I didn't get as much of a response to this article as I might have liked, but in some respects this was the one article I wrote this year that was much more for me than my readers. The Smackdown! was great fun to plan, great fun to play, and great fun to write. Savvy readers have pointed out that I now have made more than four decks since this article; These people are quite right, and I can almost guarantee Smackdown II! soon after the New Year.
eatdown Week! All right! It just so happens I have some beatdown for y'all, making this my first opportunity to attune to a theme week. Today is also sort of my own personal Regionals. Before I explain that statement, let's first start out with last week's poll results:
What is your favorite final precon list so far?
|Samurai Fish (v.2.0)
|Club Ninja (v.1.6)
|Bad Religion (v.2.0)
I honestly can't remember when it occurred to me that I should have a playoff using the decks that had come out of this column. I don't even remember if it was my idea or one suggested by a reader. Whatever the case, I was anxious to update Samurai Fish because it would give me four Standard, pre-Saviors of Kamigawa decks that could duke it out.
That's the idea behind today, to pit my modified precon decks against one another. There's no prize for the winning deck other than bragging rights and digital chest thumping. Unlike most of my articles, there is no hidden or half-hidden teaching of deckbuilding principles. No, today it's simply about the entertainment of gladitorial carnage, about pitting things designed for combat against one another to see who's best.
Here is how the BOAB Smackdown! (in my mind, the word “Smackdown!” must always have an exclamation point attached to it) works:
- Take my four modified preconstructed decks.
- Play a round-robin tournament, allowing each deck to compete against each other deck.
- Play two games in each match-up, swapping decks with my opponent to control for player bias.
- No sideboards allowed.
The tricky part in setting up this experience was finding another player. I found him in The Zed, longtime Message Boards poster and Magic Online player. The Zed (who apparently does go by Zed in his real life) had impressed me with his insights on the Boards during my deckbuilding forays, so when he said hello online, I was happy to play him and strike up a friendship. It turns out we're players of comparable skill, neither of us great but both solid enough. I pitched my Smackdown! idea to him and he agreed to dedicate a week of evening play to my crazy idea. Scott Johns set about getting him a temporary employee account with all the needed cards, and we were off and running. See what can happen if you're thoughtful in your Boards posts and display a love of deckbuilding?
Anyway, those are the rules and the players. Let's meet the decks.
First up, coming to you from the Way of the Warrior preconstructed deck, is an aggro-control Samurai deck whose aim is to drop quick creatures and win through tempo and pinch of control. As I said, the focus of last week's article was to get Samurai Fish in shape to compete, and after an impressive showing last week the deck feels it's ready.
Next up is the monoblue weenie deck based on the Ninjutsu preconstructed deck. Club Ninja focuses on quick fliers that can slip Ninja into play, winning through tempo, library manipulation, and the extra oomph of Ronin Warclub.
Third is an aggressive, fattie beatdown deck based on the Dark Devotion preconstructed deck. The deck starts off slowly, usually with no more than land and Wayfarer's Bauble, but by the third or fourth turn Bad Religion drops beefy Ogres and Demons galore to win through sheer muscle and a hefty dose of creature removal.
Finally there is the monoblack deck based on Rat's Nest. Gone is Umezawa's Jitte, sold off to fund a load of uncommons, an extra Patron of the Nezumi, and Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni. Ratimation is the only controllish deck of the lot, looking to win through discard followed by reanimation. If it can get its Nighteyes the Desecrator-Chittering Rats-Nezumi Bone-Reader combo going, look out.
In looking over the four decks, it's interesting that no green has showed up yet despite the fact that it is easily the strongest color in Standard right now. It will be fun to see which weenie strategy is more effective, and how those strategies match up to fatties and reanimation-control. Will the monocolored decks or two-color decks perform better? Which deck will stand atop the heaped corpses of its opponents? Oooo! I can't wait!
Which is all to say...
Let The Smackdown Commence!
Enough preamble. Place your bets now, because it's time to settle this on the virtual table of Magic Online. Ready? Zed? Go!
