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IntoTheAether is Flipping Crazy

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The letter H!owdy howdy! For the first time in almost two years combined of both House of Cards and Into The Aether, I found myself this week at a loss for topics. I have a gaggle of ideas for two- and three-part series, but next week is my Betrayers of Kamigawa presview so I can't start on any of my mad schemes until January 18th.

What I found myself doing in my idle time, tapping my lip about possible topics, was building more Standard decks around Champions of Kamigawa's “flip” cards. Partly this had to do with last week's article feeling somehow unfinished by only tackling half of the available flip cards. It also had to do with the feedback folks sent me via e-mail with new and fun ways to use those little flipper dudes. As a result, my deckbuilding curiosity was piqued, and before I knew it I had built another stack of decks and played a near mountain of online games.

Today I'll revisit the cards from last time, add in new insights from last week, as well as try my hand at decks around the remaining five flip cards. After that I'm going to give you an opportunity to write an article for me, so stay alert.

Life in the “Casual Decks” Room (or "A Plea From Me")

The decks I'm talking about today, just like the ones from last week, are meant exclusively for the “Casual Decks” room of Magic Online. I'm not saying these decks will win you a Friday Night Magic, play well in an online Standard tourney, or have any hope in a competitive setting of any kind. I'm also not saying these are decks you should copy. In my mind, the whole point of the Casual Decks room is to make your own decks and try them out against like-minded opponents. The goal of today's article is merely to inspire your personal deckbuilding genius and to motivate you to try your own kooky decks.

Since this is the first real time I've talked about Standard in the Casual Decks room, I have a chance to offer my own perspective on some of the dynamics in the room. Moreover I get to peddle my own preferences and wishes, which is a nice perk of having a weekly column. Don't consider this an “official Wizards stance” by any means. This is all just my opinion.

And here's my opinion...

The thing that takes up a lot of chat-room space in the Casual Decks room is people complaining about an opponent's behavior or an opponent's deck. Mostly this is due, I think, to people's individual definitions of the word “casual.” Some people think a casual deck should use any card available, including promotional cards like Sliver Queen (these people usually play “Open” or “Classic”). Others think casual decks are “rogue" decks that go outside a typical metagame, or that use cards or strategies tournament players avoid. Some people think casual equals budget, so casual decks shouldn't use expensive rares. Often I hear that casual decks are meant to have fun instead of win, or that casual decks should be fun for both players (this contributes to the “no discard, land destruction, or counterspell” arguments in the room). Some folks only consider non-sanctioned formats like multiplayer, Primatic, or Singleton to be casual.

Each of these definitions reflects the beliefs of some part of the population in the Casual Decks room, but none are universal. Even if they were universal, there is enough ambiguity in terms (“rogue,” “fun,” “expensive”) that complaints would still rage and people would still show up to their Casual games with wildly differing expectations. The very word “casual,” it seems, dooms us all to a certain amount of debate.


Casual, depending on how you use it?

Personally, I don't complain when people use expensive rares like Exalted Angel in their Casual decks. I also don't complain about discard or permission strategies. I grumble a little about land destruction, but only because my decks usually have such a wonky mana-curve. These things just don't bother me on a philosophical level. There is a lot of room in my casual heart.

What I do complain about--and I complain quite loudly when it happens--is when I face something like Ravager Affinity in the Casual Decks room.

Here is my plea to all Magic Online constructed players:

  • If you are planning to enter your deck into a tournament of any kind, play in the “Serious Decks” room and not the Casual Decks room. You'll get better testing done against less random decks, which can only help your tournament experience.
  • If the decklist you're using has already performed well in sanctioned play (usually called a “netdeck” because you copied all or most of it off of Internet tournament coverage), play in the Serious Decks room as well. Your deck has proven itself to be a killer, so play against other killer decks. If you don't have a sideboard or aren't tuning so much as trying out the deck for fun, then go to the “Anything Goes” room.

That's my plea. I don't expect you to necessarily agree with me or do what I ask, but a guy can dream, can't he?

Oh, and speaking of the “Anything Goes” room, I don't see that it's getting much use these days. For all of those people who like land-destruction, discard, permission, and other traditionally “un-fun for your opponent” strategies, I don't see why you should put up with prematurely-conceding opponents and whiny gripes when there is a room specifically designed to protect you from such things.

Now, onto the flippers...

Dokai, Weaver of Life, Kenzo the Hardhearted, Tomoya the Revealer

No one said a word about my Budoka Gardener, Bushi Tenderfoot, or Jushi Apprentice decks. As a result, I haven't really played them since the article aired. Winning with humongous Elemental tokens and Wizards wearing Empyrial Plate are two things that still make me smile, though. Every time I play the Gardener deck, I find myself wishing Seedborn Muse was still in Standard.

Tok-Tok, Volcano Born


Duh?

Last week I said that my original try at a deck around Akki Lavarunner used “pinging” cards to have him deal his damage directly, but that all I could find was Surestrike Trident. For some reason, as Dragon Bloodthirty pointed out on the Message Boards, I completely missed Viridian Longbow, a card I even use in my Jushi Apprentice deck! No one mentioned Hankyu, but it's even a third piece of pinging-equipment available. Silly, silly me.

