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Excellent And Anthony’s (Part Two) Puzzle Jay

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Welcome to part four of four, the last hurrah of my “preconstructing contructed” experiment on Way of the Warrior. I hope you've had fun up until this point. Also welcome to Tuesday's edition of Puzzle Week. I'll be dropping a few clues throughout today's article, but they won't make much sense unless you first read Anthony's explanation of all the puzzles you're facing here.

In fact, let's kick things off with part of the puzzle, shall we?

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Reveal

Feeling Blue

I knew the decision to splash blue to my Samurai deck would, um, raise some eyebrows. As expected, I received my share of outraged e-mail, folks wondering why I was “ruining” the deck, and general preference for keeping the deck Monowhite (or wishing I had gone White/Green or White/Red, so I guess I was doomed no matter which way I went).

It's probably true that if I were aiming for the most competitive deck possible I would stick to the brutal consistency of Monowhite. In fact, I think it's fine to consider this deck a justifiable “stopping point” for this experiment:

Way of the Warrior v.1.5

Kamigawa Block deck

As I said from the very beginning, though, getting the most "winningest" deck has never been my aim. This isn't really the column to read for tournament tech and I'm not the guy who should be giving such tech away. My decks very much follow the beat of my own weird drum.

Just so everyone understands, let me review the first of my Guidelines from week one of this experiment, which may address some people's angst:

“Guideline 1. The goal is to make a fun deck to play that wins its fair share of games in the Casual Constructed room of Magic Online. This is not an effort to make a competitive tournament deck.”

Something else I said in that first article:

“Also, a caveat: I'm making a pet deck for me, me, me. At almost every turn I will likely make different choices than you. That's okay. This experiment is meant to be fun to read, inspire creativity, and illustrate some deckbuilding concepts. If you don't like what I'm building, by all means make your own deck and beat me with it in the Casual room.”

My own defensiveness aside, a very valid question showed up on the Message Boards last week: Why go to all of the trouble of splashing blue for Consuming Vortex when Otherworldly Journey accomplishes the same thing and keeps the deck consistent mana-wise?

This is a terrific observation. After all, Consuming Vortex is there to save my creatures and remove blockers, which is just what the Journey does, right? And, hey, isn't Otherworldly Journey better at saving my creatures?

Here are the three reasons I made the decision to include Consuming Vortex:

  • Flexibility. It is absolutely true that Otherworldly Journey does a better job saving my creatures' butts than Consuming Vortex. Not only does my saved creature pop back into play for free and with a +1/+1 counter, but I don't have to worry about having the correct mana at just the time when I need it. As blocker removal, though, Consuming Vortex is better. Rather than making the opposing creature stronger, it forces an opponent to replay her creature and gain me a valuable turn of offense. Also, in a pinch, Consuming Vortex can be spliced in a way that Otherworldly Journey can't. As a result, I find Consuming Vortex to be slightly more flexible than Otherworldly Journey (although admittedly Otherworldly Journey is a little cooler). This is clearly only a slight advantage in the Vortex's favor.
  • Learning. Keep in mind that this was meant to be a deckbuilding experiment. When I was really undecided about whether to stay White or splash Blue, I thought I might as well splash another color because it's a good learning opportunity for folks about what it takes to add a second color to a monocolored deck.
  • Gateway to Blue. Finally, here is the big reason: Adding Consuming Vortex allows me the opportunity to explore other off-color (in this case, Blue) cards rather than continue to maneuver in the confines of White and Artifacts. In other words, Consuming Vortex is a gateway to a whole new pool of cards I can now try out in my deck.

For those who wanted me to keep the deck Monowhite, refer to the version 1.5 decklist above and, as I said, consider that a fine stopping place from a deckbuilding perspective. Consider this experiment as actually giving you TWO fairly decent decklists rather than just one.

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Reveal

Throttling Back My Aggression

Onward with more games! I never mentioned it, but it was always my intention to have at least fifty logged games in this series. Why fifty? I have no idea.

Game 40: Blue/Black Spirits

My opponent could only really generate land and two River Kaijin before he was run over like a muskrat crossing a freeway. My turns went Sensei Golden-Tail, Kitsune Blademaster, Mothrider Samurai, Nagao, Samurai of the Pale Curtain with a Consuming Vortex in hand and the mana to cast it. After about the fourth or fifth turn, I couldn't conceive of what events would have allowed him to climb back into the game.

