You Pick My Gunslinging Decks!

Posted in Feature on January 26, 2006

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."

"Have you come with your chosen weapon?"
"I have."
"What is your weapon?" This was the teacher's advantage, his chance to adjust his plan of battle to the sling or spear or bah or bow.
"My weapon is David."
-- from Stephen King's The Dark Tower series

One of the coolest moments in the entire Dark Tower series was a flashback on Roland the Gunslinger's childhood. Roland was from a noble family of Gunslingers and was being trained to eventually become one, which in this world is a sort of noble knight with bullets instead of swords. Due to some upsetting revelations, Roland decides to challenge his teacher to a duel, a rite of manhood a noble boy passes before becoming a Gunslinger with a big “G”. At 14, Roland is way too young and inexperienced to succeed in hand to hand combat with his teacher Cort.


Defiant Falcon
Roland chooses Rogue. His weapon of choice is David, Roland's pet falcon and hardly a conventional dueling weapon. David's vicious talons tear Cort a new one and Roland becomes a Gunslinger.

When Star City's Pete Hoefling asked me to gunsling for him at Grand Prix Richmond, we both agreed that it would be fun to involve the online community in choosing which decks I would play (I'll be available for Standard, Extended, Legacy and Legacy Highlander Constructed duels, and I will also have a Ravnica/Guildpact Sealed deck). At the same time, there was some concern that some folks wouldn't go for the spirit of fun and, since the decks would be made public, instead might build decks specifically designed to tear mine apart to score a free booster pack. In effect, being wily old Cort, seeing what my weapon would be before choosing one of his own to have an advantage over me. Therefore, I'm going to have a couple Davids up my sleeve, and when we sit down to play I'll roll a die to see which deck I'll play: either my chosen public deck, or a secret rogue concoction with sharp talons and a mean streak!

Now, time's a-wasting in choosing my decks, so let's get cracking! Readers of this column will choose my Standard and Extended decks, since they line up with what's available on Magic Online. I'll have the Star City Legacy forums choose my Legacy deck. For Legacy Highlander, there will only be my David deck, a fun build drawn from my own collection of cards stretching from Unlimited to Guildpact. What's it going to have? Build a Highlander deck and come find out! If you can't make it to the Grand Prix, I will be doing a recap of my Gunslinging experience after GP Richmond is over.

I also wanted to thank everyone who took the time to send in their suggestions!

Adrian Sullivan

Download Arena Decklist

Adrian Sullivan is one of my heroes, a man who walks his own path and finds success there. No one else outside of his playtest cadre succeeded with anything remotely like this for last fall's Champs, and I've been dying to try it out. Pick this deck and I'll get to step inside Adrian's shoes for a little while and try to see how he thinks.

Mike Flores

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Flores presented this deck over on Star City, a deck chock full of vicious little Red men and backed with burn. I don't typically warm to aggressive strategies, but I did go through a phase back during the days of Necropotence where little Red men and burn spells did fill my grip quite often. Pick this deck and I will be getting in touch with a side of me I haven't been around in a while.

FungusFire (blisterguy's version)

Download Arena Decklist

Star City's blisterguy used this deck to qualify for Worlds, and most of you will recognize it as Fungus Fires. This is another deck I have not yet had the pleasure of trying out, and its chock full of nifty synergies. Godo is a beating, I really need to spend some time with that kid and, if you pick this deck, we'll make wonderful, sweet artifact music together.

Werner Cloete

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Urzatron is alive and well without Tooth and Nail or Mindslaver, thank you very much! Blue/Red is getting ready to get a huge boost with Guildpact's The Izzet soon stepping into the card pool, so this will be the last chance to play this particular style. Pick this and I'll get a better idea of what to keep and what to toss when Ravnica's mad scientists come to town.

Jack Elgin

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Elgin won the Richmond PTQ I was playing in, and once I was eliminated from contention, I kept hearing about “that Helldozer deck.” Helldozer!! I really liked that card and noodled around with a Zombie deck for Champs last fall that ran Helldozer, so I was thrilled to hear somebody was doing well with it. Helldozer is a machine in Extended, where non-basics and Cabal Coffers combine to devastate mana bases. If you pick this deck I will gleefully chew up many Ravnica dual lands before swinging for six.