The Trident, Longbow, and Hankyu open up the possibilities for an Akki Lavarunner deck with cards like Abyssal Specter, Cruel Deceiver, Curiosity, Mephidross Vampire, Thieving Magpie, and Spirit Link. Heck, throw in Night Dealings for some tutoring fun. The problem, really, is that few of these cards are Red, which nullifies most of Tok-Tok's usefulness. You could add in Shifting Sky, I guess, if you wanted to really start building a crazy deck.

Hey... Shifting Sky with Tok-Tok! There's something there, I tell you.

Goka the Unjust

Although people have enjoyed seeing the deck played online, for some reason readers really hated the idea of combining Initiate of Blood with Death Pits of Rath. Some folks just didn't “get it,” and thought it was a useless combo. Other folks pointed out that Goka the Unjust's ability isn't very useful with Death Pits on the table. Flipping the card, these folks argued, mostly just gives me the advantage of a 4/4 body because the added pinging damage is meaningless. This point, it seemed to me, was a very valid one given my goals--trying to reliably flip the Initiate and use Goka to maximum effectiveness. The problem was that no one seemed to have any ideas that used Initiate of Blood better than what I had tried.

Then Winston Tarbox e-mailed me to say “Perhaps Shriveling Rot instead of the Death Pits? It threatens your own creatures less, since you have more control over it, and once Goka is in play (and flipped) you can use the second option to throw your opponent's creatures at his head.” In a word... Brilliant! I swapped out the Death Pits of Rath for Shriveling Rot and have loved the results. The deck is still slow, but it feels somehow more “right” to me now:

Autumn-Tail, Kitsune Sage

On the Message Boards, fiveironfelon noted the fun interaction of Autumn-Tail with red enchantments like Fractured Loyalty and Uncontrollable Anger. I liked this idea enough to give it a spin, but in trying to put enough cards in the deck to target a creature enchanted with the Loyalty (things like, for example, Auriok Bladewarden and Vulshok Sorceror), I couldn't get the deck to work out at all. Basically, there were just too many things demanding space in the deck, so it looked--and played--bizarrely.

Instead, I lapsed back into White/Green, relying on old friends Verduran Enchantress and Yavimaya Enchantress to power up Kitsune Mystic. The result was a defensive-minded deck that could really provide some dramatic turns. Here is the deck after a few tweaks:

Let me tell you, Autumn-Tail can play havoc on an opponent's combat phase, especially when using things like Indomintable Will, Spirit Link, and Cage of Hands. Probably my favorite game with this deck occurred with me down to two life facing an opponent using fear to whittle my life away while sitting behind an impenetrable army of creatures. I had three Verduran Enchantresses and two huge Yavimaya Enchantresses. After some desperate drawing, I played Lure on a 0/2 Enchantress (drawing three cards, 'natch) to allow my Yavimaya fatties to waltz through unblocked and win the game.

Nighteyes the Desecrator

My Nezumi Graverobber deck is likely the least original of my flipper decks. I've seen others make decks that use Nighteyes the Desecrator to great effect, and most of them look something like my decklist below. The exception, of course, is Mark Gottlieb's Graverobber deck from last week. Normally my lack of originality would bother me, except that reanimator decks that take advantage of “comes-into-play” and/or “leaves-play” abilities are some of my favorite decks of all time. As a result, I don't mind that the deck I made seems to resemble a lot of other Nezumi Graverobber decks, nor even that a lot of Graverobber decks seem to exist (it is the easiest flipper to flip, accounting I think for the prevalence of decks). If the deck has any whisper of creativity, it's the lone Marrow Gnawer who can enhance the twelve other Rats in the deck. That's not saying much, I realize.

Grave Robber

Main Deck

60 cards

Shizo, Death's Storehouse
22  Swamp

24 lands

Chittering Rats
Duplicant
Gravedigger
Marrow-Gnawer
Nekrataal
Nezumi Graverobber
Ravenous Rats
Solemn Simulacrum

28 creatures

Night's Whisper
Zombify

8 other spells


Stabwhisker the Odious

The deck I've played most often in the past week is built around Nezumi Shortfang. Recall that earlier I said that dedicated discard decks get a very cool reception in the Casual Decks room of Magic Online. This left me in a bit of quandry; How do I build an “acceptable” discard deck, one that an opponent enjoys playing against? After a bit of time (at one point considering a dedicated Rat deck like the one Nate discussed last week), I eventually decided that no one could begrudge my discard deck if it relied on an eight-mana artifact to win, especially if that eight-mana artifact happened to be Possessed Portal.

I've had mixed results with the deck, which probably accounts for the sheer number of games I've played. One evening I won almost all of my games, locking opponents out of the game with the Portal almost every time. The next night I lost almost all of my games, getting repeatedly color- or mana-shy and losing before the Portal could get going. Magic is like that sometimes, especially when your deck relies on Possessed Portal.

