reborn 1497 25.6%
Spiritbane 1110 19.0%
Total 5844 100.0%
Poll #2: What kind of deck is JMS making?
Kamigawa Block 1739 34.8%
Standard 1364 27.3%
Tribal Wars 538 10.8%
Two-Headed Giant 494 9.9%
Online Extended 364 7.3%
Classic 248 5.0%
Prismatic 247 4.9%
Total 4994 100.0%

Way of the Warrior and Kamigawa Block Constructed, here I come! These are great choices, actually, because they involve the most straightforward preconstructed deck with the pool of cards that most supports the precons. As a result, I expect this experiment to be very accessible to beginners.

Before I get started, let me provide a quick recap of what I'm doing and what guidelines I'm following to do it:

Recap: I'm taking a preconstructed deck and slowly changing it over four weeks into something that's fun to play in the Casual Constructed room of Magic Online.

The Guidelines:

1. The goal is to make a fun deck to play that wins its fair share of games in the Casual Constructed room of Magic Online. This is not an effort to make a competitive tournament deck.

2. This experiment is meant to be entertaining for all sorts of players, but I particularly want Magic Online beginners to find it accessible. As a result:

  • I may be explaining some basic principles in the articles.
  • I will be trying to keep expensive rares out of the deck (but not avoiding them if I think they significantly enhance the deck).

3. I will not make changes to the deck until playing at least five games with each current decklist.

4. I will change no more than five cards per revision.

Also, a caveat: I will probably repeat a lot in the next month that I'm making a pet deck for me, me, me. At almost every turn I will likely make different choices than you. That's okay. This experiment is meant to be fun to read, inspire creativity, and illustrate some deckbuilding concepts. If you don't like what I'm building, by all means make your own deck and beat me with it in the Casual room.

Now that all of the preliminaries are out of the way...

Way of the Warrior - The Beginning

Below is the deck you're given when you first purchase Way of the Warrior. You can also load this deck into your Deck Editor by going into your “themedecks” folder. I've done what I usually do with decklists, separated the land from the creatures from the non-land/non-creatures and sorted by frequency and cost. For me, this is a way to really understand the deck I'm playing.

Way of the Warrior v.1.0

Download Arena Decklist

Many regular constructed players are sure to see this decklist, cringe, and start changing it dramatically. Why? Because the deck is underpowered and inconsistent even for average casual play. There will be no dramatic changes for me, though; Such behavior flies in the face of this experiment. I'm going to play this sucker as-is until I have a feel for its strengths, weaknesses, and card interactions.

Here are some eyeballed impressions before I've played a single game:

1) Deck Themes. One impressive thing about this preconstructed deck over a lot of others is that it's relatively focused. Here are the deck themes as I see them:

  • Major theme: Playing Samurai and smashing face.
  • Minor theme 1: Improving your Samurai via combat tricks, Enchant Creatures, and Equipment.
  • Minor theme 2: Creature removal.
  • Very minor theme 1: Splice onto Arcane.
  • Very minor theme 2: Flipping Bushi Tenderfoot.

The nice thing is that the major theme (Samurai) and the two minor themes work together quite nicely. Some of you may be wondering why I even listed the two very minor themes, but in my mind these are seeds that I could choose to grow as I play the deck. That is, I might decide that the most fun thing about the deck is either Splicing Candles' Glow repeatedly or getting Kenzo the Hardhearted into play, and then evolve the deck accordingly.

2) Mana. It's monowhite, so that makes the mana easy. That's a wonky manacurve, though. The deck has mostly quick, low-cost spells and then hopes to cast seven spells of either four or six mana. Frankly, twenty-four Plains sounds like too much for an aggressive deck but necessary if you want to reliably get Takeno, Samurai General into play. This is something I'll have to resolve eventually.

Speaking of mana, don't think that just because the deck is currently monowhite that it's going to stay that way. For example, green provides things like Time of Need and better creature-enhancers, black and red provide better creature removal and their own Samurai, and blue provides card-drawing, counters, and its own assortment of combat tricks. Any of these are viable directions to take the deck.