Game 41: Blue/Green Azusa deck

He played a Soratami Cloudskater while I had Sensei Golden-Tail, Kitsune Blademaster, Kami of Ancient Law, and Samurai of the Pale Curtain. In other words, I was putting a lot of pressure on him. He used his own Consuming Vortex to slow me down, but I was still eating into his life. Then he cast Azusa, Lost but Seeking and things started to look a little more interesting. Keiga, the Tide Star followed, which drew a few gasps from the crowd. I had an Island and Vortex, though, so I bounced his Dragon and kept up the attack. At two life, he sat back with his Cloudskater, Azusa, and recast Keiga to block my guys. I played Blessed Breath and spliced another one to give two of my guys protection from blue (so Azusa could only block one of them and one would get through unblocked) and I won. Yay tempo!

Game 42: Monowhite Samurai

His deck had Reciprocate, Indomitable Will and, interestingly enough, Kusari-Gama to go along with his Samurai troops. We traded Mothrider Samurais early on, and he Reciprocated my Konda's Hatamoto. Eventually I had three Kitsune Blademasters to combat his Devoted Retainer enchanted with Will and equipped with the Kusari-Gama. For some reason my opponent decided to race me (I guess hoping I would block), but I got him down to one life much faster than he got me down to eight. Once he decided to block, his one blocker couldn't stop all three Blademasters, especially when I was holding Blessed Breath. I sooooo wanted to draw Consuming Vortex, though, to bounce his Retainer and set him back a turn or two.

Game 43: Green/Red... Something

Lame. I got a Devoted Retainer, Kami of Ancient Law, and Kitsune Blademaster in my first three turns and had two Consuming Vortex and a Call to Glory in hand. He played Forest, Mountain, then conceded on Turn 3. Come on!

Game 44: White/Red Samurai

He played a quick Bushi Tenderfoot and I had Devoted Retainer. I killed the Tenderfoot on my opponent's turn with Call to Glory, then played Kitsune Blademaster and Nagao, Bound by Honor. He had a Mothrider Samurai and Oathkeeper, Takeno's Daisho, but it didn't seem like he had the mana to equip as he was trying to find a way to slow down my attack. On turn six I had two Retainers, Nagao, Blademaster, and Mothrider Samurai and he conceded. Sometimes this deck's aggression scares even me.

Game 45: Blue/Green Azusa deck

This Azusa archetype is by far the most annoying and stressful deck I have found in the format of Kamigawa Block, and a lot of people play it because it's so darned good. I was a little land-shy early on, stuck on three Plains for the most part while I attacked with a Devoted Retainer, Sensei Golden-Tail, and Kitsune Blademaster (I always seem to draw those two together). He had a Soratami Seer and Soratami Cloudskater to keep me in check, and I kept casting things for him to counter so that he stayed on five land. Eventually he decided to let me have another creature--Kami of Ancient Law--so he could cast Keiga, the Tide Star. I kept attacking, at one point giving my Sensei protection from blue to make him unblockable and to drop my opponent to one life. He then played Azusa and had to chump block with it and his Soratami. He then played another Azusa, and then Meloku the Clouded Mirror. It was downhill from there. The Illusion tokens gave him the freedom to attack with his Dragon and although I was making his land disappear, he only needed three attacks to finish me off. What was frustrating was that I was holding a Consuming Vortex the whole game without a blue mana source, which would have been very helpful at all points in the game. Who decided to make this deck two-color, anyway?

Time for a few changes...

OUT: 2 Devoted Retainer

As I said last week, Devoted Retainer is a current “weak link” in the deck. The Retainer's worth is directly proportional to the number of creature-enhancers in the deck. When I took out No-Dachi, Indomitable Will, and Takeno, Samurai General I really diminished Devoted Retainer's effectiveness. Right now it feels like I'm playing him because there aren't better options. These two copies may go back into the deck, but I want to see if I miss them first.

