Trading Blows with Tools

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The letter D!o you remember when you first started playing Magic? I'm sure you probably remember who taught you the rules, shared some cards, showed off some decks, and excitedly wrangled you into the wonderful world of slinging cardboard. I would also venture a wager that the first Magic product you bought was some combination of the latest set: what everyone else was happily cracking open you jumped right into as well. It's natural to want to get into the latest—it's exactly what I did with my very first purchase—but buying a few booster packs of one set won't give you the base to build a variety of decks.

Which is where we left off last week: I had taken a pretty normal "starting pool" for jumping into Magic and used The Deck Builder's Toolkit to work through the suggested process included to transform a handful of the cards that I found interesting into a fully fleshed out 60-card deck. The final stage of this evolution is to continue it. By playing the deck and thinking about where it could use a little boost we'll be able to continue the process of shifting and choosing cards. The end result is a deck that consistently does exactly what you want. The road you take there is one all your own choosing Momir Vig would be proud.

Take a moment to jump back to last week, where I shared my six packs of Rise of the Eldrazi then provided my completed deck, post-Toolkit. Once you've seen what I did, below is the short version of what everyone else was up to. If you're not interested in poring over the starters and final deck lists then scroll down to hit the game report—how everything shook out in the showdown, as well as even more information on the Toolkit.

Don is a straightforward kind of guy and, as you can see, Don went with a straightforward route, similar to mine, albeit with some twists. Eldrazi Conscription looked to be a promising tag for any critter while his mana ramping efforts with Rampant Growth and Growth Spasm seemed solid to ensure a hearty Eldrazi would be able to join play. The similarity in relying on red to bring removal—Lightning Bolt, Flame Slash, and Heat Ray—is there too. While the idea of running red and green seems to imply similarities it's clear that the ramping and top end baddies are a little different, and better, for Don. Similar also means "not quite the same."

Sebastian is a little over 10 years old and comes with a bundle of energy for Magic. He has had some help and direction from his father, Don, and joined in multiplayer battling with some of us once before. However, building his own deck, his own way was a new experience for him. Aside from the "There's so much cool stuff!" excitement he asked us a great question: "Does my deck have to have only 60 cards?" Our answer as a group reflected what the Toolkit suggests: having fewer total cards means you'll get the cards your looking for more often as consistency in playing a deck comes from both having multiple copies (redundancy) and reducing the different cards to the minimum you feel comfortable reaching (variation). Sebastian kept one extra card in his deck when cutting down towards 60—a move we all agreed was perfectly fine as it's what he wanted to do anyway.

Moreover, Sebastian took a very different approach and made a fun white weenie style deck, except Knight of Cliffhaven can quickly become very un-weenie in size in a hurry. With some protection tricks and pump effects, Sebastian had one of the more dynamic decks among us, created of his own will, with just a darling of experience.

Brendan, too, had a red and green approach but it was a decidedly different twist to both mine and Don's approach: Brendan had cooked up a token oriented deck filled with Eldrazi Spawn generators, and a Broodwarden to match, and other "make a critter, get more critters" cards with Avenger of Zendikar and Kazandu Tuskcaller being the flagships of this theme. Supporting it with an Overrun made sense—and deeply frightened us all. Complicating matters was that even if we could somehow keep his tokens in check, Fireball was always lurking just below.

In what I feel is the most interesting deck, Chris built engines of card advantage. With Mnemonic Wall getting back cards like Rise from the Grave and Dead Return, creatures rarely seemed to stay dead—even his opponent's. Cadaver Imp and Gravedigger came with bodies attached, not to mention Artisan of Kozilek shenanigans. Pelakka Wurm played the part of being "good stuff to keep bringing back" and Baneful Omen just complicated matters altogether. To top it all off, he had the least amount of time to build his deck since he had come to the party last. He, too, moved through the same process we did. The difference was his background in playing Legacy and Vintage drew him towards very different themes than the rest of us. The Toolkit isn't just for those interested in playing only big creatures and mana ramping.