Game 1: Samurai Fish (0-0) vs. Club Ninja (0-0)
I went first with Samurai. Zed played a Turn 1 Ornithopter
, but I countered with a Turn 2 Soratami Cloudskater
tech!). I then played Konda's Hatamoto
and Kitsune Blademaster
to go on the offensive. Zed played Ronin Warclub
, then spent the five mana to equip, which we both agreed is just wrong. “Uh oh,” I figured, “here come the Ninja.” But no, I just took two from the 'Thopter and Zed played a second Warclub. He then tried Sage Owl
, but I had Mana Leak
. Next turn I tapped out to play Nagao, Bound By Honor
. Before I could attack with him and my army, Zed tried to Echoing Truth
my Nagao. I had a second Mana Leak
, and that was game. The good news is that the 4/4 Ornithopter
was able to finally kill its nemesis the Cloudskater in the final attack.
Game 2: Club Ninja (0-1) vs. Samurai Fish (1-0)
Samurai won the die-roll again. I got out a first-turn Ornithopter to his Turn 2 Konda's Hatamoto. My 'Thopter turned into a Ninja of the Deep Hours. I then played Sage Owl while Zed seemed to be piling up land and holding off my Ninja. The Owl gave me Higure, the Still Wind, which I used on my Ornithopter. Zed said “shoo,” with Echoing Truth, then “shoo” again on the following turn. He also played Sensei Golden-Tail, making his Hatamoto beefier and able to attack. I bounced the Hatamoto and tried attacking with everything, but Test of Faith made Sensei huge and killed my Ninja of the Deep Hours. Higure finally made it onto the table with his third try, and now I could start ever-bouncing his guys via Mistblade Shinobi. A second Konda's Hatamoto wasn't enough for Zed and I won at ten life.
Samurai and Ninja split, 1-1. That's a bit of surprise, as I would have thought Club Ninja's fliers and Shuriken would have really given the Samurai fits. Maybe not finding any Ninja in the first game had a bit to do with it.
Game 3: Samurai Fish (1-1) vs. Bad Religion (0-0)
Samurai clearly cheat at dice, winning the roll again. I had a second-turn Sensei Golden-Tail
, then played Kitsune Blademaster
while he had two Ogre Marauder
s on turns three and four. We beat on each other for a while, and Zed used Rend Flesh
on a Samurai of the Pale Curtain
to stay ahead. I then cast Nagao, Bound By Honor
, and sacrificed my Sensei to block when Nagao, too, met a Rend Flesh
demise. Curses! I found an Island to play Echoing Truth
on his Marauders, then cast Soratami Cloudskater
to go on offense. My Blademaster met Rend Flesh
number three, leaving me with only a Cloudskater. The situation was then Zed at four life, me at two. He had an Ogre Marauder
and Blood Speaker
. I had my Cloudskater, an Echoing Truth
and Test of Faith
in hand. If he attacked with both Ogres I win the next turn via a 4/4 flier, but instead he sacrificed the Speaker to get Seizan, Perverter of Truth
. That tricky Zed.
Game 4: Bad Religion (1-0) vs. Samurai Fish (1-2)
Samurai won the die roll again! They really need to spend more time training and less time carousing. Anyway, I had two early Hearth Kami to combat his Konda's Hatamoto and Sensei Golden-Tail. I tried to block the Sensei, but Zed had Test of Faith waiting. On the next turn I used Rend Flesh on his legend, then played Ogre Recluse. Zed cast another Hatamoto and Nagao, Bound By Honor, which did some damage before I cast a second Rend Flesh. Now I was facing two 1/2 critters with my 5/4 beatstick. After dropping Zed to fifteen, I played Scourge of Numai, then Ogre Marauder, then Takenuma Bleeder. Zed cursed, finding only Plains and a few token chump-blockers like Kami of Ancient Law and another Sensei Golden-Tail. We agreed that Samurai Fish lacked any mana-balancing, and I mentioned it really needs Tendo Ice Bridge. After I won at twelve life, he showed me a hand of Soratami Cloudskater and two Mana Leaks. Ouch.
