Building_on_a_Budget

When are chase rares the wrong call?

Rat’s Nest: Jitte Versus The Queen

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The letter G!reetings and salutations! It's nice of you to hang with me through the excitement of Saviors of Kamigawa. I hope you had fun at the pre-release this past weekend, and I hope you're ready for some death-defying Rats today.

For those of you just hopping on board the BoaB train, check out last week to know why the heck I'm talking about Umezawa's Jitte and a big pile of Rats in a budget column. For those of you familiar with the drill, a few notes from last week:

  • I made at least two mistakes last week, one big and one small. The big mistake was that between version 1.0 and 1.1 of my decklist, I neglected to mention dropping Dance of Shadows. Although I'd love to claim a bout of sneaky-Ninja-death-magic as the cause, the omission wasn't intentional. Hopefully the drop of Dance of Shadows made some sense since it's a “finisher” card for weenie decks, but I still completely forgot to discuss it.
  • The small mistake was saying that Genju of the Fens is the only Genju that benefits from lots of mana. Clearly I was wrong, since Genju of the Fields gets insane with lots of mana. My bad.
  • I probably won't be asking for deck names this time around for my preconstructed creation. Sometimes it happens... A name grabs a deck and sticks to it. For me, I can't get it out of my head that my deck's name is Ratimation, so Ratimation it shall likely remain. Sorry Mr. Dark Avocado and other frequent Message Board namers... you may need to save up your strength for the next experiment.

With all of the hullaballoo out of the way, let's peek in on where I left off last week:

As you may recall, my deck was feeling both schizophrenic and way too beatdownish. The hope is to turn the deck away from its focus on aggressive weenies and towards graveyard animation. These next changes shouldn't surprise you, then, especially since several people on the Message Boards predicted them.

OUT: 4 Nezumi Ronin

Nezumi Ronin is the original deck's answer to a quick three-mana beater. Takenuma Bleeder or Ogre Marauder are probably better as pure offense, but they are neither Rats nor Samurai, which are the two kinds of decks who want to use the Ronin. For this deck, I am much less concerned with quick offense and much more concerned with finding creatures that can benefit from Nighteyes the Desecrator or Stir the Grave. Nezumi Ronin is far from the worst card remaining in the deck, but I need to start sending signals to my deck that it's no longer about offense as much as it is finesse.

IN: 4 Chittering Rats

So, in comes a three-mana Rat that has a lot more Ratimation potential. A full four copies may be overkill for my deck, but I want to try it out since it's the most obvious comes-into-play creature other than Ravenous Rats for my deck. He's not as aggressive as the Ronin whose place he's taking, but he helps cast Patron of the Nezumi just as well and is exactly the kind of creature my deck wants to horde. The interaction with Ravenous Rats is interesting, too, since the two combined can wreak havoc on an opponent's gameplan.

It's also worth noting that I've inserted a soft lock into my deck: With six mana, Nighteyes the Desecrator, Nezumi Bone-Reader, and a Chittering Rats I can cause an opponent to draw the same card endlessly. As long as that card isn't a playable instant, I win. This is a trick a beatdown deck wouldn't care about but a Ratimation deck likes a lot.

OUT: 1 Okiba-Gang Shinobi

I'll probably take some flak for this one, since Ninja are great with comes-into-play creatures like Ravenous Rats and Chittering Rats. Its ninjutsu cost is too much, though, for a deck without a lot of evasion. Basically I need to decide whether I want to use Okiba-Gang Shinobi at all, because if I do then I need more copies to reliably have it in hand. My experience with the deck after ten games tells me that he's a little too clunky for me mana-wise and should make way for more obviously-useful cards. Besides, dropping my single copy here lets me add my fourth...

IN: 1 Throat Slitter

Although the Casual Constructed room seems to be a sea of black these days, I still think Throat Slitter is the best non-rare Rat Ninja available. Since a lot of my creatures cost two mana, there is a very good chance that I'll have an unblocked weenie on Turn 2 that can power out a Throat Slitter. Doing so, as I've said, sets up a possible fourth-turn Patron of the Nezumi, which makes me smile.