Michael Krumb

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I'd like to think I was the godfather of this creation, inspiring Star City's John Friggin' Rizzo with my silly Champs Dredge deck to posit combining the Dredge engine with Ichorid in Extended. Several Pro players ran with the idea, culminating in this beauteous creation that ruled Grand Prix Charlotte. If you pick this deck, I will giggle like a schoolboy whenever I cast Tolarian Winds.

Douglas Scheinberg

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Douglas Scheinberg emailed this specific build in, and it looks solid. Little beaters, burn and Isochron Scepter. If you pick this deck, I promise to send my opponents back to their Grand Prix experience relatively quickly.

Greg Weiss

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Greg built this deck for Pro Tour LA, and while it ended up running into splash hate for other decks that happened to be good against it, I still really liked the concept. Who wouldn't have an absolute ball swinging with a trio of hasty reanimated Thorn Elementals? If you pick this one, I'll get to enjoy graveyard reanimation one last time before Leyline of the Void rains on our parade.

Some of you may be thinking, “C'mon Bennie—you have to play your Dredge deck!” Rest assured that, lurking somewhere in my secret David decks, the spirit of Dredge patiently waits ready to take another victim!

Help Bennie Not Suck At Limited Project

With the excellent response in the forums to last week's Limited discussion, I thought I'd bring Ken back for another round of Sealed Deck examination. This time I joined a Sealed Ravnica league, and here's what I popped open:


1 Three Dreams
1 Boros Fury-Shield
1 Festival of the Guildpact
1 Conclave's Blessing
1 Auratouched Mage
1 Conclave Equenaut
1 Dromad Purebred
1 Screeching Griffin
1 Votary of the Conclave
1 Wojek Apothecary

1 Compulsive Research
1 Dizzy Spell
1 Quickchange
1 Flight of Fancy
1 Stasis Cell
1 Grayscaled Gharial
1 Lore Broker
1 Tattered Drake
1 Terraformer
1 Tidewater Minion
1 Vedalken Dismisser

1 Brainspoil
1 Vigor Mortis
1 Disembowel
1 Shred Memory
1 Strands of Undeath
1 Dimir House Guard
1 Golgari Thug
1 Infectious Host
1 Necroplasm
1 Roofstalker Wight
1 Sewerdreg
1 Stinkweed Imp

1 Rain of Embers
1 Seismic Spike
1 Cleansing Beam
1 Fiery Conclusion
1 Flash Conscription
1 Smash
1 Barbarian Riftcutter
1 Goblin Spelunkers
1 Ordruun Commando
1 Sabertooth Alley Cat
1 Sell-Sword Brute
1 Viashino Slasher
1 War-Torch Goblin

1 Recollect
1 Dryad's Caress
1 Gather Courage
1 Doubling Season
1 Fists of Ironwood
1 Moldervine Cloak
1 Carven Caryatid
1 Elves of Deep Shadow
1 Golgari Brownscale
1 Greater Mossdog
1 Siege Wurm
1 Stone-Seeder Hierophant

1 Bloodletter Quill
1 Boros Signet
1 Dimir Signet
1 Spectral Searchlight
1 Terrarion
1 Leashling

1 Consult the Necrosages
1 Gaze of the Gorgon
1 Golgari Germination
1 Dimir Infiltrator
1 Drooling Groodion
1 Golgari Rotwurm
1 Grave-Shell Scarab
1 Moroii
1 Shambling Shell

1 Golgari Rot Farm
1 Selesnya Sanctuary
7 Forest
6 Island
6 Mountain
6 Plains
5 Swamp

I am sad to admit that I spent a lot longer than I should have pondering over Three Dreams, Auratouched Mage and the bevy of really good Auras available. Luckily for me, during the course of figuring out how to make it work I realized just how good Green, Black, and Blue were and how shallow White was (not to mention Red). It was hard to say goodbye, but the Dreams and Mage got the boot with the rest of the White. This is what I ended up running:

RAV Sealed League

Download Arena Decklist

The deck performed fairly well, though I kept finding myself in trouble with mana, despite the artifact mana fixers. I decided to toss the card pool over to Ken Krouner who, as luck would have it, had Pro player Adam Chambers over, so they both took a look at the card pool. I didn't tell them what I decided on just to see how close I came to their deck choices.

