Building_on_a_Budget

Saviors cards no collection should do without

Interlude: The Budget Saviors

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The letter T!oday is all about lists.

The first list concerns the name of my modified Spirit Flames deck, which I finished up last week. You all came up with a lot of creative ways on the Message Boards to boil the deck's essence down to a short, catchy name. Of the many suggestions, I had five clear favorites. Keep in mind that in some cases I didn't take the exact name suggested so much as the spirit (heh, I'm so punny) behind it:

Honorable Mention: O Say Kannushi (retardedgoblin)
5. Roaring Twenties (RoBear)
4. Shinenanigans (Landman)
3. Earth, Wind, and Fire (Mr Dark Avocado)
2. Tubthumping (Keradon)

I really do like Tubthumping (“I get knocked down, but I get up again”), but there was one name that surpassed even Chumbawumba references. The winner comes from none other than DoubleNegative, who also received credit for Club Ninja's deckname. Nicely done DoubleNegative! Two for three!

Honestly, the idea of howling “Soooooouuuuuuuuuul Train!” after winning a game makes me smile.

Ahem.

Saving Your Commons

My “Kamigawa's Commons Review” elicited a nice response, and I find myself linking to it during my deckbuilding experiments as to why I'm adding particular cards to my decks. That said, even as I wrote the article I was aware that the full Kamigawa Block hadn't run its course. Today I'm taking a break from deckbuilding to look at the commons from Saviors of Kamigawa and which will likely make their way into your decks. Since that doesn't seem to fill an entire article, I'll do the same thing with Saviors' uncommons too.

Here was the measuring stick I used in my previous article to figure out the “best” commons: “These are cards you want to have in your collection no matter how tight your budget or how recently you have begun playing. Time and again, in a wide variety of decks, you will find yourself dipping into these cards to complement whatever strategy you're pursuing.”

So what I'm looking for here are the generally useful commons, those that have wide application. Inner Calm, Outer Strength is an example of a card that can be useful in decks relying on a full hand, but generally speaking is worse than most of Green's other creature-pumping cards. Instead, use Sakura-Tribe Elder as an ideal for this list, a card that can (and usually should) fit into any deck with Forests.

As I sat down to make my list, I was having a hard time with it for two basic reasons. First, I haven't made as many Saviors decks as I would like (due primarily to my Spirit Flames foray), so I'm judging cards based almost entirely on them being used against me rather than for me. This gives me a fairly skewed perspective, as you might imagine. Second, it turns out that the commons in Saviors are both of higher quality generally than the previous two sets but also with fewer standouts. There is no Kumano's Blessing or Takeno's Cavalry, but neither is there a Sakura-Tribe Elder, Kodama's Reach, Glacial Ray, or Rend Flesh. In fact, many of the commons feel pretty specialized to me rather than ubiquitous.

Luckily, that's what friends are for. I made an initial list, then talked it over with Zed and Chris Romeo, two people very familiar with budget deckbuilding. Based on their feedback and my own pondering, below are the five Saviors of Kamigawa commons I would suggest adding to your collection. Remember, though, these lists are always fairly subjective--and this one more than most. Feel free to jump onto the Message Boards to argue your own list of generally-useful commons from Saviors. Just remember my caveats from the Commons Review article: I'm talking about Constructed (not Limited) and am thinking primarily of Standard and Kamigawa Block Constructed.

Enough preamble! Let's get started.

1. Elder Pine of Jukai

Unlike Sakura-Tribe Elder, Elder Pine of Jukai isn't for every Green deck. It relies on you playing either arcane cards or other Spirits, for one thing. Otherwise it's a very inefficient 2/1 for three mana and two abilities you'll never use. If you happen to use a deck with arcane and/or Spirit cards, though, you should seriously consider adding the Elder Pine. First, it almost ensures you won't miss a land drop, which is huge for most decks. Second, it fills your hand to allow you to fully exploit “wisdom” or “hand-matters” cards like, for example, Rending Vines. Third, it digs into your deck, which can be very important if you're using Sensei's Divining Top or other sorts of library manipulation. Finally, it retrieves some of the best non-rare Spirits in the game, including Hana Kami, Hearth Kami, Blademane Baku, Zuberas, Kami of Ancient Law, Frostling, Soilshaper, and Tallowisp, to name a few. Don't forget about Loam Dweller, either, which combined with Elder Pine of Jukai can fill your side of the table with land frighteningly quickly.

2. Ideas Unbound

Although right now it's really only played in Ire of Kaminari decks, I have a feeling that Ideas Unbound might end up being the most significant common from Saviors of Kamigawa. Drawing three cards for two mana is superb, even if you have to discard three at the end of your turn. In fact, for decks like Ire of Kaminari or for any sort of reanimator (or madness) strategy, the discard can actually be a boon. Other decks--I'm thinking in particular aggressive weenie decks whose cards cost less than three mana--can cast all of their newly-drawn cards without worrying about the discard. The point is that Ideas Unbound can fuel a lot of different strategies, and the fact that it's arcane only adds to its allure. It may have only found a home in one existing decktype right now, but that doesn't mean it's a one trick pony.