I think that I'm done adding Rats to my deck for a while. Nearly thirty is probably too many, so expect the Rat-count to dwindle from here on out. The trick will be to find enough Rats to help the Patron while not limiting my reanimation choices.

Umpteen Umezawa's Jitte

Have I added any control to the deck? Let's see...

Game 11: Green/White Weenies

My opponent was a little land-shy early, stuck on a Forest and Plains for two turns, while I played Nezumi Cutthroat and Chittering Rats. His Orochi Ranger blocked my Rats, then his Kami of the Hunt fell to Throat Slitter. I used Skullsnatcher to return my Slitter to hand and to eat his graveyard. Nezumi Graverobber flipped the next turn and my opponent conceded.

Game 12: Black/Green Death Pit Offering

His deck had the usual tricks: Both Honden, Sakura-Tribe Elder, Fallen Angel, and Zuberas to go along with Death Pit Offering. I got out some quick offense but stalled on three land. Umezawa's Jitte wasn't enough to save me when the Offering hit the table and Honden of Life's Web started spitting out 3/3 tokens. Fallen Angel showed up to administer the coup de grace. My opponent ended the game utterly in control.

Game 13: Monoblue Aggro-Control

I am powerless before the Jitte. He had Thought Courier and Kira, Great Glass Spinner. I had Nezumi Graverobber and Chittering Rats. I sacrificed my Rats for Patron of the Nezumi, which he Mana Leaked. I flipped into Nighteyes the Desecrator, finally, after a few turns of him bouncing my Graverobber. Eventually he drew Umezawa's Jitte, played Umezawa's Jitte, spent the extra mana to equip Kira with Umezawa's Jitte, and that was pretty much game. I put on some minor pressure with my Rats and waited to reach seven mana so I could both Befoul and Horobi's Whisper Kira, but it was not to be.

Game 14: Monoblack Rats

His deck was all aggro all the time. We both had second-turn Nezumi Graverobbers, and I matched his Nezumi Ronin with a Chittering Rats. My Rats killed his Ronin, but once damage was on the stack I sacrificed my critter for Patron of the Nezumi. My opponent played Unholy Strength on his Graverobber, then flipped it into Nighteyes. I took six, then attacked with my 6/6 and Graverobber. Then I flipped into my own Nighteyes, killing both, and cast Stir the Grave to bring my Graverobber back into play. His Nezumi Cutthroat couldn't block my next attack and he died with me at twelve life.

Game 15: White Weenie

My opponent wasn't off to a great start after casting two Isamaru, Hound of Konda in a row (whoops!). I had Chittering Rats, then Nezumi Cutthroat, to go on offense. My opponent played Kitsune Blademaster, which I Befouled. He then played Glorious Anthem, while I kept dropping Rats for offense. His Suntail Hawk traded with my Chittering Rats, then I played Skullsnatcher to keep up the pressure. He played a (now 3/3) Kami of Ancient Law, which I killed with Throat Slitter. Umezawa's Jitte showed up on my side and that was game.

There's still an identity crisis going on, with my deck undecided about whether it's a beatdown deck or something else. There's also that niggling problem that Umezawa's Jitte makes reanimation a little irrelevant since it tends to take over games on its own. Let's see if I can help it make up its mind about its identity...

OUT: 4 Skullsnatcher

This might seem like a weird move. On one hand, ninjutsu is great with creatures like Ravenous Rats and Chittering Rats. On the other hand, he destroys graveyards, which is fantastic for Nezumi Graverobber. He's also a Rat. So where's the downside, right? In practice I almost never use ninjutsu to play Skullsnatcher. Instead, he's a 2-mana beater. He's also a two-mana beater that dies a lot since he doesn't have evasion and his toughness is one. Thus although he looks like he fits into my plans, I have rarely found him useful outside of the Rat's Nest typical “quick weenie” strategy. I'm trying to bend the deck away from this strategy, so I'll happily drop four of my seventeen two-mana Rats.