Ken Krouner:

“Chambers and I felt this Sealed deck was pretty straight forward. Both of us built it from scratch without knowing how Bennie or each other built it and Chambers and I only wound up two cards off from each other.

“The Red and the White are both far too weak to even consider. You have all the tools to make Green-Black good and the Blue splashes perfectly. Generally you want to look at what gold cards you have and how your mana can be fixed. The gold cards are the most powerful, so whatever colors you play you generally want a lot of gold cards. In this pool we can see that all the gold cards are in Green, Black and Blue. Even the cards in the single colors in Red and White are unimpressive at best.


Vigor Mortis
“Chambers chose to play Vigor Mortis because he feels it is a powerful card with the dredge creatures. He chose not to play Bloodletter Quill because he has had bad experiences with it in the past, and that we have very few early drops so we won't have the mana available or the empty hand to replenish.

“Chambers also chose to play Roofstalker Wight because he felt this deck lacked a strong early game. I played Brownscale because I feel it is synergistic with the other dredge cards in the deck.

“After hearing Chambers's explanations, I agree with both of those card choices.

“I feel, however, that Greater Mossdog is of more value in this deck than Strands of Undeath. Chambers agreed it was close.

“All in all we agreed that there were about 28-30 cards that could all go in this deck and from there you should go by personal card preference.”

RAV Sealed League – Ken's build

Download Arena Decklist

Let's see how my choices differed from Ken and Adam's. Ken's deck had Golgari Brownscale, Greater Mossdog, Necroplasm, Selesnya Sanctuary, and Vedalken Dismisser where my deck had Consult the Necrosages, Dimir Infiltrator, Tattered Drake and a basic land. Ken also had a difference mana mix, most importantly only 2 Islands to my 4.


Consult the Necrosages
I have to admit I got distracted by all the card drawing Blue gave you, but Consult the Necrosages is a terrible choice. With Green being the primary color, it's entirely possible that you won't be able to cast Consult when you'd want to. Dimir Infiltrator seemed like a solid choice, being an early drop that could block two-power creatures and later pick up a Cloak and start smacking down your opponent. Like Consult, your mana isn't going to necessarily support that. Cutting back on the Blue and adding more Green creatures adds to the consistency of the early game and accounts for Ken's much better mana mix. I'm a bit torn over Vedalken Dismisser over Tattered Drake, both relatively decent late game spells. I ended up cutting the Dismisser because I liked the Drake's evasion and regeneration, especially with Moldervine Cloak. What do you think?

Last, I thought it was important to note Ken's inclusion of Selesnya Sanctuary. I dismissed it when looking at my original card pool, since I was not playing White. Over the prerelease weekend however, I heard some discussion about the guild bounce lands, and how they effectively squeeze an extra land into your deck at the cost of some tempo. In Ken's deck, while he's only got 16 actual lands, the deck will virtually play like he's running 18 lands. I checked with Ken to see if that was the reason he played it and he affirmed.

From the Good Egg Department


Mana Leak
I got this email the other day and it really made me smile and I just had to share it. Magic players get a bad rap sometimes due to some bad eggs with attitude, but the vast majority of Magic players are courteous and fun to play with. Robert Anderson ran across a particularly good-hearted individual and was inspired. New players are the lifeblood of Magic (or any game), so it would behoove all of us to take a moment to think about what we can do to help bring others into this game we all love, and to treat them with respect and dignity so that they stick around. Random Acts of Kindness—Pass It On!

Dear Bennie Smith,

I only started using Magic Online yesterday (19 Jan) and as such was stuck with a horrid pile of Core starter cards that really have no synergy (and mana problems). Now being only fifteen, I can't get a credit card to buy more cards and dismayed at the thought that I would never be able to trade.

I was promptly surprised then when an absolute stranger PM'd me asking if I needed help. This guy helped me through how to trade, and then, to my udder surprise, traded me 32 White and Blue commons and uncommons to build a W/U control deck, in exchange for a foil land or two.

Now I know in real life this wouldn't have happened. I asked him why he was being so gracious, and he said that when he started little over a week ago, someone had done the same thing for him.