Ogres beat Samurai 2-0. I might have expected the opposite result, actually, since Samurai and Bad Religion's fatties match up comparably in combat and the combination of bounce and counterspells hurt the Ogres' strategy a lot. Apparently the creature removal of four Rend Flesh and three Hideous Laughter is pretty significant, though.
Game 5: Samurai Fish (1-3) vs. Ratimation (0-0)
What a slaughter. Samurai couldn't even win a die roll against the cheaty Rats. I mulliganed a hand of one Island into a hand of four land and two Kitsune Blademaster
s. Zed picked off one with Distress
, then another with a second Distress
. The only good news is that I did manage to find a third Blademaster to play. That was about the only good news, though. A Konda's Hatamoto
killed his Nezumi Bone-Reader
thanks to Call to Glory
(I feared Throat Slitter
). Then my Blademaster died to Rend Flesh
. Then Nekrataal
came into play so I bounced my Hatamoto to hand. Then Chittering Rats
made me re-draw a Plains. Then the Rats became the Throat Slitter
I feared. Then Ravenous Rats
made me lose Test of Faith
. Then Patron of the Nezumi
showed up. The horror! Make it stop!
Game 6: Ratimation (1-0) vs. Samurai Fish (1-4)
Cheaty Rats won the die roll again. Zed started the game by announcing that he officially hated Samurai Fish's mana. I admit it's an issue, I really do. When I Distressed him, I saw two Islands and a sea of white cards (“Why'd you keep?” I asked. “I was drawing first!” he argued). I forget what I took, but it didn't matter as I played Distress, and Ravenous Rats while he was stuck on two Islands. He Mana Leaked my Nezumi Graverobber, then found a Plains to play Kitsune Blademaster. I Zombified my Graverobber, then ate his graveyard to flip into Nighteyes the Desecrator. After it flipped, I used Nekrataal on his Blademaster while Zed played Sensei Golden-Tail. Nezumi Bone-Reader showed up on my side, and I had enough mana to sac my Nekrataal, bring it back via Nighteyes, and generally wreck his side of the table. It was all downhill from there. Zed ended the game with three land.
Rats apparently own Samurai, crushing them 2-0. The two-color inconsistency hurt Samurai Fish here (and throughout the day, actually), while Ratimation is awfully tough on non-black creature decks. It's interesting to ponder what Hand of Honor does to Samurai in this match-up as Saviors becomes available, but then again Ratimation gets Skull Collector.
Game 7: Club Ninja (1-1) vs. Bad Religion (2-0)
I went first with an Island and Ornithopter
. Sage Owl
followed while Zed played a Wayfarer's Bauble
and land. The Owl found a Ninja of the Deep Hours
, then Zed played Ogre Recluse
. I replayed my Owl, tapping the Recluse, and then ninja-ed out a Mistblade Shinobi
to bounce his Ogre. The rout was on, despite him using Rend Flesh
on my Shinobi. I found three Ninja of the Deep Hours
plus Ronin Warclub
and another Sage Owl
. I ended the game at a cool twenty life.
Game 8: Bad Religion (2-1) vs. Club Ninja (2-1)
I went first again (hey... maybe I cheat at dice!), dropping a Turn 2 Hearth Kami to counter his Ornithopter. Zed then played Sage Owl, while I played Ogre Marauder. My Marauder died to Shuriken, and I was loathe to play the Ogre Recluse in my hand because of the little bouncy dude. I did also have Rend Flesh in hand, though, as well as Hideous Laughter. I kept waiting for the right time to Laugh, but Zed played it safe and didn't overextend himself. That meant I used Rend Flesh first, targeting Higure, the Still Wind as it came into play, but then Higure bounced back into hand thanks to another Shinobi. I decided it was time for Hideous Laughter, then played Ogre Recluse. Zed set up Sage Owl, Ronin Warclub, Ornithopter while I dropped him to ten. When I tried a second Recluse, he had Hinder. I died soon after. Not a single Demon in either game. Maybe they're scared of Ninja?