3. Glitterfang

On the surface, Glitterfang looks strictly worse than Raging Goblin. For any deck with “spiritcraft” triggers like Elder Pine of Jukai or any other sort of comes-into-play trigger like Intruder Alarm, though, Glitterfang can be a crucial ingredient. An ability to plink an opponent for one damage a turn (or more... hello, Death Pit Offering) is sometimes useful, but it's the bounce-back-into-hand ability combined with the Spirit creature type that makes Glitterfang so annoyingly effective in a wide variety of decks. I know that I dropped both Elder Pine of Jukai and Glitterfang from my Spirit Flames deck, but that's because I was looking to de-emphasize the spiritcraft part of the deck rather than enhance it. If spiritcraft is your thing, Glitterfang is a cheap and reliable engine.

4. Death Denied

Few cards outside of the rare slot allow you to return more than one creature from your graveyard to your hand, much less do it at instant speed. For any deck with comes-into-play (Eternal Witness) or leaves-play (Kokusho, the Evening Star) triggers--or simply any deck relying on creatures to win--graveyard reanimation is obviously very good. The fact that early in the game Death Denied can be a quick Reaping the Graves and later in the game can give you access to all of your game-winning cards makes this a card I can see using in my own decks for a long time to come. It's even arcane, which I suppose Hana Kami appreciates.

5. Raving Oni-Slave

I went back and forth on this last slot, at one time or another having almost all of my “Honorable Mentions” here. Eventually, I decided that Raving Oni-Slave deserves the most recognition because it's the single most aggressive Black card in Standard right now. Blind Creeper has the same stats, but will often be a 2/2 or 1/1 when in combat. Raving Oni-Slave will stay a 3/3 beatstick for two mana as long as you don't mind paying your own life to have him around. Add a Demon into the mix and you don't even have that drawback. For many decks, the Oni-Slave's drawback is going to be too severe to see play, but my guess is that many Black mages will continue to consider the trade-offs worth it, especially since O-Naginata comes in the same set. (I also want to make a Reverse the Sands deck with this guy, but then again I'm crazy)

Honorable Mentions:

I love “Honorable Mention” sections, because they're a convenient way for me to get around the stress of a Top 5 list. Don't get me wrong: I still think that the above five cards will end up in more decks, on average, than those listed below. That said, there are several other Saviors commons worth considering in your collection:

  • Spiraling Embers - As Zed pointed out to me, any Red card that can deal more damage than it costs has to be given a good, hard look. I hate that it's a Sorcery, but the fact that it's arcane helps somewhat.
  • Sink into Takenuma - Maybe this card is only going to be used within a few Kamigawa Block Constructed decks, but I have been wrecked by it constantly online. The ability to get rid of however many opposing cards as you have land is awfully versatile, especially if for some reason you can use the cards in hand a la Kagemaro's Clutch or Exile into Darkness. Remember too that Mind Sludge is about to leave Standard.
  • Murmurs from Beyond - Instant-speed card-drawing is good, and getting two cards for three mana at instant-speed is even better. I would still probably rather have Catalog, but this may find a home once 9th Edition takes over Standard and especially when Thirst For Knowledge rotates out.
  • Barrel Down Sokenzan - Romeo says he already has dibs on the Seismic Assault-Barrel deck. The card won't ever hit players, which is a shame, but it can kill almost any creature on the board and like Sink into Takenuma fuels your “cards in hand” cards like Spiraling Embers.
  • Freed from the Real - Right now the only deck that uses Freed from the Real involves Sachi, Daughter of Seshiro and Orochi Leafcaller to generate ridiculous mana of any color. Keep an eye on it, though, since this is just the sort of card that will find weird uses in unexpected ways. Just ask anyone who drooled over Pemmin's Aura.
  • Spiritual Visit - It's a cheap splice card, which automatically makes it something to consider. How good is it, though? It's somewhere in the conversation with Blessed Breath and Kodama's Might, better than Into the Fray but worse than Glacial Ray.

Saving Your Uncommons

It turns out that the uncommons are easier for me to rank than the commons. Whereas Chris, Zed, and I discussed the commons a lot, we had a high level of agreement on the uncommons. Again, if you're on a tight budget and looking for an investment, consider picking up four copies of the following five cards:

1. Manriki-Gusari

A glib thing to say is that as long as Umezawa's Jitte exists, Manriki-Gusari will find a home in almost any budget deck with creatures. That's not far from the truth, but it also undervalues Manriki-Gusari. This card doesn't just kill the almighty Jitte. It also kills Sword of Fire and Ice, Sword of Light and Shadow, Lightning Greaves, Whispersilk Cloak, Grafted Wargear, Loxodon Warhammer, Fireshrieker, O-Naginata, Tenza, Godo's Maul, Empyrial Plate, Helm of Kaldra and Sword of Kaldra. It also kills other Manriki-Gusaris, which I suspect will be increasingly relevant. To top it all off, it gives your creatures +1/+2, a nice boon for a one-mana equip cost. Which is all to say that the more I play with Manriki-Gusari, the more I want to include it any budget deck with creatures.