A Tooled-Up Fight

Getting down and dirty with the first few drafts of your new deck is one of the very best ways to see how it "feels" in action. While you can certainly apply some calculations and use some particular types of mathematics to make some numerically hard data to look at, playing a few games—even just one—can tell you a lot about a deck without the need for drawn out and high powered technical analysis. Multiplayer games are a little different than duels since you'll generally get a few extra turns to see if your deck does what it's supposed to do—a solid litmus test for understanding how your deck shapes out if a game gets drawn out. In our case, the five of us had a game go to 15 turns but the excitement started much earlier.

With seating situated and turn order established (Chris, Don, Sebastian, Brendan, then finally myself) we started off playing some lands and early creatures. Sebastian had a Knight of Cliffhaven that he started leveling, I had my Bladetusk Boar get met by a Lightning Bolt from Don, and both Brendan and Don hit some of their mana ramping. By turn six we had a fairly flat board with Sebastian's Knight of Cliffhaven one level away from becoming a Serra Angel, Brendan with a Rapacious One (that was quickly hit by Chris's Corpsehatch). Then, everything erupted.

Chris dropped a Dreamstone Hedron to surge ahead in the mana count. Don blew his mana, including his Eldrazi Spawn token, to bring out Ulamog's Crusher. Sebastian went to play Bear Umbra on his almost angelic Knight of Cliffhaven with the following sequence resulting:

And with that the knight died a grisly death. Counting the Terramorphic Expanse Chris cracked for a Swamp during his turn seven total cards had a hand in ensuring that the Knight of Cliffhaven would die before hitting his level cap. Of course, this left us with an Ulamog's Crusher under Don. Brendan didn't seem to mind, as his turn rolled around and he dropped one of his hefty bombs: Avenger of Zendikar, for a healthy seven 0/1 Plant tokens. The Stomper Cub I mustered immediately thereafter felt a little anemic in comparision. And that was all just the seventh turn!

The following turns became a whirling blur of creatures swinging. Chris had a Pelakka Wurm which further jacked up his already high life total. Don used a combination of Wrap in Flames and Flame Slash to take out the Avenger of Zendikar before he sent his Crusher my way—where I traded some lands, Heat Ray, and a Stomper Cub to take out the aforementioned Eldrazi—and Sebastian put a Luminous Wake on another Knight of Cliffhaven to start gaining some life picking away at us in the air. Brendan went to town and made a bunch of Eldrazi Spawn tokens with Emrakul's Hatcher and Brood Birthing.

Chris started to get his engine churning by dropping a Mnemonic Wall for his Tendrils of Corruption and sending Pelakka Wurm in to damage. Don used a combination of Traitorous Instinct and Gluttonous Slime to deal some damage with and take out the Pelakka Wurm. I got to play my freshly drawn Dragonmaster Outcast and began to hope that he would slip through a round or three of turns. I got that chance since Chris dropped Artisan of Kozilek to bring back his Pelakka Wurm and Don brought out another Ulamog's Crusher. Sebastian jumped into the mix by putting a Guard Duty on Pelakka Wurm but, more importantly, played Iona's Judgment on Artisan of Kozilek. We all high-fived the sharp play though Chris wasn't quite as excited.

Brendan popped some of his Eldrazi Spawn tokens to drop a Fireball on Don's Crusher—we all seemed to be hating on the Eldrazi—and I had a Splinter Twin on my Stomper Cub to diversify my options. Chris didn't miss a beat as he dropped his Baneful Omen but it revealed only a land at the end of his turn. Don looked at the lack of mana most of us had at the moment, then played Eldrazi Conscription on his Gluttonous Slime—giving him a beastly 13/13 which he immediately set upon Chris.

