Building_on_a_Budget

Which deck will you choose?

Blood Clock: Five Bloody Clocks

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The letter S!omehow it always surprises me that the Message Boards don't predict poll results. I thought Truth Seekers or Soratami's Wisdom was going to win the Saviors precon poll based on the Boards, but it was Spirit Flames instead. I was sure Eternal Dominion would win last week's poll, but instead the silent majority chose:

Poll: Which card will be the feature of Jay's next series?
Blood Clock 4760 40.3%
Eternal Dominion 1871 15.8%
Maga, Traitor to Mortals 1825 15.4%
Sekki, Season's Guide 1295 11.0%
Skyfire Kirin 1254 10.6%
Kiyomaro, First to Stand 819 6.9%
Total 11824 100.0%

Not just Blood Clock, but Blood Clock in a landslide. This is great news from a deckbuilding perspective because as an artifact, Blood Clock offers lots of different possible paths to follow. Before I get there, though, let me take some time to outline what I'm doing over the next three weeks.

As I said last week, my usual approach to these deckbuilding series is to take a precontructed deck and evolve it into a fun, respectable, budget deck. I'll frequently depart from that formula, though, and this “cheap rare” base will be one such departure.

Here are the Guidelines for this particular series:

  1. Start with a “cheap rare” (as defined by prices online) and brainstorm some first-draft (Kamigawa Block Constructed) decklists around that card.
  2. Choose one of the first-draft decklists and play it.
  3. Don't make changes until playing the deck in at least five games.
  4. Change no more than five cards at a time.
  5. Keep four copies of the rare at all times.
  6. Build a respectable deck that's fun to play.
  7. Build an affordable deck.

What you see is that the basic guidelines are very similar to what I usually do. What's different is that I'm starting from a single card and making my own initial decklist rather than relying on that of a preconstructed deck. The other significant change is a commitment to four copies of the card in the deck. The reason for this latter guideline is that I want to keep Blood Clock as a primary focus of whatever deck I make.

Today is the day in which I'll brainstorm a bunch of first-draft decklists around Blood Clock. Read through my ideas, then vote at the end of the article for which deck you want me to start playing. Over the following two weeks, I'll follow my usual play-and-change process of getting to a final decklist with whatever idea you choose. Yes, this gives me one less week of playing than usual but I'd like to think that my brainstormed decklists have fewer problems with consistency than preconstructed decks and will require one or two fewer rounds of changes.

Now, let's get to know my new feature card...

Blood Clock: An Overview

So, what do we have here? The short answer is Umbilicus, since Blood Clock is a functional repeat of the old mutliplayer favorite. Kamigawa Block is a lot different than Urza Block, though, and duels are a lot different than multiplayer. Besides, a lot of newer players have never used (or even heard of) Umbilicus. As a result, it's worth picking the card apart bit by bit.

First, it's a four-mana artifact. That means it isn't coming into play until Turn 3 at the earliest (given a Sakura-Tribe Elder, Orochi Sustainer, or Desperate Ritual) and is more likely on Turn 4 or after. That's a very middling cost, and one that pretty much any deck can use. The fact that it's an artifact means that it isn't locked into one particular color base, either; Blood Clock can conceivably show up in any monocolored or multicolored deck. This is all good news from a deck brainstorming perspective.

As an artifact Blood Clock is vulnerable to the maindeck anti-Umezawa's Jitte hate in Kamigawa Block Constructed, including Wear Away, Hearth Kami, and Yuki-Onna. This isn't as huge a problem as it might seem, though, since a lot of decks use Manriki-Gusari or their own Jittes as anti-Jitte cards, figuring that most other artifacts are harmless. It's also nice that Blood Clock isn't creature, legendary, or arcane, which automatically makes it immune to common weapons like Kiku's Shadow, Hero's Demise, Psychic Spear, or Hisoka's Defiance. All in all, I like Blood Clock's chances of survival in Kamigawa Block Constructed more than almost any other format.

What makes Blood Clock interesting, of course, is its rules text: “At the beginning of each player's upkeep, that player returns a permanent he or she controls to its owner's hand unless he or she pays 2 life.” So basically each turn you and your opponents are faced with a choice: Lose a little tempo by replaying a permanent or lose a little life. This simple choice has lots of implications for deckbuilding:

Comes-Into-Play Permanents Matter

The common adage about cards with symmetrical effects like Blood Clock is that you should try to make the effect hurt your opponent a lot more than you. In Blood Clock's case, one way to turn the seeming disadvantage into an advantage is by using “comes-into-play” creatures like Haru-Onna or Godo, Bandit Warlord (a corollary here is that Raving Oni-Slave is generally a bad card for a Blood Clock deck to use). Admittedly, the crop of comes-into-play creatures is fairly small in KBC, but they do exist.

Also useful are the non-creature permanents that care about cards coming into play. Ronin Warclub is neat when you can more easily control where it goes. Clash of Realities and In the Web of War can get crazy when creatures are bouncing around. Lifegift and Sosuke's Summons can get crazy too. These are examples of cards that look unfair when you're able to continually replay your permanents turn after turn while your opponent is struggling to decide whether to lose tempo or life.