Ninja handles Ogres pretty easily, 2-0. I'm not sure what I would expect here, but the outcome isn't surprising. Like I said, bounce and counterspells hurt a fattie deck, which seems to have helped here but not with Samurai Fish. Anyway, Bad Religion doesn't have anything to counter those first critical turns of the Ninja deck, meaning that Club Ninja can get rolling unhindered. I still think Hideous Laughter could be devastating, but apparently not overly so.
Game 9: Club Ninja (3-1) vs. Ratimation (2-0)
What a great game. Cheaty Rats went first, of course, dropping Sensei's Divining Top
. I went second, playing Sage Owl
. We were both land shy, but the Owl helped me find the land I needed for Ninja of the Deep Hours
, and Spire Golem
. Zed's Top, meanwhile, helped him find Swamps for two Ravenous Rats
and a Chittering Rats
. I bounced his Chittering Rats
, feeling I was getting tempo as long as I drew cards from my Ninja. Nekrataal
craziness ensued, but Shuriken
and Spire Golem
kept on plugging away. After a back-and-forth game, we ended up with Zed at six life and me at seven. He had Nekrataal
, two Ravenous Rats
, a Chittering Rats
, and Nezumi Graverobber
. I had Sage Owl
, Mistblade Shinobi
, and Spire Golem
. I used Echoing Truth
on his Ravenous Rats
, and sent him to three. He attacked and I used my last card in hand--another Truth--on his Chittering Rats
, which dropped me to three. He spun his Top to no avail and I won on the next attack with fliers.
Game 10: Ratimation (2-1) vs. Club Ninja (4-1)
Zed mulliganed to five with Cheaty Rats going first, which was a bummer for him. On the plus side, he had the Ornithopter plus Ninja of the Deep Hours start while I played a Sensei's Divining Top, then Nezumi Graverobber. A second Ninja of the Deep Hours showed up, then Shuriken. My Graverobber died, then I cast Nekrataal to eat a Ninja. A Ravenous Rats, then a second Graverobber, showed up for me while Zed struggled to three land and played first Ronin Warclub, then Spire Golem. The 4/5 Golem was a great blocker, except I drew a Throat Slitter and attacked with everyone to get it through. Now my Rats faced off against a Walker of Secret Ways. Zed Shurikened a guy of mine, then played another Spire Golem. I topdecked another Throat Slitter (thank you, oh spinning Top!), and used a second Nekrataal to kill his Sage Owl. If it sounds confusing it's because it was a very back-and-forth game, both of us trying to out creature-removal the other. Before Zed could make another comeback, though, I used Distress to nab a Condescend, then Ravenous Rats to get his last card in hand--Higure the Still Wind. That was game.
Ninja and Rats split 1-1. This is a fascinating match-up, and Zed and I agree it's the most interesting combination of decks. Both games were back and forth battles, and both games came down the wire. The strength of Club Ninja again comes down to fliers and Shuriken, with its bounce being largely ineffectual. Ratimation has the advantage of creature removal and discard. As I said, fascinating stuff.
Game 11: Bad Religion (2-2) vs. Ratimation (3-1)
Cheaty Rats of course won the roll and started off with a Nezumi Graverobber
. I had Wayfarer's Bauble
, then Scourge of Numai
. Zed played Ravenous Rats
to get a card in my graveyard, then when he flipped to Nighteyes the Desecrator I used Hideous Laughter
to let my (now 2/2) Demon attack unabated. Zed followed with another Graverobber, but I had enough mana to start the Fat Parade. Takenuma Bleeder
, Seizan, Perverter of Truth
, Ogre Marauder
, Scourge of Numai
all followed. The Rats threw a series of chump-blockers--including a third Graverobber--in front of Seizan, but mostly they just popped underfoot.
Game 12: Ratimation (3-2) vs. Bad Religion (3-2)
This was it! Both decks came in 3-2, so the winner played Ninjas for the crown. Would Ogres pound Rats into submission again with the help of their demonic buddies or would Rats find a way to overcome a mostly-black deck?