Chris threw away some chump blockers and his Wall then the turns wheeled and I found myself getting my second 5/5 flying Dragon token. With the confidence of a field of flying fatties I cast an Overrun and made a token copy of Stomper Cub in response. With an 8/8 Dragon token, 8/5 Stomper Cub token, and a 4/4 Dragonmaster I hit Don for the exact 20 damage needed to knock him out. However, if I had known Chris was going to play a Dead Reckoning on his Pelakka Wurm, killing my Dragonmaster Outcast and then hitting those of us remaining each for seven damage off of Baneful Omen, I might have reconsidered my course of attack. As if that weren't bad enough, Chris also played Rise from the Grave on Brendan's Avenger of Zendikar before playing his land for the turn. It was an incredible turn that had put all three of us opposing Chris in a tight spot.

Continuing the offensive, I send in my flying Dragons, a copy of Stomper Cub, and even a Dread Statuary to bring Chris's life total back down to a reasonable 21 after Brendan kindly used some burn to take out the Avenger of Zendikar. Chris was completely unfazed as he played his second Artisan of Kozilek to get back Mnemonic Wall which brough back Tendrils of Corruption, again. While Chris sent some Plant tokens my way, his Baneful Omen graciously gave us a reprieve with another land reveal. We continued to whiff on getting solid solutions to the growing Chris problem as I could only muster my Dragons at Chris again while dropping a Dragon Whelp. Despite bringing Chris down to a precarious life total, he dropped Pelakka Wurm again and used his Tendrils to take out my Dragon Whelp—taking his life back up above where it just was. Turning his growing army upon me I managed to block most of the incoming damage but going to two life left me vulnerable to the Baneful Omen, which revealed a Hideous End—a hideous end for me.

Sebastain and Brendan threw everything they could into the maw of Chris's board but it was all for naught as Chris cracked every card draw source he could before using Sign in Blood to deal a lethal 2 damage to Sebastian before he put his army to work crushing down through Brendan's token defenses.

The Results

Everyone seemed pleased with what their decks had done. Everyone achieved their theme's goals despite major setbacks that we all faced. Don, and especially Sebastian, really enjoyed the diversity of options that were available as well as the fact that they had enough of what they wanted to fill in every slot they came across. Brendan liked that if he wanted to run multiple colors, something he's fond of for these Limited type engagements, he had a boatload of both Terramorphic Expanse and Rampant Growth effects he could use to hit his colors. Chris liked that the diversity of options wasn't restricted to just "drop creatures and swing" as he was able to maximize many of his splashy uncommons and the Baneful Omen by using the multiples of different commons he had.

I enjoyed the refreshing change of having both a Limited card pool to work with but not being sandwiched into the rock and a hard place of running my "best" cards and having a more consistent deck—the best of both worlds was at hand to be had. Looking back at the game, and my deck, I realize that I need a little more on the lower mana cost end of things as well as a few more "grab a land from the library" type effects. Ondu Giant, Borderland Ranger, and Exploding Borders are all interesting options to potentially bring in. I'm not ready to call out my lack of playing any Eldrazi as I never drew any during the game—but if I can muster additional Eldrazi, Artisan of Kozilek feels like a solid fit to bring back any of the fallen monstrosities I had already been using. Between a few more booster packs of M10 or Rise of the Eldrazi and going back to the Toolkit, I'll be able to make every change I'd like to with my deck.

And the circle of deck building goes on.

Answers to Questions You May Not Have Asked

Last week generated quite a few questions, most specifically around "What, exactly, is in it?" with a few others related. While some of you took the opportunity of comparing what I listed as my starting pool against my final deck post-Toolkit there were some errors. For example, I list two copies each of Heat Ray and Ulamog's Crusher from the starter yet have three copies when gesturing through the ideas to coalesce into a deck. Hint: It wasn't a mistake in transcription.

What's in this thing?

The Deck Builder's Toolkit comes with four booster packs that are, currently, Standard legal. There is some variation in exactly which packs we each opened. It also comes with semirandomized cards grouped around different deck themes. The exact numbers of specific cards vary from Toolkit to Toolkit but the gist of having some mana ramping (Llanowar Elves and Rampant Growth), mana fixing (Terramorphic Expanse), removal (Lightning Bolt, Doom Blade, Hideous End), and creatures of various colors, sizes, and abilities, as well as some countermagic (Negate, Essence Scatter) were all present in some quantity. The cards not in booster packs are an appropriate mix of commons and uncommons which are both the fundamental building blocks of Limited decks as well as when you're just getting started in Magic: it's hard to imagine having four copies of Ball Lightning, Hell's Thunder, and Banefire for a red burn deck from just a small selection of current Magic cards. This leads me to the next question.

