Going combo in the PDC

Poor IntoTheAether

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Nate Heiss is a genius. I asked him to make this PDC combo deck that... wait, wait. I'm getting ahead of myself.

Common Knowledge

In the beginning of September, programmerman wrote me an e-mail to describe two weekly casual tournaments he thought might interest me. One was Thursday Online Magic Experience, or TOME, which I'll write about another day. The other was the Pauper Deck Challenge, or PDC.

Many people know of and play Peasant Magic, a format in which only commons and a small handful of uncommons are legal. In fact the creator of the format, Robert Baranowski, wrote an article about Peasant Magic for this site. Fewer people, though, know about the Pauper format, in which it's all commons all the time.

That's right: In Pauper Magic, you can build any sixty-card deck you want... provided you only use commons. For Magic Online, the accepted rules of Pauper are that all commons are legal (except, sometimes, Cranial Plating... more on this in a bit). Uncommons that have online common equivalents, like the Circles of Protection, Chromatic Sphere, and Stream of Life, are legal. Uncommons that have common equivalents before Invasion, however, are illegal.

The Pauper Deck Challenge is a weekly tournament showcasing Pauper Magic. At the time of this article, PDC has run fourteen successful tournaments with steadily growing attendance. The instigator of the PDC, and the person who still hosts them, is a fellow by the name of tharionwind. I figured rather than try and tell you what you need to know about PDC, I would let him tell you himself.

(IntoTheAether taps microphone)

IntoTheAether: Is this tape recorder thing on? Blast technology, I can never figure it out. Testing. Testing. One. Two. Three. Testing? Hey, my voice sounds kinda sweet. Baby. Yeah! R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Find out what it means to me. R-E-S-P-E-C-T! Take care, TCB!

(tharionwind clears throat)

IntoTheAether: Ahem. Right. Thanks again for joining me for a little interview tharionwind. If you don't mind, tell me how the PDC got started.

tharionwind: Well, Madhatter of Clan BURN encouraged me to come back to Magic Online in May, after I had been on and off since 2002. At the time I had about four thousand cards and wanted to have fun. Zahori and Deke were posting about starting a FNM [Friday Night Magic] on Thursdays (I came up with the acronymn for TOME) then decided to start an all-commons Peasant format. Although PDC isn't Peasant Magic, its 100% commons. So we call it Pauper's Deck Challenge.

IntoTheAether: What made you decide that?

tharionwind: Why did I start PDC? I wanted something fun for all, some tournament where your skills mattered, not your wallet. I take care of my elderly mother so I had time as a caregiver and MTGO gives me an outlet to have fun and spend time with friends around the world.

IntoTheAether: So tell me a little about the 13 events so far... How have they gone?

tharionwind: Well it started out interesting enough. My friends from Clan Burn helped me, along with TheOrangeMitten, Zahori and Aussie_Awakening. It started with 12-18 people and it's grown. Now it runs 24-32 per PDC each week.

IntoTheAether: Any problems so far?

tharionwind: We had one problem when Fifth Dawn came out. We actually had to ban a common! We banned Cranial Plating after PDC 7.

IntoTheAether: Heh... Affinity was running rampant?

tharionwind: Plating is very strong. We brought Plating back for PDCs 12, 14, and 16, but banned it for 13 and 15 to mix it up a bit before Worlds.

IntoTheAether: PDC Worlds?

tharionwind: PDC Worlds is the week after PDC 16. Due to the change in Champions of Kamigawa release, here's the upcoming PDC Schedule: PDC 13 on September 18th PDC 14 on September 25th, PDC 15 on October 2nd, PDC 16 on October 9th. PDC Worlds is on October 16th. Worlds includes all PDC winners plus the top nine winners (there are points for finishing in the top four of an event and for completing all four rounds of a tournament). So twenty-four total invited to this event.

IntoTheAether: Cool. How long does each tourney run?

tharionwind: Well, it usually starts signups at 6:00pm Pacific. Games start at 6:30pm with four rounds of Swiss, cut to Top 4 single-elimination playoff, and usually we wrap up the playoffs by 10:30pm Pacific.

IntoTheAether: Even without Plating, would you say Affinity is the top deck?

tharionwind: Affinity is good, but without Plating MBC or RGU madness are very strong. JTWolf also developed a new archetype with white “untappables” plus Leonin Bola. It's very cool. Monoblack is strong. Blue bounce is good. Red burn with haste is dangerous. Green biggies are cool, especially with morph. There is a metagame, but it's not narrow and no one type is guaranteed to win.