Hand Size Cards Matter

Continually returning cards to hand means that Saviors of Kamigawa's “wisdom” mechanic is more significant with Blood Clock. Need to get to seven cards in hand? Wait a turn or three. Cards that count your hand size like Presence of the Master or Soramaro, First to Dream are viable cards for a Blood Clock deck because you can assume you have a reasonably full hand. You can also assume your opponent has cards in hand, which makes spells like Gaze of Adamaro and Infernal Kirin interesting. The point is that Blood Clock is in Saviors because it helps fuel one of the set's central mechanics.

Try to Limit Opponent's Resources

What you don't want to do with Blood Clock on the table is get into a position where your opponent is happy to bounce a land to her hand every turn without consequence because she has all the resources she needs. One way to avoid this situation is to put extra strain on her resources. Land destruction is particularly mean with Blood Clock. So are cards like Ghostly Prison that force your opponent to play additional mana. The goal of these cards is to make returning a permanent uncomfortable at worst and impossible at best, thus ensuring two additional damage a turn.

Use Cheap Permanents

In addition to using comes-into-play cards, it's nice to have single- or two-mana permanents that you can return to hand and replay relatively painlessly. You don't want to put yourself in a situation where you are forced to take the two damage, stall your manabase, or pay four mana a turn to return Blood Clock itself to hand. A single Traproot Kami gets around all of these problems by giving you effectively a “bounce outlet.”

A corollary here is that Blood Clock decks probably want more nonland permanents than just Blood Clock itself. Blood Clock makes a poor addition, for example, to an Ire of Kaminari deck.

Life Pads Are Good

Another way to make Blood Clock's symmetrical effect feel a lot less symmetrical is to boost your own life to epic proportions. Honden of Cleansing Fire, Descendant of Kiyomaro, and Vital Surge are all cards that make two life a turn much less... painful. On the flipside, cutting into an opponent's life with something like Flames of the Blood Hand makes the life-tempo equation that much harder.

Auras Are Usually Bad

Finally--and this is a minor point mostly because I want to use the new term “aura”--most auras that target opponent's permanents are less than good with Blood Clock. Sure Cowed By Wisdom sounds like a fine idea, until your opponent simply decides to bounce his enchanted creature and you lose a card. Oops. You can avoid these situations by only using auras that enchant your own stuff. Genjus good. Mystic Restraints bad.

The Five Clocks of Doom

Okay, that's a deep enough dive to get my creative juices flowing. Below you'll find me brainstorming a series of decks based around Blood Clock and using many of the principles I've just outlined. Before I start, though, two notes about these decks:

First, all are monocolor, with one deck per color. This may seem overly boring and uninspired to you. Here's the thing: Whenever I think about decks around an artifact, my standard practice is try it out in each color--solo--first. This gives me a good sense of what each color brings in support of the artifact. What I often find is that later down the road I will add a second or third color to these decks to shore up weaknesses, but for me it's important to start pure. Of course, this isn't a promise that I'll add more colors to the deck you choose, but rather an assurance that I'm open to the idea.

Second, I've taken the term “first-draft” to heart here. These aren't ideas I've thought through particularly well yet, nor do they necessarily use all of the cards that would make the ideas work. Some of them have holes that may be painfully obvious to you. All of that is okay, and will get sorted out over the next two weeks. Consider these decklists no more than a starting point and a place to nail down the major color and themes of the deck.

With those caveats out of my system, here we go...

The Red Clock

My first idea when thinking about what Red brings to a Blood Clock deck was Zo-Zu the Punisher and land destruction like Stone Rain and Thoughts of Ruin. My mental decklist started to horde way too many rares, though, and felt too much like a tournament deck with Blood Clock thrown in as an afterthought.

My second idea used In the Web of War and Sokenzan Spellblade, which I still think is a pretty fun combo with Blood Clock. The problem here was that I said I wanted to stay away from straightforward beatdown decks if at all possible, and the more I added cards to the deck the more it looked like to-your-face Red.

My third idea revolved around Cunning Bandit and a variety of Spirits. Glitterfang was an obvious choice, as were Yuki-Onna and Oni of Wild Places. After I started putting the deck together, I realized that Skyfire Kirin, maybe helped by a Shinen of Fury's Fire or two, actually fit. The resulting list was again too aggressive (darn that Red), but then I settled on working Earthshaker as a major part of the deck and dropping the Bandit. With Earthshaker as a centerpiece everything came together into a slow (maybe too slow), board-controlling sort of approach:

Red Clock

The Green Clock

Green was a lot of fun to think about in conjunction with Blood Clock. It has spiritcraft triggers like Briarknit Kami and Bounteous Kirin to abuse, the best comes-into-play non-rare in Haru-Onna, the ability to play more than one land a turn and otherwise get around Blood Clock's tempo disruption, Lifegift, Masumaro, First to Live, Stampeding Serow, and the best two commons in all of Kamigawa Block.

Probably the most obvious use of Blood Clock uses Snakes and Sosuke's Summons. I worry that Blood Clock becomes increasingly irrelevant in that deck, though.