What I like about this deck is that when it doesn't work, it feels like I am a mere turn or two from taking control, and when it works, it is a thing of majesty. Opponents watch two permanents disappear a round while I sacrifice either meaningless tokens, enchantments (Megrim and Honden of Night's Reach become useless once an opponent's hand is gone and Possessed Portal is on the table), or some of my umpteen-billion land. I have won several games on the shoulders of Stabwhisker, but just as many have involved a 1/1 attacking for the win. Maybe it's just nostalgia for my Urza Block Smokestack deck, but I have a feeling I'll be tinkering with this thing for quite some time.

Incidentally, by far the coolest opposing deck in the past week came during this bit of deck testing. At one point ukmuggles beat up on me with his Green/Red deck built around the Splice mechanic and Maro. Let that sink in for a second and I'm sure you'll smile.

Shidako, Bloodmistress

I have to admit, I wasn't terribly excited by building a deck around Orochi Eggwatcher. I had already been burned by trying to make decks around Epic Struggle, and it seemed sort of silly to make a deck that just tried to pump out token creatures as fast as possible. I mean, an Eggwatcher deck obviously needs Honden of Life's Web and Orochi Hatchery, and then... and then...

Well, then it got interesting. There weren't as many token producers in Standard as I had expected, which meant that I had to instead use creatures that were (gasp!) useful in their own right. The trick was not making a deck that was too aggressive so I would win before Shidako came into play, but also not too slow so I would die before finding ten creatures. The result is a deck that flips the Eggwatcher more often than it doesn't, and once I have at least ten creatures and a mess of land, my opponent is pretty much dead during her next combat phase. Dosan the Falling Leaf becomes incredibly important because he allows me to use Shidako's ability without fear of a last-second Echoing Truth or some such nonsense. Here is the deck...

Tobita, Master of Winds

Finally, we come to Student of Elements. My first Student deck was an utter failure. The only redeeming quality was that it was almost a PDC deck, using four Neurok Hoversail, Trinket Mage, Aether Spellbomb, Myr Servitor, Battered Golem, and a variety of other weirdness. It didn't do much but look like an all-commons deck, though, and only once did I successfully flip into Tobita and win with flying Myr Servitors.

On the Message Boards Chalup suggested an all-Kamigawa interaction of Student of Elements, Guardian of Solitude, and Soilshaper. Nice idea. With Student, Guardian, and Neurok Hoversail, I had latched onto enough reliable ways to find Tobita. Now what to do with all flying creatures?

First I needed a deck with lots and lots of creatures. I had originally been thinking the deck would be Blue/Green along Chalup's idea, but for some reason this guy caught my eye:

He's a creature that needs evasion, I thought to myself, right? So I searched for quick Blue and Black creatures that would allow me to load up on permanents. I also slipped the Trinket Mage trick in, both for Neurok Hoversail and Aether Spellbomb to remove blockers. The deck worked wonderfully, with Tobita and Greater Harvester wreaking havoc in tandem. The only game that gave me absolute fits was against joemercer, who came packing a Spider deck. Ouch! Anyway, here's the decklist, which is slightly silly but strangely fun...

That's enough flipping for two weeks, I'd say. I know for some of you this may have been either too tedious (to go through more than ten decks in two weeks) or frustrating (because each deck received such minimal treatment). Like I said, though, the hope was to tickle your deckbuilding funny bone and motivate you to get busy with your own decks. Next week will be a peek at Betrayers, and then it's time to jump into an online format I haven't yet touched.

Think You Know Something About Clans?

Today is my first (perhaps not last, depending on how this one goes) call for guest writers. If you've dreamed of writing an article for magicthegathering.com, or if you think you can do a better job than me in writing about Magic Online, here's your chance.

In the next month or so, I'm going to have a guest columnist for a week and that guest columnist is going to be one of you fine readers. The person will write an article on the topic of Magic Online Clans, both describing how they work and giving some cool “insider” view on what it's like to be in a Clan.

Here's how the process is going to work:

Step 1: Send me an e-mail (using the link at the bottom of the page) to tell me why you deserve to be a guest columnist. You should include reasons why a) you can write, and b) you have knowledge of Clans. You should also include your real name and Magic Online name. Deadline for this e-mail is in a week, Tuesday, January 18.

Step 2: I'll pick five writers and ask each to send me a complete article on Clans. Do not send me a full article until you are selected, especially since you won't know the parameters I'm putting on the article until I contact you.

Step 3: I pick the winner, using whatever whimsical standards I deem appropriate (Brilliant!), the article goes up on the site in place of my weekly babbling, and the guest columnist's name is forever logged in the annals of Magic lore.

So what are you waiting for? All of you folks looking to impress me with your prose and Magic Online knowledge (or just to give your own Clan some free pub)... e-mail me! As I said, if this experiment turns out to be a success, I'll open up future opportunities for guest columnists on a wider variety of topics.

Until next week, go read my Ink-Eyes story!

-j

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