IN: 2 Thoughtbind

I said last week that I didn't see the need for counterspells, but a week later I'm feeling differently. Doing so means I'm pulling back on the aggression of the deck and making it a little more control oriented. The reason that I shy away from pure aggressive strategies (this is a personal style choice, not because pure aggression isn't a good strategy) is because I absolutely hate playing against cards for which I have no good answer. For example, I pretty much automatically lost to Honden decks, so I added Kami of Ancient Law. Now I find there are very few cards that just bend me over their lap and spank me, but the one that is getting played more and more is Hideous Laughter. As a result, the Thoughtbinds are there as insurance... helping me when no other card can.

OUT: 3 Plains

I'm splashing more Blue, so some Plains need to go. Samurai of the Pale Curtain is still the only card in my deck that requires double-white to cast, so in some respects I'm pushing things until I find that I can no longer cast him on Turn 2 reliably.

IN: 2 Island

IN: 1 Minamo, School at Water's Edge

I now have four Islands, Minamo, and four Cloudcrest Lake, which should be enough to give me access to my six Blue cards when I need them. The question will be whether I find myself color-screwed without the necessary Plains to cast my other cards. We shall see. Minamo is there because, like Eiganjo Castle, it can provide it's own combat tricks and can kill Horobi, Death's Wail. Minamo has the added bonus of being pretty spiffy with Sensei Golden-Tail, though that's mana-intensive enough to not come up often.

The deck now looks thusly:

Way of the Warrior v.2.1

Kamigawa Block deck

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Reveal

Game 46: Monoblack Ogres/Oni

I wondered if I was going to run into an Ogre/Oni deck, and am glad to see one finally. His deck had Villainous Ogre, Bloodthirsty Ogre, Blood Speaker, and, as you might expect, both Painwracker Oni and Gutwrencher Oni. The surprise was that he also played Kiku, Night's Flower for creature control. He had a second-turn Kiku to match up with my Konda's Hatamoto and Sensei Golden-Tail, but I bounced it at the end of his turn. I was all prepared to counter Kiku when he re-cast it, but instead used my Thoughtbind on Bloodthirsty Ogre. The tempo boost was enough, and by the time he reached five mana and his first Demon, I could swarm him for the win. We played two other games after that, one in which he pounded me into oblivion and one where I pounded him into oblivion.

Game 47: Monowhite Samurai

Ah humility. This was almost like a game in which Konda, Lord of Eiganjo himself sent me a lesson from beyond the veil. I got stuck on two land for nine turns, only able to cast a Sensei Golden-Tail. My opponent played a Devoted Retainer, enchanted with Indomitable Will and equipped with No-Dachi. It was seriously like all of the cards I dropped in past articles coming back to kick my tail one last time, with me helpless to defend myself. I managed to get him to ten life and kill his Samurai, then bounced his Mothrider Samurai twice with Consuming Vortex to buy me time. Then he dropped Takeno (yep, definitely Old Home Week) and smacked me down. Ah humility.

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Reveal

Game 48: Monored Aggro

His deck was cool, with Akki Avalanchers, Akki Coalflinger, Ronin Houndmaster, and, I assume, Kumano, Master Yamabushi. I, however, had a swarm of early Samurai. He sacrificed two of his Mountains with two Avalanchers to try and hold off my attack, but I had two Blessed Breath in hand. I bounced his final blocker with Consuming Vortex and won the game easily.

Game 49: Green/Red Snakes

I have traditionally had a very difficult time winning against Snakes. Sosuke and Seshiro are just big enough that I have a hard time killing them, and Sosuke's ability just stinks for any Samurai without first strike. Anyway, he managed to find all three legendary Snakes (including Sachi, Daughter of Seshiro) plus some Orochi Sustainers, Matsu-Tribe Decoy, a Kashi-Tribe Reaver, two Sensei's Divining Top and red burn. So I died a horrible death, right? Nope. He managed to Glacial Ray away some of my early threats, but a Mothrider Samurai poked away at him while some Kitsune Blademasters and Sensei Golden-Tail held off his attack. He made some ill-advised attacks out of frustration, I started splicing my Consuming Vortexes, and I was able to rush him for the win.

