Building On A Budget -
Budget Beatdown

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I'm going to hold off on the normal deck types for a few weeks until Mirrodin cards are available online, when I'll be able to talk more about Standard and Rogue decks with all of the new cards in them (which, according to our polls, seem to be what people want to read about). In the meantime, I'm going to go over the fundamentals of building basic Magic deck types...on a budget. These archetypes are commonly known as Beatdown, Control, Aggro-control, Combo, and Rogue -- each name referring to the way the deck wins and its respective stability in trying situations.

This week I will be discussing Beatdown. When talking about Beatdown, many feel the need to use the over-quoted words of Michael J. Flores: "There are no wrong threats." I'm no different. While Magic is a game of change, the fundamentals never stagnate -- and having threats is always a good thing. A threat is anything that will beat your opponent, given enough time. The better the threat, the quicker it accomplishes this goal.

One way to determine the power of your Beatdown deck is to play against a goldfish (a non-opponent). This imaginary figure sits across from you doing nothing every turn. If you can kill him on turn five, then you have a good Beatdown deck. The best Beatdown decks will also have a good recovery time from sweeper effects that will devastate your position. For example, Siege-Gang Commander is a card that's good for coming back from a Wrath of God.

Beatdown is one of the easier decks to build on a budget. Since there are no wrong threats, all you have to do is use cheap ones. Some of the beast threats in the game are commons (Wild Mongrel comes to mind).

Back in the day, people used to run Goblin decks (when Goblins were much worse then they are now) with Blood Lusts and Orcish Artilleries. Cards like these still exist today. The trick is finding cards that are explosive and cards that clear the way for your damage. You may also want cards that go straight to the source, like burn spells. Cards like Lightning Elemental can hit hard, but they're weak against blockers. Cards like Shock can field for your Lightning Elemental and maybe even deal the final 2 points of damage.

There are many great common threats, and I'd be crazy to try to name them all. Your best bet for determining the power level of a threat is to check its power-to-casting cost ratio. For example, a one-power creature for one mana is average. A two-power creature for two mana is average. Thus, cards like Savannah Lions (two power for one mana) are a good deal, thus a better threat.

Many average threats become good because of their abilities. Deftblade Elite has an average power-to-casting cost ratio, but its abilities are powerful, thus it's a great threat. By playing many cards with high power-to-casting cost ratios and good abilities, you gain a little something we call tempo. Tempo is the heart and soul of a Beatdown deck.

In essence, tempo is "gaining speed" on your opponent. You do this by piloting a deck that either slows your opponent down or is fast itself. For example, if you play a Raging Goblin on the first turn, a Wild Mongrel on the second turn, and then play Stone Rain on your opponent's Plains on the third turn, you've gained tempo in both directions. The Stone Rain essentially sets your opponent back a turn, letting you attack one more time with your two creatures. In this sense, your 25-cent Stone Rain just turned into a $125 Time Walk. (I know...another Mike Flores quote. What can I say? He has so many good ones.)

Tempo can also come in the form of mana acceleration. Cards like Llanowar Elves or Skirk Prospector are resources that speed your assault up. This will help end the game faster, which will make it less likely that your opponent does something to impede your assault. In short, every time you use your mana and your opponent does not, you gain tempo.

The last thing to be aware of when making a Beatdown deck is to be prepared for the rebuttal that your opponents are sure to make. They may have blockers that are bigger than your attackers or straight creature removal. By utilizing a set of synergistic cards that are all good and countering those strategies, you end up with a powerful Beatdown deck. (I'm surprised he didn't fit "leverage" into that sentence somewhere. --dm)

One good way to reduce your opponent's options is with hand disruption. Cards like Cabal Therapy, Duress, and Last Rites are cheap and can strip your opponent of answers. Since you're spending your early turns investing your cards in easy-to-thwart threats, your opponents can beat you by investing their later turns trumping multiple threats. This is the constant battle between tempo and card advantage. A little hand disruption, however, can leave your opponent facing down your threats without an answer.

Here is an example of a budget Beatdown deck. It is simple in design, using creatures and some disruption to gain tempo, with some burn spells to clear the way and finish the job.

Building on a Budget - Budget Beatdown

Main Deck

60 cards

Barren Moor
Forgotten Cave
10  Swamp

22 lands

Carrion Feeder
Ember Beast
Goblin Grappler
Mesmeric Fiend
Raging Goblin
Rotting Giant
Wretched Anurid

28 creatures

Cabal Therapy
Volcanic Hammer

10 other spells

There are eight creatures with good power-to-casting cost ratios -- notably Wretched Anurid and Rotting Giant. Both of these have drawbacks, but the deck is structured so they should always be able to attack and not become too much of a disadvantage.

The disruption comes in the form of Cabal Therapy and Mesmeric Fiend. The Fiend acts as both threat and disruption -- making up for its low power.

One of the nice tricks in this deck is that you can play a Fiend and, while its comes-into-play ability is on the stack, sacrifice it to Carrion Feeder. Not only will your opponent not get the card back, but you essentially gave the Fiend haste, as it's now a +1/+1 counter on the back of the Feeder. Carrion Feeder and Goblin Grappler also allow you to squeeze extra damage through, since the Grappler can occupy a large blocker and then jump onto the Feeder before damage goes on the stack.

This deck could also be built with land destruction like Stone Rain and Rancid Earth instead of hand disruption. In general, as long as you stick to the guidelines above, you can build competitive Beatdown decks without using a single rare.

Now that's what I call the cheap beats.

Until next week, may your hand be full of Time Walks.

Nate Heiss
Team CMU
NateHeiss on Magic Online

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