3) Consistency. A big criticism of preconstructed decks is their lack of consistency since they are usually comprised of one- and two-copies of cards. The good news about Way of the Warrior is that since it's pretty focused, many of the cards serve duplicate purposes and thus the single copies don't stand out as much. That said, expect the final decklist to have a lot more 3- and 4-copies of cards.

4) Power. Another criticism of preconstructed decks is that they are filled with cards that are, let's say, less than optimal, even for casual decks. I'm not willing to cut cards like Vigilance yet because I haven't played them, but the first changes I make will be to identify the heart of the deck and trim the rest.

5) Fun. Some people absolutely love “White Weenie” decks (decks trying to win with small, fast white creatures) and some people think they're boring. I tend to fall in the middle, appreciating the (cough) elegance of WW strategies while also needing my decks to have some tricks up their sleeves. I'm not sure yet what this means for how much I'll change the current central theme of the deck, but don't rule out me eventually focusing on one of those very minor themes.

That's enough waxing philosophic with no data behind me. It's time to jump in and start playing. Although I'm sure to lose a lot of my games early on, I hope to learn the deck and what's fun (for me) about it.

Playing Preconstructed

It's less difficult to find a Kamigawa Block game in the Casual room than I had feared. Hopefully after this article it will be even less difficult to find games. Anyway, here's a recap of my inaugural games...

Game 1: Green/Blue Azusa deck


Konda's Hatamoto
His deck was very cool, built around Azusa, Lost But Seeking in combination with things like Kodama's Reach, Soratami Mirror-Mage, and Strength of Cedars. I got a Devoted Retainer and Konda's Hatamoto, then a second Hatamoto. I plink him down to fifteen life, twelve, ten, eight, six, but eventually he got Azusa going full steam and I died to a 10/9 Strength of Cedared Mirror-Mage. I had two Vigilance in hand the whole game, unwilling to cast them because a) I didn't see how they would help my board position against fliers, and b) I didn't want to lose my enchantment from bounce.

Game 2: Green/Red Spirits

The game started out amusingly enough. I dropped three Devoted Retainers and he dropped three Kami of the Hunt. The difference was that I attacked into his guys and he didn't attack into mine. A Candles' Glow helped me stay ahead in the creature race. He played Soilshaper and I responded with Kitsune Blademaster. My opponent started chump-blocking to stay alive and when I played Samurai Enforcers he conceded. Except for the Candles' Glow all I did was drop land and creatures and attack. The result: Way of the Warrior's first win!

Game 3: Green/Blue Azusa deck


I think this was the same player and the same deck from Game 1, but I'm not sure. This time around, though, I got him to two life with a combination of Devoted Retainer equipped with No-Dachi, Konda's Hatamoto, and Takeno, Samurai General. He got Meloku the Clouded Mirror, which I removed with Reciprocate, but the two Illusions he created go the distance. At one point he used Strength of Cedars to get me to one life, but I used Candles' Glow to give me an extra turn. It was a fairly back-and-forth game, though it was frustrating playing Enchant Creature cards against a deck with lots of bounce. Afterwards he said “Your deck is really cool” and I didn't have the heart to tell him it was a precon.

Game 4: Green/Red Aggro

His deck had Kami of the Hunt, Kumano, Master Yamabushi, Kodama of the South Tree, and Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. Basically, then, he ran me over. I was only able to generate a Mothrider Samurai with No-Dachi and Vigilance support. The Samurai did eight damage and survived thanks to Reciprocate on his Kumano, but there was no way I was going to win that damage race. This was the first game I realized that I have only twenty creatures to go along with eleven spells that require creatures. That's not a good balance, it seems to me.

Game 5: 5-Color Hondens

I was excited to keep a hand of both Reciprocates and a Cage of Hands, but it quickly became apparent that my opponent's deck was near creatureless. I plink away with a Devoted Retainer (with Vigilance!) and a Kitsune Blademaster died to Glacial Ray. I got four Plains and two Mothrider Samurai into play as he got two Shrines, and it slid quickly downhill from there. In almost no time at all, he had all five Shrines, Orochi Hatchery with three counters on it, and I was dead. Note to self: This deck can't deal with opposing enchantments or artifacts.

So after five games, what have I learned?