IN: 4 Distress

I am sick of losing to Umezawa's Jitte. The Jitte flat-out owns my deck and is especially effective against my one-toughness Nezumi Graverobber or his two-toughness alter-ego, Nighteyes the Desecrator. Honden, I've found, are no walk in the part either. Did I mention how fun it was to play the Death Pit Offering deck? Or how about the Underworld Dreams deck from Game 5? Mostly, though, it's the Jitte. If four Distress can help me combat the sea of Umezawa's little toys that are floating around Standard these days, I will be one happy Rat-guy.

OUT: 2 Horobi's Whisper

I know this sounds crazy, but I don't think I have successfully killed one creature with Horobi's Whisper. This is partly bad luck since I've killed plenty of creatures with Throat Slitter and Befoul, but I probably notice the Whisper's ineffectiveness more because it has a higher frustration factor. After all, when facing a black creature with Throat Slitter I still have a 2/2 creature than can accelerate into Patron of the Nezumi, and when facing a black creature with Befoul I can always kill a land. When facing a black creature with Horobi's Whisper... I can curse and rant at my computer. Anyway, I don't splice Horobi's Whisper (a bad move for any reanimation deck), which makes it worse than Dark Banishing or even Terror. It also makes it worse than...

IN: 2 Nekrataal

Or, as henryjulian on the Boards calls it, Nek-RAT-aal. No self-respecting reanimation deck, even Rat-based ones, can pass up a chance to try out Nekrataal. He's not as dominant a creature as when he first appeared in Mirage Block, but he's still awfully cool. Like Throat Slitter, he's not completely useless when facing a black deck and unlike Throat Slitter his ability has great synergy with Nighteyes the Desecrator. He's no Rat, of course, but I still have a lot of Rats in the deck and only two Patron of the Nezumi. Besides, Horobi's Whisper wasn't a Rat, either.

Let's see if I'm any less beatdown and any more Ratimation...

Game 16: Monored Aggro

This was a war of attrition, plain and simple. The good news is that apparently Throat Slitter is really good against all of red's hasty dudes like Slith Firewalker, Oxidda Golem, and Lava Hounds. Eventually he even got to a place where my opponent cast Lava Hounds to block, but the first time I had Befoul and the second time I had another attacker and a second Throat Slitter. Nezumi Graverobber flipped into Nighteyes and a recurred Chittering Rats helped me win the tempo war. I ended the game safely at fourteen life, which was amazing given his hand of Pyrite Spellbombs, Shrapnel Blasts, aggressive creatures and the like. I'm starting to realize how great the deck's removal is against non-black decks.

Game 17: Cogs

He cycled a Necrogen Spellbomb, then played Steel Wall. I flipped my Nezumi Graverobber to kill his Wall and it was all downhill from there for my opponent. He countered a Ravenous Rats, but I brought it back with Nighteyes. He cycled through Chromatic Spheres and other (non-Aether) Spellbombs but couldn't find a blocker to my two Rats and a Chittering Rats thrown in for good measure.

Game 18: White/Green Spirits

It worked! It worked! I cast a second-turn Distress to nab an Umezawa's Jitte from my opponent's hand! He played a second one, and I killed it by playing my own Jitte. Woo hoo! Two Jitte downed by a monoblack deck! Anyway, the rest of the game was long and fairly anticlimactic. I made my opponent discard with Ravenous Rats and started attacking nonstop with Nezumi Cutthroat. A Throat Slitter did some damage at one point, too. My opponent could only muster a series of Zuberas after I made him discard Oyobi, Who Split the Heavens. Shining Shoal did some weird things, but my Cutthroat stayed alive through it all. Nezumi Graverobber flipped into Nighteyes and that was game thanks to a recurring Chittering Rats.

Ah... Three games and three times when graveyard recursion played a significant role. Things are looking up.

Game 19: White Weenie Equip

It happened again! Go Distress! My second-turn discard nabbed an Umezawa's Jitte out of a hand filled with two Auriok Steelshapers and two Energy Chambers. I played Chittering Rats on Turn 3, denying him another opportunity to draw Jitte. On the fourth turn I snuck a Throat Slitter into play to kill one of his Steelshapers. I then replayed my Chittering Rats to again deny him a draw. He was forced to block my Throat Slitter with his remaining Steelshaper. The next turn I snuck another Throat Slitter into play despite a lack of creatures on my opponent's side of the board. When I played my Chittering Rats for the third time, my opponent conceded.