I went first (cheaty Rats) and decided to play Nezumi Graverobber Turn 2, Distress Turn 3. I saw a hand with two Blood Speaker, two Hearth Kami, a Takenuma Bleeder and land. He already had a Wayfarer's Bauble on the table with two land. I could nab a Blood Speaker, but if he topdecked a Demon it would be a wasted effort. I decided to try anyway and hopefully remove it from his graveyard the next turn. He drew a non-Demon and played his second Speaker. I drew a Rend Flesh and decided to live on the edge, attacking him down to sixteen and killing the Speaker. Zed drew a non-Demon and played Hearth Kami, then used his own Rend Flesh on my Graverobber. I played Chittering Rats to ensure there would be no Demon draw. Zed emptied his hand with another Hearth Kami and his Bleeder. I used Nekrataal on one of his Kami and prayed for a non-Demon draw. I got my wish, took a Bleeder attack to fifteen life, then untapped, played a fifth land, and attacked. His Kami blocked my Rats, but Nekrataal bounced to hand to make room for Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni. I nabbed a Blood Speaker, and after that Zed could only find an Ogre Recluse. My replayed Nekrataal ate it, and the day went to the Rats.
Ogres and Rats split 1-1. It's a pretty even match, really, and if Zed had drawn a Demon in the first several turns I'm fairly sure he would have won. Ratimation generally has a tough time against black decks, and yet its discard and tempo really hurt Bad Religion's gameplan.
So, that left two decks standing at 4-2 over their six games. Zed and I agreed a two-of-three playoff was in order to determine the winner, which meant...
The Finals: Club Ninja vs. Ratimation!
Finals Game 1: Club Ninja vs. Ratimation
Somehow Ninja managed to win a roll against those cheaty Rats. On the second turn, Zed used Distress
to grab Higure the Still Wind
out of my hand. I played Ronin Warclub
on the next turn while he played Nezumi Graverobber
. I attacked for two, then played another Warclub whilst the Graverobber flipped into Nighteyes the Desecrator. Distress
number two plucked Echoing Truth
from my hand. I snuck Walker of Secret Ways
into play (a 5/4 thanks to my Warclubs) and saw a hand with two Swamps and a Nekrataal
. Ugh. I bounced the Walker back to hand after the attack, then replayed Ornithopter
. What does Zed topdeck? Rend Flesh
to kill my 'Thopter. Nighteyes went all the way, smacking me for four a turn while the knowledge of Nekrataal
kept me from replaying my Ninja. Zed started recycling Nezumi Bone-Reader
to eat my hand and that was game.
Finals Game 2: Ratimation vs. Club Ninja
Cheaty Rats won the die roll, and I used my own second-turn Distress to see a hand of two Spire Golems, Walker of Secret Ways and an Echoing Truth. I took a Golem. Zed drew and played Shuriken, so my third-turn Distress took his Walker. On Zed's next turn he played Spire Golem, and I countered with Chittering Rats. I was stuck on three land, which allowed Zed to ninjutsu out Higure the Still Wind (nice topdeck) for a Ninja of the Deep Hours. I killed Higure with my next attack thanks to Throat Slitter. The Spire Golem came back into play, and I replayed my Chittering Rats. Zed hard-cast his Ninja of the Deep Hours, then equipped it with Shuriken. I attacked with my Throat Slitter, and when Zed tried to kill it I played Patron of the Nezumi to sac my Slitter, then played Ravenous Rats to get the Echoing Truth out of his hand. Zed topdecked a second Truth, bouncing the Patron. At some point Ronin Warclub came into play and I had enough room to Nekrataal his Ninja. His 4/5 Golem stared me down for a while, then I replayed my Patron and started attacking. Zed tried blocking-and-killing with Shuriken, but I now had Sensei's Divining Top and could keep my offense going with another Chittering Rats, Ravenous Rats, and Nezumi Graverobber. Though a close game, Ratimation stormed in for the win.
RATIMATION WINS THE FIRST BOAB SMACKDOWN!
Winners and Losers
Now that we've seen those cheater Rats win the day, I'll share a few thoughts on each deck's performance...