Now just today, I found a poor guy struggling with the pile of cards he started with. Five colors, barely any land, a big mess. I felt compelled to help, and as such passed on over 60 of my few cards (leaving me with little over a deck and sideboard).

The point of this story is that I have found in just two days that MTGO is an amazing place of giving. No one tries to rip you off, games are fair, and most importantly nooBs are treat with dignity.

Yours, NerdOfTheYear A.K.A. Robert Anderson

So, with all that, here's Scott Johns with some more on 3.0.

More on 3.0

In my first preview section I talked about some of the big changes to the league system. This week I'll be following up on that by responding to the main concern that the readers posted in the message board for that article.

The most common question I saw was something along the lines of: "The new changes sound good, but I'm worried I might not be able to get all my standings matches in if I'm only allowed to play for tiebreaker points later in the week, since there may not be enough other players also looking for standings matches."

So, let's start there. To do that, let's look at another big change to the league system.


In addition to the other issues with the current league system, there's also the problem that currently tiebreaker matches have no potential downside in terms of final standings. For players doing well in a given league, placing well often requires playing endless tie-breaker rounds to build up a mountain of points to compete with other players who are doing the same thing, regardless of how those players are actually doing during those matches.

So, under the new system, a match win will be worth 1 point, a draw will be 0 points, and a loss will be worth –1 point, and you can go negative on tiebreak points. So, tiebreakers aren't just about who plays the most matches – how you do in those tiebreakers counts. That's not to say you can't play in as many tiebreakers as you want. In fact, having unlimited matches is one of the great parts of league play for those that treat them as something similar to a subscription version of Magic Online. The main difference is that for those hoping to do well in league standings, their actual performance will matter more than it does under the current system.

So, back to getting all your standings matches in each week. First off, the current system really penalizes players who wait to get their standings matches in, because at that point they're likely to be playing against the very best decks piloted by players looking to accumulate a mountain of tiebreaker points. Under the new system we feel that curve will smooth out quite a bit. Currently players avoid playing standings matches later in the week so they don't have to play against the very best decks, which causes the field to increasingly narrow down to just the top decks as the week progresses. Under the new system that shouldn't be the case, since you're only playing against other players looking for standings matches. Put another way, you're only able to play others looking for standings points, so you're more willing to play for standings points after the first day. The more people that are more willing to play later for standings points, the easier it is to get standings matches. Because there's no penalty for playing your matches later, many more players will be willing to play standings matches later in the week.

Second, we expect the changes to make leagues even more popular, which should mean they'll more easily hit (and sustain) whatever critical mass is needed to keep matches available as the week progresses. In fact, we're likely to have the ability to host larger leagues than the current 256 max, so if critical mass is an issue we could also just host larger leagues to address that as well.

On top of that, currently there is a rush to get all your standings matches in so that you can start working on that mountain of tiebreaker points if you do well. Under the new system we expect that curve to flatten out, which should also mean more standings matches getting played as the week progresses.

And in addition to all that, it's something we'll certainly keep an eye on. Leagues are a very popular way to enjoy Magic Online because they are so much fun, and with 3.0 we'll finally have the ability to make adjustments as needed. We strongly believe that getting standings matches won't be a significant issue under the new system, but if that does end up being a problem we'll have the tools available to correct it. In the end, we think the new league system will be more fun, will offer you match-ups that are more likely to be interesting, and will have final standings that better reflect those who have performed the best. The more fun those leagues are, the more participation you'll see, and the more fun everyone involved will get to have.

It's no coincidence I started with leagues for these previews. Before I got hired by Wizards of the Coast, leagues were my favorite way to play Magic Online. Between having a day job and children, the ability to get fun casual matches whenever I had the time was my favorite part of Magic Online. I'm really excited to see the new changes coming up, and I think the league system that will come from them is going to be way better than the current system. As much as I liked leagues before, I can't wait to try the new league system. Hopefully others will agree!


Thanks Scott! Some of you might be in the same boat as I was and unaware of the Wizards.Community Chat schedule, where you get to talk online to members of Wizards of the Coast. This Sunday, Jan 29, 2 pm PST (5 pm EST) will be a “Guildpact Social” where you can talk with R&D member Brian Schneider about Guildpact. There will be Guildpact packs awarded to a lucky few, so go check it out!

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