IntoTheAether: I'd say that's balanced. I hope I get to participate in PDC 13. It's tough for me to play in tournaments, though it's nice to have it at night my time.

tharionwind: We tried to make a Euro-friendly ICE (International Commons Event) but no one showed up for three weeks so PDC stays at its current time.

IntoTheAether: Anything else people should know?

tharionwind: It's a free tournament and top four winners get prizes. If a veteran doesn't donate the prizes then I canniblize my collection. It's not much, but sometimes we get vets donating.

IntoTheAether: Nice. Well, congrats on starting something fun for all. I can't wait to check it out!

tharionwind: Ceicil, Zahori, JTWolf and TheOrangeMitten all get big thanks for all their help. They love PDC and help me run it. Zahori and Istanbul are awesome -- If I can't host, they step in for me for a week. Also DekeYoung and the Beeber crowd get props, including Aussie_Awakening.

IntoTheAether: Duly noted.

tharionwind: Thanks. Oh, can I ask one favor? Somewhere in the article... bah, it's a silly idea and way off topic.

IntoTheAether: No, go ahead. I insist.

tharionwind: I wanted to mention I love Monifa with all my heart.

IntoTheAether: Heh. I can certainly put that in there.

tharionwind: Thanks!

IntoTheAether: You want me to sing more Aretha? I have time. Let's see... where was I? Oh! Sockittomesockittomesockittome...

tharionwind: Um... no.

IntoTheAether: Alrighty then.

(click tape-recorder button)

In my practice games, I found tharionwind's advertising to be accurate. What's fun about Pauper Magic is that most people bring decks of their own creation, and they are spirited, fun games. It's also nice that almost every strategy is a weenie-based strategy, which means none of that solitaire-playing combo-deck deck stuff we all hate.

At least... until now.

Commons, Meet Combo

Since I knew I'd be writing this for Combo Week, I asked around but no one had ever heard of a PDC combo deck. Nate Heiss, meanwhile, was complaining over e-mail that Combo Week was coming up and he had already written about Krark-Clan Ironworks. We put our heads together and I asked him if he'd be willing to make a PDC combo deck. He said he'd work on it and would get back to me.

In the meantime, I scanned the Magic Online commons for cards that might make up a combo deck. I saw Erratic Explosion, Daru Spiritualist, and Cavern Harpy, all of which are part of existing combo decks in other formats. In fact, for a second I pictured Daru Spiritualist, Imagecrafter, Quadropod, and Crafty Pathmage before I came to my senses. Escape Routes seemed like it had merit at one point, but was too expensive and slow.

As I waited for Nate to get back to me, I brainstormed a deck with a few folks that almost wandered into combo territory. It was built around the interaction of Battered Golem, with either Viridian Longbow or Quicksilver Dagger, and Myr Servitor. It seemed pretty shaky to me, but my initial decklist looked like this:

Gunslingin' Golem

Online Pauper deck (all commons)

I don't recommend playing this deck, mostly because I never had a chance to try it out and refine it (it's clearly a first draft). Now, just as I was putting the Golem deck together I received an e-mail back from Nate with the subject line “eureka!” The first line of Nate's e-mail read: “Go forth and win with this deck.”

Nate Heiss is, as I said, a genius.

I loved his idea, although I noticed the deck Nate sent was Standard-legal. Somehow along the way he thought I had asked him to make a deck that was only Standard commons. I played his deck for a while, liked it, made some changes to allow for a full online cardpool, and prepared for PDC 13.

What's the deck? I'm not telling. See, the other idea Nate and I had was to make our two articles a combo-series. Like any good combo, the pieces do a lot less separately than together. Tune in to Nate's article on Friday to find out the exact decklist I used in my PDC experience. Until then, you'll have to guess from whatever description I provide below. Wheeee!

A Penny For Your Tourney Report

As I mentioned in the interview, I didn't have high hopes for being able to make the PDC and play in it. My weekends are packed full and I rarely have four hours of uninterrupted time I can dedicate to Magic (another reason why Sealed Leagues are so great for me). My wife and I figured out a way for me to play in the beginning rounds of PDC on Saturday, though if the rounds dragged out I would probably need to drop before the tournament was finished. Knowing my own time limitations, I vowed rather than have a goal to win the tournament (let's be realistic... even if I had time to stay the four hours, I'm with an all-commons combo deck) my goal would be to make Nate's combo “go off” at least once per match.