Loser: Samurai Fish 1-5
After such a promising showing last week, what happened? The losses to the creature-removal-stuffed Rats are no surprise, and a split with Ninja is about what I would expect. The disappointment for me, I think, is in the match-up against Ogres. I would have expected at least a split, and an outright sweep wouldn't have surprised me. In the end, I think The Zed is right that the deck's mana issues are stressful at best, meaning the deck either needs hard-to-get land like Tendo Ice Bridge (great with Soratami Cloudskater) or it needs to settle back into a monowhite mold. Given the white tools of Saviors, I think the latter is probably the way to go. Regardless, every competition needs a loser and in the Smackdown!, it's clear that loser was Samurai Fish.
Loser: Bad Religion 3-3
I'm not terribly surprised here. If Bad Religion had drawn its Hideous Laughters more, the outcome could have been more favorable than it was in any of the match-ups. The thing about my Ogre deck is that it either gets its fatties rolling and smashes an opponent to pulp or it gets manhandled and looks silly. The games are rarely close and hard-fought. I think Jamie Wakefield calls this sort of deck a “win big, lose big” deck. As a result 3-3 makes a lot of sense to me. As Zed pointed out to me, Thoughts of Ruin seems cater-made for Bad Religion.
Winner: Club Ninja 4-2 (4-4)
Club Ninja actually gave the Rats a close game in all three of its losses. Zed and I agree that the deck plays very smoothly and that it's probably getting as much out of the ninjutsu mechanic as you can hope to get. The problem seems to be that as a core theme, monoblue Ninjas is slightly underpowered. If any set other than Betrayers could cough up one or two playable Ninjas, then I think the deck would be off and running. Vedalken Shackles would help a lot, too, as additional creature control. Zed has actively wondered whether Trusted Advisor has a place in the deck. All of that speculation aside, Club Ninja is a fun deck that I was surprised to find myself rooting for throughout the tournament. I am very fond of my little Ninja deck.
Winner: Ratimation 4-2 (6-2)
What can I say? The clear winner is Rats. In some respects they should have been the favorite to win from the beginning since the deck is loaded with creature removal and the other three decks hope to win via creatures. Also interesting to see was how much Distress--which I originally added to combat Umezawa's Jitte and Vedalken Shackles in the Casual room--affected the outcome of the games. I suppose it's also no surprise that of the four decks, only Ratimation has a tournament-quality deck running around that looks very similar to it. Anyway, I like the way Ratimation plays, my only complaint being the use of Sensei's Divining Top with no cards that shuffle my deck. Maybe Wayfarer's Bauble is worth adding to the deck, or maybe it's slow enough to try Journeyer's Kite. Something to consider, surely.
As a final note, I want to reiterate that none of the four decks are really meant to be tournament-quality decks. There is a reason all of my testing happens in the Casual Decks room of Magic Online. Today was about pitting all four decks in competition for the fun of it (in the past, I have done similar things with pre-modified preconstructed decks), and I hope the Smackdown! was even half as fun for you as it was for me. I am a sucker for events like the World Cup, NCAA basketball tournament, and the Olympics so this sort of experience makes me feel all warm and glowy inside.
Before I look to the future, I want to give a hearty thanks to The Zed for helping me with this Smackdown! tournament. He was responsive on e-mail and lent a lot of enthusiasm to the experience. Our game-time banter was fast and fun. Best of all, Zed showed up when he said he would and stayed up late to play me during the times I had available. Thank you Zed!
Starting Anew: Saviors of Kamigawa Precons
It's now time to close the chapter on the Betrayers of Kamigawa chapter of Building On A Budget. Saviors of Kamigawa hits the Magic Online Store today, which means I can start thinking about an all new batch of precons. I have restrained myself from looking at the Saviors preconstructed decklists because I was afraid I might go into seizures of pent-up impatience. As a result, I will definitely be diving into the next experiment with a fresh look at whatever deck you select. Which will it be? Choose wisely...
Which deck is JMS going to play and change next?