Game 20: Five-Color Bringer

This was a satisfying game not only because I dominated and won but because it was a game in which I would have been utterly crushed by sticking to a black weenie strategy. My second-turn Distress gave me a choice between Door to Nothingness, Bringer of the White Dawn, or two Rampant Growths. I chose the Door, then played Nezumi Graverobber. He played his Bringer, I removed the Door from the game, he attacked for five, then I snuck a Throat Slitter through to kill his Bringer. He played a Bringer of the Blue Dawn, and I killed it with Nekrataal. I attacked for a while, eating his graveyard. A Ravenous Rats took his lone card in hand--a Mindslaver. He played another Bringer of the White Dawn eventually and used it to block my Throat Slitter. I sacrificed the Slitter for Patron of the Nezumi, then used my Graverobber to get rid of his Mindslaver. I flipped into Nighteyes the Desecrator, then attacked with everything. He was forced to block my Patron and drop to two life, conveniently depositing his Bringer into his graveyard for me to reanimate. That was game. Go, go, budget deck!

That's my first 5-0 stretch, which is nice but always has to be taken with a grain of salt in the Casual Constructed room of Magic Online. What's more important is how I'm winning, which is as much about my comes-into-play abilities and reanimation as it is beatdown. These results let me know I'm on the right track with the deck and has me eager to keep going...

OUT: 2 Befoul

It's worth comparing Befoul and Nekrataal for a moment. Same cost. Same primary purpose in a deck. Befoul is better if there are a lot of lands giving me trouble. Sure enough, a lot of good lands exist in Standard today: Blinkmoth Nexus, Urza lands, Cloudpost, the legendary lands from Champions, Stalking Stones. The problem is that I haven't found any games decided by these lands yet and have usually only used Befoul to destroy Swamps against monoblack decks. If I don't want to destroy land, I would much rather use...

IN: 1 Nekrataal

Against monoblack decks (or creatureless, Honden, or any other sort of deck in which the creature elimination aspect of the card is less important) here, I have a 2/1 first-striking creature. An ineffecient creature is going to be better and win me more games than an ineffecient land-destruction sorcery. So in the secondary-purpose category, Nekrataal is a clear winner for me.

Much more significant, though, is that against decks where creature removal matters, Nekrataal is a house. He kills a creature when coming into play, he often kills at least one creature in combat, and then he comes back via graveyard reanimation to do it all over again. Befoul, meanwhile... kills a creature.

That's two points in Nekrataal's favor. I'm not going for a full four copies, though, because I have been seeing a lot of black in the Casual Constructed room. Besides, it's still a four-cost, non-Rat creature with pretty meager stats, so no use going overboard with my Ratimation deck.

OUT: 2 Stir the Grave

If this were a Kamigawa Block deck, I would probably keep Stir the Grave. It's been consistently useful for me as a duplicate effect to Nighteyes the Desecrator. More importantly, I've found, it serves as a way to bring back Nezumi Graverobber from the graveyard once Nighteyes has died. There are times, however, when I really want to bring back a countered Patron of the Nezumi or, most recently, a Nekrataal. In these cases, Stir is a worse choice than...

IN: 3 Zombify

For all of my two-mana Rats, Zombify costs one more mana than Stir the Grave. For Chittering Rats, it's the same. For the other nine creatures, which means Patron, Nekrataal, and Throat Slitter, Stir the Grave costs more. Sometimes, way too much more. Odds are that I care about that last category as much, if not more, than the two-mana Rats. As a result, I want the flexibility of Zombify.

Ratimation v.1.4

Game 21: Monogreen Snakes

As I said, my deck does very well against non-black creature decks, at least as long as they are without Umezawa's Jitte. He stalled some of my offense with Tangle Asp and Orochi Eggwatcher tokens, but I had first one, then two Nezumi Cutthroats nipping away at his life. A Throat Slitter slipped through to kill some of his guys, and Rend Flesh helped a bit too. Ravenous Rats and Chittering Rats messed up his hand, and Distress nabbed an Eternal Witness. I ended the game at twenty life, despite the lack of graveyard animation.