The PDC has a great environment. Several minutes before the start, people /join pdc and chat excitedly... and often goofily. Here are just a few of the comments right before the tourney started:

6:26 Istanbul: My deck is silly, and I don't apologize for it.
6:26 Istanbul: In fact, I may sing They Might Be Giants lyrics to you as we play.
6:27 Istanbul: I'm playing orange/purple with a plaid splash.

6:27 ceicil: before we start, I have an announcement . . .
6:27 ceicil: tomorrow is "Talk Like a Pirate" day at Long John Silvers

True to tharionwind's word, about twenty-four people showed up for PDC 13. You can see the full results here.

As a general rule, I tend to under perform when playing decks of other people's design, so it's no surprise that I lost more games than I won. On the other hand, I met my stated goal of “going off” once per match. Here's a quick recap, though as a caveat I only took quick notes on each game so I may have gotten some details wrong:

Match 1: Raistlin1 (green/blue Madness)

In Game 1 he runs me over with two Wild Mongrels and Werebear. Truthfully when I saw his first two turns of Forest, Island, Wild Mongrel I had all sorts of psychotic flashbacks. I had to remind myself that cards like Wonder, Roar of the Wurm, and Circular Logic weren't common. Then I realized that Basking Rootwalla, Obsessive Search, and Deep Analysis are, and all are capable of smashing my face.

Game 2 is a bit better. His offense is slower and I've sideboarded in some creature control. He again gets a Wild Mongrel and Werebear, but I'm able to slow him enough to get the mana-acceleration I need for the combo. I see a window of opportunity for some shenanigans, so I draw a fistful of cards, generate about ten mana, draw more cards, play some fatties, and when I cast my key card he concedes. Whew!

Game 3 is anticlimactic. I get stuck on one land for several early turns while he smacks me around with a Basking Rootwalla. When I'm finally able to draw a second land to start my mana-acceleration, it gets countered by two Mana Leaks to leave me manascrewed. Little green weenies get big with threshold and I die a horrible, shriveled death. Raistlin1 will go on to make Top 4 before dropping from the tourney.

Match 2: JTWolf (white/black Clerics)

Game 1 sees him amassing Clerics like Battlefield Medic, Daru Spiritualist, Zealous Inquisitor, and Hallowed Healer. Eventually I drop to seven life. I stall a bit with some fatties to keep myself alive, which is all I need to go off. In a single turn I draw seven cards, generate upwards of eighteen mana, play eleven power worth of offense and then clear his entire side of the table of permanents. He concedes.

Game 2 starts off a lot like the first game. The unfortunate thing about combo decks, though, is that sometimes they just sit there looking pathetic. He builds a small Cleric horde to smash my face (which, if you ask me, is very un-Clericy of them). I put a 5/4 blocker into play, but it dies to Profane Prayers. A turn later, Clerics swing in with a flurry of fists and a second Prayers kills me.

In Game 3 he gets a slow, all-Plains start. I see an opportunity to start my combo-craziness, but I also see that trying to go off too early means I'll run out of mana and allow him to climb back from the combo. Since he has very little offense (two Hallowed Healers and another 1/1 if I recall), I wait until I'm able to fully play my fatties and leave him no permanents. For the second round in a row, I am the last match to finish. Stupid combo decks.

Match 3: slaest (WW equip untappables)

Game 1 is beautiful. He gets some Razor Golems, a Diving Griffin, and I forget what else, while I systematically set up my mana to again draw lots of cards, play lots of fatties, and clear his side of the table in one massive turn. Fun stuff.

In Game 2 I lose to the combination of early weenies with equipment on them (including Leonin Bola) and Dragon Scales. I can't seem to find the breathing room to go off and have to burn some of my combo elements as defense to stay alive yet even that's not enough to stem the tide of weenie onslaught.

Game 3 looks tough when he plays a first-turn Auriok Transfixer and a second-turn Bonesplitter. I destroy the artifact, but then another Bonesplitter comes into play. I destroy that artifact too. A second Auriok Transfixer joins the party, then Leonin Den-Guard, then a third Bonesplitter. I can temporarily get rid of the creatures but can't find an answer to that last Bonesplitter. I do a mini-combo to clear some, but not all, of his side. He recovers, so I do it again to buy myself time. He recovers, and I decide it's now or never for the combo. I have an impressive ten-minute turn, but I end up filling my hand to nine cards with no more untapped land left and no more mana in my mana pool. White weenies mercifully finish me after that.