Game 50: Blue/White Dampen Thought

With all of the recent attention on the new creatureless Draft strategies, I suppose it was inevitable that a deck like this one would show up in Kamigawa Block. The first deck I saw using all Arcane spells and Dampen Thought was piloted by The Orgg, and he beat me soundly in an unlogged game. This time it was basically the same deck but a lot closer result. He had multiple card-drawing cards like Peer Through Depths, Reach Through Mists, and Sift Through Sands, with multiple (and I do mean multiple) spliced Candles' Glow and Dampen Thought. I, meanwhile, ammassed a veritable army of Samurai and just kept them swinging. I countered two Consuming Vortex from my opponent with Blessed Breath. On my last turn, I forgot to play Nagao, Bound by Honor before my attack, dropping my opponent to three life instead of one. He had just enough mana to Dampen Thought my last four cards and I lost during my draw step. Both Thoughtbinds were milled into my graveyard and I desperately wished they had been in hand instead.

Which has me thinking...

OUT: 2 Devoted Retainer

IN: 2 Thoughtbind

Okay, I am very clearly turning the deck from a “beatdown” deck into an “aggro-control” deck. With the Monowhite deck, the idea is to attack, attack, attack, and then keep attacking until an opponent is dead. With these new changes, the idea is to drop one or two creatures and protect them with my tricks. My deck should still be able to get into beatdown mode if needed, but it should also be able to disrupt an opponent in the late-game as well. In many ways, the deck is starting look like the Merfolk “Fish” decks of old, which were some of the few tournament decks I enjoyed playing. Gone is the now-anemic Devoted Retainer, and the hope is that twenty Samurai are enough for my Calls to Glory and Nagao to be effective.

So far I seem to get Blue mana sources early and often, so I'm not going to add any more Islands yet.

Way of the Warrior v.2.2

Kamigawa Block deck

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Reveal

Here is the place in the article--right at the end of a four-part series, unfortunately--in which I lamely cop-out. You see, I had thought that the decklist above was my final one. I figured it would match my play style I could wrap up my series. Period. The end. I even wrote up a little piece about sideboards and made up a speculative sideboard for the deck and wrote the end of my article.

"I decided to hop on Magic Online and play a few games for fun…"

The evening before my deadline for this article, finished draft nicely sitting on my laptop, I decided to hop on Magic Online and play a few games for fun. Well, the deck didn't quite perform as I had hoped. In one game, I got stuck with all Vortexes and Breaths and no creatures, which was just bad luck. In several others, I had to keep choosing whether to save my mana for a Thoughtbind or cast a four-cost creature. It was bothersome and felt like a design flaw. Not only was the Monowhite deck better than the White/Blue one, the White/Blue one was giving me fits.

So, brows wrinkled, I played some more games. Then I played some more. Then more. Then, well, I realized what I wanted to do to the deck. Although I didn't log any of those game past number fifty (recall they were never supposed to be part of the article), I ended up changing the deck and trying out a few other cards.

Then something else happened. I played. I played some more. And quickly I began absolutely having a blast and loving the deck. My winning percentage took a huge jump, too, partly because I was getting comfortable with playing a more controllish deck and partly because of the new additions.

Here was my last round of changes, based on roughly about fifteen games. I'll list the decklist at the end of the article.

OUT: 4 Mothrider Samurai

The comparison to Fish decks of yore I made earlier is actually a pretty good one. I realized that by adding Blue what I was doing was really trying to capture the feeling I had when I used to play Merfolk decks: Quick creatures that were difficult to deal with because of Blue's trickiness. As a result, I started to realize more and more that the focus should be on two-cost creatures as much as humanly possible. In the Monowhite deck, Mothrider Samurai is great because it's able to deal those last points of damage right about the time an opponent is able to stabilize the ground. In my White/Blue deck, though, I was dealing my damage about a turn slower. This sounds like a bad thing, but like I said in replacement of that lost turn I was gaining the ability to win match-ups that I couldn't previously win. Aggro-control decks like my White/Blue one, I've found, are also satisfyingly difficult to play because of the decisions involved--when to attack, when to play defense, when to use up tempo spells like Consuming Vortex, when to counter, etc. (one of the things I had a hard time getting excited about with Monowhite was that it was basically a “Banzai! Attack!” deck). Anyway, the point is that Mothrider Samurai was gumming up my hand more often than not... too slow to make a major difference in my games when I needed a two-cost creature.