  • Yes, the manacurve is wonky.
  • Yes, Vigilance is, like, not very good. On a positive note, I do manage to draw it every game.
  • I can't deal with fliers.
  • I can't deal with enchantments of artifacts.
  • The deck doesn't have enough creatures to support its creature-enhancers.
  • Candles' Glow and Reciprocate are surprisingly cool.

That's probably enough information to make my first changes. Here we go...

Bring the Curtain

OUT: 2 Vigilance

To the deck's credit, Vigilance is the only truly easy card to drop. The reason it's so easy is that it just doesn't do enough to warrant a spot in the deck. Yes, it lets you use Bushido to both attack and block, but you need a creature first and that creature shouldn't be Konda's Hatamoto if you're planning on playing a legend. Also, the creatures are fairly expendable here, so you're almost always giving your opponent a two-for-one advantage if you play this on, say, a Devoted Retainer. If these slots had an enchantment that gave all of your creatures vigilance, that would be one thing. If this were Dragon Scales that gave a power/toughness bonus and could come back into play on Takeno, that would be something too. As it is... yuck.

OUT: 2 Samurai Enforcers

It may seem weird to drop two Samurai right away, especially the largest in the deck. But that's exactly the point--Samurai Enforcers are too slow and clunky for a deck trying to overwhelm an opponent with weenies. They also don't allow you to hold back mana for your Instant-speed tricks the turn you cast them. Sure, my second opponent conceded after I played my Enforcers, but that was the only time I was able to cast them in five games (and not for lack of drawing them, either). I like the idea that Takeno stands at the top of the manacurve all by his lonesome. Maybe these will come back in if I decide to make the deck less focused on weenies, but for now Samurai Enforcers just look out of place.

IN: 4 Samurai of the Pale Curtain


Samurai of the Pale Curtain
Normally my early changes would focus on adding extra copies of cards that already exist in the deck. Making a Samurai deck without Samurai of the Pale Curtain, though, just seems silly. It has the best cost-to-power ratio of any Samurai and it has a very useful effect in Kamigawa Block where Spirits run rampant. It's also an uncommon that is very reasonable to acquire via trading. I don't feel like I can really test my interest in a white-based Samurai deck if I don't have these in here, so best to rip off the band-aid now.

Of course, adding Samurai of the Pale Curtain puts a Mark of Death on Bushi Tenderfoot. I would drop him now except that so far I haven't played him. One of my unspoken rules is to not drop a card without having tried it first. Watch out, though, little Tenderfoot.

That puts the decklist here:

Way of the Warrior v.1.1

Download Arena Decklist

Let's see what effect, if any, making these changes has on the deck:

Game 6: White/Red Samurai


Bushi Tenderfoot
It looked to me like my opponent had also bought a Way of the Warrior and modified it, adding red burn (and, presumably, Samurai) and Samurai of the Pale Curtain. I was tickled because I had an opening hand with my new Samurai and Bushi Tenderfoot (finally). I played a Devoted Retainer, he played his own Tenderfoot, I played Samurai of the Pale Curtain, he played Cage of Hands on my Samurai, I played No-Dachi, and it went on from there. My 3/1 Devoted Retainer went the distance, surprisingly, and I got a second No-Dachi on a Mothrider Samurai to outmuscle his own Mothrider. Blessed Breath countered a key Glacial Ray that helped a lot too. I tell ya, it's nice to win immediately after making changes.

Game 7: Green/Red Legends deck

His deck had Time of Need and Commune with Nature to play things like Kodama of the South Tree and Brothers Yamazaki, along with Arcane spells and Hana Kami. I was proud of my little deck, actually. I played out quick creatures to put pressure on him, then used tricks like Indomitable Will, Blessed Breath, and Call to Glory to get card advantage and keep my creatures alive. I won at twelve life, feeling in control the entire time despite his impressive spells.

Game 8: White/Red Samurai

Ooooo... Samurai free-for-all! That was pretty much what it felt like, too. We traded blows and were playing pretty much the same creatures, except that he was able to find two Nagao, Bound by Honor and two Brothers Yamazaki. Still, I had the combat tricks on my side. An Indomitable Will and Blessed Breath completely messed up his Bushido-math, and he was put on the defensive as a result. Two No-Dachi didn't help either, as I was able to keep attacking without losing my creatures. He dropped me to six life, but eventually I overwhelmed him.