So I go 1-2 in matches, 4-5 in games. Not good, but, like I said, at least I got to show each of my opponents what the deck was capable of doing. I really wanted to stay for the fourth and final round, but my two-year-old son needed a bath and my wife had been single-parenting for most of the day. I thanked tharionwind for the fun experience and dropped from my inaugural PDC experience.

The deck is really cool. I'm not usually partial to combo decks, but the idea of doing a combo with all commons makes me smile. What's also great is that the one type of card that utterly destroys the deck--land destruction--isn't good against any of the other Pauper deck strategies. Wheee!

Wouldn't You Like To Be A Pauper Too?

I'm itching to get back into the PDC ring, this time with the luxury of staying for the whole event. PDC 15 and 16 are scheduled for the next two Saturdays. I vow here and now to show up to one of these events and play. Which one? I still need to figure that out with my family, but after the event I'll let you all know what happened. Look at the commons in your collection, put a deck together, and come play this weekend or the weekend following. I guarantee you'll have fun. In fact, if you don't have fun, I'll have tharionwind refund your entry fee. I'm a marketing genius!

At the moment I'm fairly undecided about whether to bring Nate's combo deck to my next PDC or try something of my own creation. Maybe I'll pull the Battered Golem deck off the shelves to give it a few swings of its Quicksilver Dagger. We shall see...

Oh, and Nate says he wants to team up with me for some 2/2/all Emperor soon. You have been warned.

Tidbit 1: Return of the Door

There are sure a lot of Prismatic games to be had in the Casual room these days, which is beautiful to see. It looks like people are trying out the new format post-bannings and having fun. I still only have one big deck, the Door to Nothingness deck from last week. Currently the decklist is staying fairly constant. The only change I've made in the past seven days is to replace fourteen basic land with artifact land. As a few people pointed out to me, artifact land is recyclable after I've dumped cards into my graveyard whereas basic land is not (someone else suggested Crucible of Worlds for my deck, but I think that veers a little from the central strategy). In fact, the hope is that my artifact land may sometimes draw some artifact removal from opponents so that they have fewer answers when the Door finally hits the table. Here's hoping, anyway.

As a reminder, I'll list the current deck. Feel free to post your well-reasoned ideas on the Boards for how to improve it. If any significant changes happen as a result, I'll let you know.

The Doors v.1.6

Prismatic deck

Tidbit 2: It's Koming...

I am totally and completely geeked about Champions of Kamigawa's release October 25th. For a full description of the Champions of Kamigawa release events, you can go here. It turns out that the rest of my family will be out of town that week, which means I'll be playing in lots of yummy events and have way too much material for the corresponding article. These days I play almost no paper Magic which means, like many Magic Online players, I don't get a chance to try out the new sets until they're released online. Champions has me even more excited than usual for a set release, though, for two big reasons:

First, I was one of the handful of people on the card names and flavor text team for Champions of Kamigawa. For those of you wondering whether I'm planning on writing an article similar to my Fifth Dawn one, the answer is yes. Champions of Kamigawa was my first big set from a creative writer standpoint and I feel personally possessive of several cards.

The second reason I'm excited is that Champions of Kamigawa has, on average, more cards that fit my deckbuilding style than most sets. I am literally obsessed with the flip cards, and want to make decks (plural) around each one. Seriously, I can't stop thinking of flip-card deck ideas for almost all of Magic Online's formata. Just some of the other cards that excite me include: Azusa, Lost But Seeking; Blood Speaker; Brothers Yamazaki; Earthshaker; Eight-and-a-Half-Tails; Forbidden Orchard; Glimpse of Nature; Godo, Bandit Warlord; Hikari, Twilight Guardian; Honden of Life's Web; Horobi, Death's Wail; Jade Idol; Kiki-Jiki, Mirror-Breaker; Konda's Banner; Long-Forgotten Gohei; Masako the Humorless; Meloku the Clouded Mirror; Orochi Hatchery; Otherworldly Journey; Seshiro the Anointed; Sift Through Sands; Soilshaper; Strange Inversion; Swirl the Mists; Tatsumasa the Dragon's Fang; Tenza, Godo's Maul; Uyo, Silent Prophet; the Myojins, and the Dragon Spirits. Note that these aren't necessarily the best cards in the set (and in fact when people start using the “best” cards, I'll lose interest in them), but are instead the ones I want to particularly build decks around. Especially those flip-cards. Yummy.

Next week: Let's find out what format you voted for me to tackle next...

Have fun,

-j

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