Game 22: Monoblack Ninjas

My second-turn Distress took his Umezawa's Jitte from hand (woo!), and I noticed he had Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni and two Eradicates in hand. He played a Nezumi Shadow-Watcher, while I put out Chittering Rats and Nekrataal on offense. His Shadow-Watcher chump-blocked my Rats, then I used a second Distress to get Ink-Eyes. He had two cards left in hand, both (useless) Eradicates. He found and played a second Jitte, which had me worried. So for two turns in a row I returned Chittering Rats to hand with Throat Slitters and made him re-draw one of his Eradicates. That was enough tempo for me to win. Whew.

Game 23: Green/White Isochron Scepter

I had a nice, quick start with Nezumi Cutthroat, Chittering Rats, and Umezawa's Jitte on turns two through four. The problem is that my opponent had a second-turn Isochron Scepter with Holy Day on the second turn, then another Scepter with Nourish on the fourth turn. I couldn't think of any way to break the lock of one Scepter, much less two, so I conceded.

Game 24: Monored Burn

His deck was interesting because it sat behind Wall of Stone and Blind with Anger, then aimed burn at my head. Unfortunately for him, I got Nezumi Cutthroat and Umezawa's Jitte, again. Chittering Rats came to wield the Jitte once the Cutthroat fell to Yamabushi's Flame. Nekrataal blew away a blocker. Ravenous Rats ate a card in hand, followed by two Distress. That, as you can imagine, was game.

A good discussion occurred during the game between me and the many spectators about whether I should drop the no-fun Jitte from the deck. They said yes, saying it was against the deck's theme. As one spectator put it, “Once Jitte hits the table, who cares about reanimation?”

Game 25: Red/Black Twist Allegiance deck

My next opponent was howitzer, playing a very cool Twist Allegiance deck like my own except splashing black for Diabolic Tutor and using Shrapnel Blast. Unfortunately for him, my discard came out in full effect, including a pair of Ravenous Rats, three Chittering Rats, and three Distress. He managed to activate two Stalking Stones on defense, but Throat Slitter killed one of them (returning a Ravenous Rats, 'natch), then I used Rend Flesh on the other. The result was that he could never get off the ground mana-wise, and even a Bottle Gnomes couldn't give him the padding necessary to survive my Rat-a-licious assault.

Okay, the deck's doing fine. It can definitely defer to reanimation when its offense stalls, and it has enough disruption to survive against a wide variety of opposing strategies. One thing is bothering me, though...

Umezawa's Dilemma

I asked the question on last week's Message Boards about what to do with Umezawa's Jitte in the deck. Clearly it's a powerhouse card, but the only reason I have a copy is because of the preconstructed deck. Do I drop it in favor of more budget-friendly cards? Do I keep it but avoid adding more copies? Do I add a second copy because of my “buy two copies of the precon deck” practice? I imagine this will come up again from time to time in this column because sometimes you do get a choice rare in preconstructed decks. As a result, I wanted to tread lightly here because whatever choice I make, in some respects, sets a precedent for future experiments. Thanks to everyone who spoke up on the Boards to help me sort out my feelings, and thanks to the many people who offered their opinions online.

It's worth going back to my goals for these experiments. I want to turn each preconstructed deck into a fun, respectable, budget deck. With those parameters in mind, let me break down my views on the Jitte.

Is Umezawa's Jitte a budget card? In a word, no. It is the chase rare in Betrayers of Kamigawa, which means it is also the most expensive card to acquire. On the other hand, it does come in the Rat's Nest preconstructed deck, so if you “play along at home” with my deckbuilding evolution then you automatically have one copy. What this tells me is that I'm deciding between zero, one, or two copies of the Jitte. I would never presume to have three or four in the deck.