IN: 3 Soratami Cloudskater

In came Soratami Cloudskaters. Here was a two-cost flier that I could get behind in my new “Samurai Fish” deck. Sure it wouldn't deal quite as much damage with each swing as the Mothrider Samurai, but I found they still dealt about the same amount of damage per game (2-4) as their Moth-riding counterparts. Even better, they came out on the second turn and had an ability that wins me games. Their ability is actually perfectly suited to a deck like mine that a) doesn't care whether it has more than four land or not, b) often needs to find more creatures, and c) when it doesn't need to find more creatures, needs to find a way to save creatures at instant-speed. Initially I dropped all four Mothrider Samurai for four Soratami Cloudskaters. Then I had two games in a row in which the Cloudskaters became Samurai thanks to Sensei Golden-Tail and the deck began to sing. Suddenly all sorts of cool tricks started happening, and I realized that I needed another Sensei in my deck.

IN: 1 Sensei Golden-Tail

On one hand, having three copies of Sensei-Golden Tail is problematic because he's legendary. Then again, he only has one toughness and my deck really wants to turn those Kami of Ancient Law and Soratami Cloudskaters into Samurai as quickly as possible. Three copies mean that I can usually draw one per game, and can sometimes draw a replacement if the first dies. Of course, they also improve Konda's Hatamoto quite a bit. I've come this close (JMS holds his thumb and forefinger an inch apart) to adding a fourth copy of Sensei Golden-Tail into the deck, but I think three is actually the right number here. Sensei Golden-Tail feels like one of those Samurai tricks not in the first Way of the Warrior at all that I discovered and began to build my deck around.

OUT: 2 Plains

IN: 2 Island

I hate to go over the “five card limit” in my last round of changes, but then again I played a lot more than five games to make these changes. I've now fixed the mana in ways I need to make the deck work. I still amazingly find I can usually cast a second-turn Samurai of the Pale Curtain and I now have the ability to both cast an early Soratami Cloudskater and counter an early spell with Thoughtbind if need be.

Is the deck perfect now? No. Now that I've added Blue I feel like I could tweak the deck for another week or two until I arrived at the same sort of “static goodness” that I have in the 1.5 version (there's a good lesson here: Next time wait to reach a static decklist rather than set an arbitrary four-article limit). Right now the decklist has a lot of three-of cards, which feels like a signal that there's room to make the deck tighter. A Meloku the Clouded Mirror might slip in there also. Or I might try Psychic Puppetry or Counsel of the Soratami. Or maybe the deck is slow enough now that Sensei's Divining Top fits. I'm not sure. However, what I currently have is a good, solid version with which to play around. From the games I've played so far, it feels like a deck I will enjoy playing for a long time. For example, in a recent game I tapped Sensei Golden-Tail to turn my Soratami Cloudskater into a Samurai with Nagao, Bound by Honor on the table, then untapped my Sensei with Minamo, School at Water's Edge and attacked for the win. Wheee!

Wrapping Up

Here is the deck I started playing with:

Way of the Warrior v.1.0

Kamigawa Block deck

After three weeks, here is a solid, aggressive Monowhite version of the deck that evolved:

Way of the Warrior v.1.5

Kamigawa Block deck

And, after over sixty-five games, here is a more controllish version of the deck with Blue. I've kept in my speculative sideboard since I've noticed that for about every four Kamigawa Block one-on-one duels that start up in the Casual room, there's usually at least one best-of-three match.

Samurai Fish v.1.3

Kamigawa Block deck

Finally, here are a few decks posted on the Message Boards from folks “playing along at home.” Each deck took the Way of the Warrior preconstructed deck and modified, and as you can see each version is very, very different. Enjoy!

Way of the Zed by The Zed

Kamigawa Block deck


Psychic Samurai by Nazdakka

Kamigawa Block deck


Konda's Lure by GodofAtheism

Kamigawa Block deck


And finally, because I'm a lot nicer than Anthony, I'll leave you with this "random" haiku in plain English...

To unlock the hint
Far from this Christmas spirit
Read between the lines.

Happy Holidays!

-j

How often should Jay do these “preconstructing constructed” experiments?Do it again! Right now! Once a set seems about right.Once or twice a year seems about right.Please don't ever do this again.
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