What does "semirandomized" mean?

Exactly as it sounds, there is some governing theme or relationship between different clips of cards you get, yet each Toolkit will not have the exact same set of cards. While this can seem disappointingly frustrating if you're the type who wants to know exactly what's in there it also means that just because you and your friend each got a Toolkit you won't necessarily have the same deck even if you follow similar themes. Every Toolkit, like every player, is unique and different from the others.

Does this only make "big Sealed decks"?

I would guess that by "big Sealed decks" you mean decks that utilize mostly commons and uncommons, doesn't necessarily have four copies of every key card, and in general looks like a smaller Sealed deck scaled up to 60 total cards. By that definition then, yes, the Toolkit makes "big Sealed decks" but it can do so much more. If our starting pool was slightly different, say 6 packs of Magic 2010, you'd expect that four copies of Llanowar Elves, Rampant Growth, Lightning Bolt, Terramorphic Expanse, and Doom Blade would be possible. All of those commons are staples that see play across a lot of different formats, including the various "casual" decks that get cooked up. In this case the decks could have looked more consistent since there were more copies of some key cards. Similarly, taking an Intro Pack and cranking it through the Toolkit would yield a deck looking much more like a "true constructed" deck. (And on a brief aside, last week had a small transcription error in that when I used the word "Standard" to describe taking a deck to 60 cards I meant "the standard everyday average Magic deck" and not "a deck that is Standard legal for tournament play". Capitalization made a huge difference in implied meaning.) What you're starting with will dictate a lot of where you end up—start with a deck and you'll be filling in holes and picking up additional copies of cards, but start with nearly nothing and you get something much more varied by card, but still true to theme.

Can this work for two/three person Sealed deck construction?

I'm sure it's possible to create two, perhaps even three, Limited sized 40-card decks from just a Toolkit by itself but I would strongly encourage you to add in some additional booster packs. The additional variety will significantly improve the experience of building multiple decks from the Toolkit as you won't all be reaching for the same tools. As it stands, I feel the Toolkit would work well for someone that has virtually no cards available, as the four booster packs bring a wonderful variety to the cogs and widgets every Toolkit is certain to contain without being an overwhelming amount of differences; creating one deck will work beautifully.

Anything else we should know?

If you're just getting into the game, or have friends you'd like to get on board, The Deck Builder's Toolkit is one of the very best ways to get someone ready to rumble with a deck that they want. Since it matches up well with other products, like Booster Packs and Intro Packs, you can be safe knowing that you'll always get the most out of a small little package. The Deck Builder's Toolkit will be available in stores Friday, May 21st.

And with that I'll leave you to explore the Toolkits in just a few days. Please stop back in and let me know how your experience went, then join me next week when I double up and bounce back some of you.

Extra Bonus Casual Fun Time Spectacular Part 2: Casual Boogaloo

Last week I appended a brief mention that there is going to be some awesome things happening at this weekend's Grand Prix–DC. I'm taking the time to say it again: there is an overwhelming abundance of great fun going on outside of the main draw of competitive Magic. Ever played Magic using oversized 6"x9" cards? You can have the chance soon. Ever seen a collection of Magic oddities? Print and packaging errors, strange and odd mistakes, and other unusual elements from across the history of Magic will be around. I'll have my cube, of course, but what about slinging some EDH, tricking out Peasant Standard, and Group Game Drafting your way to a four-man crown of casual Magic? The "Showcase of Casual Magic" has everything covered for even the most relaxed and competitive of casual players. The showcase itself is detailed here and you can find a complete breakdown of every side event, including those in the showcase, here.

If you've been thinking about heading out to just see what all the fuss is about bring a deck—we'll be waiting for you!

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