Is Umezawa's Jitte a respectable card? In a word, yes. For any tournament-focused person, it seems like an obvious inclusion for any deck winning through combat damage. If you look at my game logs, I have won and lost a lot of games because of either my own Jitte or an opponent's. Including it in the deck makes my winning percentage automatically higher.

Is Umezawa's Jitte a fun card? In a word... Well, there isn't a single word to answer this question. Again, for tournament-focused folks I would say yes, it's a fun card because it helps you win games and is very versatile. I've never claimed to be making tournament decks here, though, and I play in the Casual Constructed room of Magic Online. Most people I've talked to there say that, no, the Jitte is no fun. Games end too fast when Jitte hits the table, they say. “He who finds the Jitte wins” is not a fun way to play Magic, they say. There are also a few rogue deckbuilders in the room who whisper about it being overpowered, and thus obvious, and thus a boring choice. Besides, most people argue, even if it's powerful it doesn't directly support my theme of graveyard reanimation.

In summary, the pros:

  • It comes in the preconstructed deck
  • It's obscenely powerful
  • It should go in almost any deck relying on combat damage to win

The cons:

  • It's expensive, and so not in the spirit of the column
  • It's un-fun to a non-tournament crowd
  • It doesn't directly support a reanimation strategy

I can go either way, honestly, but I've had enough vocal people imploring me to drop it that I'll be swayed into the “con” camp. I'm also swayed by keeleon's arguments on the Boards, which say that I can sell my one Jitte and basically fund the entire rest of the deck. That said, if you are playing along at home and want to clutch your Umezawa's Jitte (or two) closely to your chest, no one will fault you for it. Use it or not, depending on your mindset and situation.

Anyway, dropping Jitte opens the door for a creature that I've been eyeing for some time...

OUT: 1 Umezawa's Jitte

IN: 1 Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni

Some people might be suddenly screaming injustice. I drop a chase-rare from the deck I opened to insert a chase-rare outside of original decklist? What gives!?!? By my way of thinking, I'm still only adding two rares to the deck--which is fairly typical for these preconstructed experiments--and one of those rares is the very-cheap Patron of the Nezumi. As a result, I'm not seeing this as a financial back-breaker.

The thing is, Ink-Eyes is Queen of Ratimation! She's a Rat, obviously, and she is kin to Nighteyes as a Rat who loves reanimating things. It's Rat and reanimation in one juicy package! She's also a six-mana creature which means that if she's about to die I can sacrifice her to bring out Patron of the Nezumi for a measly one mana at instant speed. That's just super spiffy if you ask me. To top it off, her overall fat body is enticing for any deck with graveyard animation. I even use the Ink-Eyes avatar when playing my Ratimation deck and wrote the Ink-Eyes web-story (sorry, free plug). Basically, I love Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni and my Ratimation deck does too.

OUT: 1 Nezumi Shadow-Watcher

It is, finally, time to give up on Nezumi Shadow-Watcher. Even if it shows up an unnatural number of times against Ninja decks, I don't play enough Ninja decks for it to be worth a card slot. The Shadow-Watcher has been a cute trick that amused me, but I'm pretty sure even Bile Urchin would be a better trick for a deck with Nighteyes the Desecrator.

IN: 1 Nezumi Cutthroat

Nezumi Cutthroat is an experiment in the deck. On one hand, the fact that he can't block drives me crazy. He is an aggressive creature and remnant of Rat's Nest's original themes. So why keep him? Well, he can break through creature stalemates against non-black decks and is a prime way to sneak a Throat Slitter (or now Ink-Eyes) into play. I'm still not convinced this deck needs a two-mana beater with fear that can't block, but he's been so good to me up until this point that I'm willing to give him a close, hard look and see. Don't be surprised if I drop all four copies next week for something else, however.

Does anyone else see the humor in Umezawa's Jitte and Nezumi Shadow-Watcher getting dropped at the same time? Tee hee.

My deck now looks thus:

Ratimation v.1.5

Next week is Memorial Day, so only the Feature Article will be new content. The week after that however I'll wrap up my Rat's Nest evolution, including a healthy “Adding Money To The Deck” section. Until then... Have fun!

-jms

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