My Lifegift idea was a fun one, using many of Green's ways to get extra land into play, probably with Azusa, Lost But Seeking in there to accommodate land bounced by Blood Clock. That's a lot of rares, though, and again: Is Blood Clock really necessary in this deck, even if I use Elder Pine of Jukai, Haru-Onna, and Masumaro?

I settled on a deck that's a little cruel if it works, but may be too inconsistent to be plausible. My thought was that Green has access to Uproot, Rootrunner, and Feast of Worms. Then I noticed that all of these cards were either arcane or Spirits, which got me thinking about Haru-Onna and Hana Kami. Could Blood Clock be deadly if an opponent continually redraws the same land? At least in theory it seemed worth a try.

Green Clock

Main Deck

60 cards

23  Forest

23 lands

Elder Pine of Jukai
Hana Kami
Haru-Onna
Loam Dweller
Rootrunner

20 creatures

Blood Clock
Feast of Worms
Kodama's Reach
Rending Vines
Uproot

17 other spells


The White Clock

White proved to be the toughest of the colors to pair exclusively with Blood Clock. My first thought used cards like Descendant of Kiyomaro, Kiyomaro, First to Stand, Presence of the Wise, and Ivory Crane Netsuke. The deck could gain a lot of life, I figured, but I struggled with how to put that life to good use other than as fuel to the Clock. Boring.

I then tried a more controllish idea using Kiyomaro once again as the finisher, but this time relying on Waxmane Baku, Ghostly Prison, and a bunch of other stalling tactics. At one point I even pondered Orb of Dreams in the deck alongside Kitsune Diviner. The problem here was that the deck desperately wanted to use Final Judgment and Shining Shoal, and without these cards it looked like a poser Monowhite Control deck. For a few minutes, I flirted with the idea that maybe White was going to be the one color I couldn't make work.

Eventually I convinced myself that although auras were typically bad with Blood Clock, Tallowisp just might work. Waxmane Baku and Ghostly Prison stayed in from the previous idea, but this time I used imminently bouncable Spirits like Lantern Kami and Kami of Ancient Law to go get Cage of Hands, Indomitable Will, and Ward of Piety. Since I relied so heavily on enchanting my own creatures, I thought Kitsune Mystic made a nice complement.

White Clock

Main Deck

60 cards

22  Plains

22 lands

Kami of Ancient Law
Kitsune Mystic
Lantern Kami
Tallowisp
Waxmane Baku

20 creatures

Blood Clock
Cage of Hands
Ghostly Prison
Indomitable Will
Ward of Piety

18 other spells


The Blue Clock

For some reason, I received several e-mails convinced that if Blood Clock was chosen I would resort to another monoblue Ninja deck. I see the synergy between Blood Clock and Ninjas, but there's no way I think that's the only reason to dip into Blue.

Blue is clearly the best color to pair with Blood Clock for the purposes of filling your hand. I originally zeroed in on Secretkeeper and the ability to keep my hand full. The more I thought about it, though, the more it seemed like an attempt at a fairly straightforward Blue Weenie deck using Spirits. Although that's an interesting take on beatdown, it's still beatdown.

Blue also turns out be darned spiffy at filling an opponent's hand via cards like Eye of Nowhere and Consuming Vortex. I had been wanting to use Ebony Owl Netsuke since realizing that Blood Clock was my feature card. I remember fondly my Monoblue Iron Maiden-Viseling deck with Indentured Djinn. The below deck isn't exactly a remake of that one, but it has the same philosophy:



The Black Clock

On the flipside of Blue, Black is pretty darned good at ensuring that you can keep more cards in hand than your opponent and that you can get rid of the cards your opponent chooses to bounce back to hand. My original idea focused on using Gnat Miser and Locust Miser in a Blood Clock deck. The more I thought about it, though, the more it became a pretty typical Rat deck relying on Nezumi Shortfang. I still like the interaction of the Misers with Blood Clock, but I'm not sure all of the tools I would want are currently there.

Thankfully Thief of Hope is a perfect companion to Blood Clock. If I can bounce cheap Spirits like Ghost-Lit Stalker and Ashen-Skin Zubera and sprinkle in a hefty dose of discard then I think the decision between whether to bounce or take damage is all the more difficult for my opponent. Kemuri-Onna is a perfect addition to such a deck. Death of a Thousand Stings is one of those cards I would love to make work if possible.



Black Clock

Tik Tok, Pick A Clock

Now that you've seen my brainstorming around Blood Clock, it is time for you to choose my path. Think about which deck you would like to see me play and change over a two-week span, check out the Message Boards to hear people's impassioned pleas, and then cast your vote.

The only poll votes that are going to “officially count” are those done before 5pm Pacific on Monday, August 8th (read: today). That's when I'll ask Scott Johns for a final tally so I can get playing and writing for next week. The truth is, the outcome of the polls almost never changes after the first day anyway. Still: Don't dawdle!

Think hard, have fun, and pick a winner!

-jms

 Poll: Which deck do you want JMS to evolve over the next two weeks?  
Red Clock
Green Clock
White Clock
Blue Clock
Black Clock
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