Game 9: Green/Blue/Red Honden


Otherworldly Journey
This deck was a lot like the other Honden deck, except that it used a heck of a lot of Arcane and Splice spells. Once again I was happy to see Reciprocates in my opening hand and once again they were pretty much useless in this matchup. The good news was that I had a lot of early pressure, and all he could find initially was Honden of Seeing Winds. He misclicked so that he had to cast his Consuming Vortex instead of Splice it, which was pretty much game. I got to cast my first Otherworldly Journey towards the end, which for some reason made me extremely happy.

Game 10: Green/Black Spirit/Arcane deck

He had a first-turn Hana Kami, but I had a second-turn Samurai of the Pale Curtain. He said “that's pretty much game,” but I didn't see why if he had any sort of creature removal in his deck. I got a nice smooth draw to drop Samurai on my first four turns, then could sit back with a grip full of tricks in case he tried to do something sneaky. He played a Thief of Hope, Soilshaper, Sakura-Tribe Elder, Kodama's Reach, and another Hana Kami in desperate search for a Dragon, but all that happened was that he had loads of land and I kept attacking.

Game 11: Monoblack Spirits

He got stuck on three Swamps and I got stuck on three Plains. The difference was that I had lots of low-cost creatures and he was struggling to find anything he could cast. I basically ran him over without much difficulty.

It's amazing how big a difference a little change can make. I'm 6-0 since adding Samurai of the Pale Curtain, which has made an appearance in all six games. Neat. Some of these results are dumb luck and random variation, but I don't think you can totally discount them.

Of course, I'm not done making changes.

OUT: 1 Bushi Tenderfoot

I warned you. It's actually possible to get Kenzo the Hardhearted into play with this deck via Indomitable Will, Blessed Breath, No-Dachi, Candles' Glow, and Hold the Line. The problem is twofold. First, having Bushi Tenderfoot out is a distraction. I worry that I spend too much time trying to flip him instead of using the aforementioned cards to save my better creatures. Second, as I said, Samurai of the Pale Curtain weakens Bushi Tenderfoot considerably. Without Mr. Tenderfoot, the deck has no cards that rely on the graveyard.

OUT: 1 Hold the Line

I know it's one of the only two rares in the deck. Dropping a rare from a precontructed deck just feels wrong, especially so early. The only problem is that I have held Hold the Line in several games and have never seen an opportunity to cast it. My deck just doesn't block all that often, to be honest, and when it does the other tricks in the deck are cheaper and more effective. It's a great card to play in conjunction with Call to Glory, I suppose, but that isn't going to happen a lot. Ironically, Hold the Line is probably the only card that got worse by ditching Vigilance.

IN: 2 Nagao, Bound by Honor


Nagao, Bound by Honor
Whenever I play Konda's Hatamoto, which is quite often, I keep expecting him to be more than a 1/2 Bushido dude. Then it never happens. This should be no surprise since there are currently only two Legends in the deck: One copy each of Nagao and Takeno, Samurai General. If I'm going to spend three slots in my deck on Konda's Hatamoto, then I want a better shot at making him a 2/4 maneater. In fact, Nagao is everything Samurai Enforcers tried to be in this deck. It's beefy, able to survive Glacial Ray and Hideous Laughter, without being overly expensive. The fact that it combos so well with Konda's Hatamoto is a significant bonus. Despite his legendary status, I want three copies to ensure I draw him more often.

I don't want to go overboard in changes the first week so I'll stop there. Notice what I've done so far: I've trimmed some of the cards that don't fit what the deck is trying to do and I've cut underpowered cards in favor of more (and better) Samurai. Now the mana makes more sense, as do the amount of creatures versus creature-enhancers. Already I have a deck that I'm not embarrassed by at all when I show up to my games.

Speaking of which, here's the current deck:

Way of the Warrior v.1.2

Download Arena Decklist

Whew. I don't usually spend a whole article on one topic, but hopefully today served as a good kick-start to this experiment and you see how it's going to work for the next three weeks (expect me to discuss other topics too, though). Feel free to speak up on the Message Boards about my decisions, what cards you think should be dropped next, and what cards you think should be added. I will definitely factor your opinions into my own decision-making.

For those in the United States, have a great Thanksgiving Holiday week!


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