2. Kiku's Shadow

It's ironic that card #1 usually makes a creature immune to card #2 on this list. Even though Kiku's Shadow is a sorcery--which is often a death knell for creature removal--for two mana it kills almost all opposing creatures. The reason is that most Constructed decks don't use creatures whose power is less than their toughness. Oh sure, the occasional Meloku, the Clouded Mirror and Blinding Angel show up, but these are by far the exceptions. Even more significant, Kiku's Shadow can target black creatures, which is something Black removal often has a hard time doing. Note that Black creatures have gotten a lot better in recent sets, too. I'm not just talking about the Kokusho, the Evening Star and Kagemaro, First to Suffers of the world, I'm also talking Raving Oni-Slave, Hand of Cruelty, Wicked Akuba, and other creatures all along Black's manacurve.

3. Hand of Cruelty

Speaking of Hand of Cruelty, I think Mike Flores did a great job discussing why this little two-mana guy is noteworthy. In fact, he turned out to be prophetic. Suffice it to say, if you build an aggressive deck that's at least half-Black, I would have a hard time arguing against Hand of Cruelty.

4. Charge Across the Araba

Many people keep wanting Armageddon back to make White Weenie shine again (personally, I've enjoyed Standard without Armageddon, but that's a different topic). Charge Across the Araba is no Armageddon, but it does give White decks that rely on small creatures an “I win” card. Five mana is admittedly a lot, but Overrun is five mana and serves a similar purpose. Add the ability to fill your hand--which in White can fuel cards like Presence of the Wise, Kiyomaro (and his Descendant), and Empyrial Plate--and you have a flexible card that your opponents must consider when doing combat math.

5. Haru-Onna

Haru-Onna is a funny card because on the surface it looks so completely lame. Four mana for a fragile 2/1 body? Yuck. Despite the cost, though, I find myself both including Haru-Onna in my deck ideas and constantly playing against them online. Any card that replaces itself when cast is pretty neat. When you can reuse it by adding some Spirits and/or arcane cards to your deck, the prospect gets even better. This card reminds me a bit of Whispers of the Muse, actually. If your deck can survive long enough to generate a lot of mana, then Haru-Onna is sure to draw you lots of cards over the course of a game. The fact that it can sometimes attack and block is a significant side bonus.

Honorable Mentions:

As with the commons, although I like to think of those five cards as the most generally useful, they are by no means the only useful uncommons in Saviors of Kamigawa. I'll briefly touch on a few of the other gems I see.

Can you argue my choices for both lists? Sure you can. That's part of the fun of these list-thingies (see you in the forums!). The hope, though, is that if you have limited resources I've given you some handholds as to which cards from Saviors of Kamigawa you want to include in your collection. I am a big advocate of making wise long-term investments when it comes to Magic, focusing on cards you're going to use in fifty decks before buying those that are only good in one. Hopefully these occasional set reviews help you make these decisions.

Hey! What About The Rares?

You may recall that way back when in my very first Interlude, I focused on the fact that many budget deckbuilders use “junk rares” as the basis for their decks. We budget-minded folks are a creative, out-of-the-box lot. Thus I don't want to forget that some cards in sets have gold symbols, too. Rather than outline what I think some of the fun, cheap rares are in Saviors, I'm going to make it the basis for my next series of articles.

Usually I start with a preconstructed deck and slowly evolve it over three weeks until I have a fun, respectable budget deck. This will still be the basis for most of my deckbuilding series. In my first article for this column, though, I said that I wasn't going to get locked into one particular formula. What I'm trying over the next few weeks is one of the many such departures you can expect from time to time.

Next week I'm going to start from a “junk rare” and follow the same process of deckbuilding evolution. Once again I'll be making a Kamigawa Block Constructed deck, especially since 9th Edition will be shaking up Standard soon. I'll give more details in my next article, but suffice it to say that today you're picking my feature card and next week you're picking the major theme(s) of the deck.

To pick my line-up of victims, I used these guidelines:

  • One Saviors rare from each color, plus an artifact.
  • Only pick rares that go for about one ticket (approximately one dollar) online.
  • Don't pick rares that lend themselves to a pure beatdown strategy (I've done enough of those decks recently).

The cards that I chose from these criteria are listed in today's poll. Whatever you choose, I promise to include a full four copies of the card in my forthcoming deck. It should be a fun exercise, so think hard, pick a winner, and of course argue your choice on the Message Boards.

See you next week!

-jms

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