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10.30.01 - I Choose You!

Well, as people begin to get frantic about their deck building a lot of archetypes are beginning to form for this seasonís type II tournaments and State competitions. Just browsing the Internet will give you a whole slew of playable (and unplayable) decks but this article focuses on something else. Whether your deck is already built or just a distant thought passing through your head between classes you already know that you are going to have to make some hard decisions when it comes time to build your deck. After all, how do you decide which cards will make it into your deck? What if two cards are very similar (like Opt and Sleight of Hand)? Well, by the end of the article I hope to have given you the information you will need to answer that question for yourself. For the sake of this article I will just focus on the Red creatures and a few Blue spells. This should give you a broad enough base to begin looking at the other colors on your own.  And, since it would be rude for me not to hand out any tech, I will tell you what I think about a lot of the hard card choices out there.

I want to start with the Red Sligh deck builds that I saw a week or so ago that have become less frequent as of late. I have to say that I love Sligh and I always have. It may not always be the best deck, but itís almost always playable. The problem is finding efficient creatures and that is proving a problem in this format especially for the 2cc(cc is an abbreviation for Casting Cost) and 3cc slots. While the current T2 card list clearly offers a number of good creatures it doesnít seem to have any clear winners like previous sets did. Letís take a look.

Pygmy Pyrosaur

1R, Creature Lizard 1/1, 7th Edition Common
Pygmy Pyrosaur canít block.
R: Pygmy Pyrosaur gets +1/+0 until end of turn.

Goblin Raider

1R, Creature Goblin 2/2, 7th Edition Common
Goblin Raider canít block.

Mogg Jailer

1R, Creature Goblin 2/2, Planeshift Uncommon
Mogg Jailer canít attack if defending player controls an untapped creature with power 2 or less.

Mad Dog

1R, Creature Hound 2/2, Odyssey Common
At the end of your turn, if Mad Dog didn't attack or come under your control this turn, sacrifice it.

Minotaur Explorer

1R, Creature Minotaur 3/3, Odyssey Uncommon
When Minotaur Explorer comes into play, sacrifice it unless you discard a card at random from your hand.
 

Well there you have a list of the playable 2cc Red drops (or at least the ones that I have seen people talk about or include in decks). As with most Sligh builds, in order to make this list a cardís power must be at least equal to itís casting cost. What, you may ask, is Pygmy Pyrosaur doing in that list then (and if you know me, why did Pygmy Pyrosaur make my deck list)?

What allows the Pyrosaur to make the list is the fact that a pumpable card will often deal more damage over the course of the game than a non-pumpable one. For example, assume that you have another 2/2 creature out on turn 2. Over the next 4 turns he can potentially deal 8 damage. The maximum potential of the Pyrosaur over those turns is 22 damage, of course thatís unrealistic but dealing the same amount of damage assumes that you end up tapping a total of 4 mana over as many turns. Not only is that realistic but itís probably way on the low end. In addition, a pumpable creature forces your opponent to deal with the unexpected since they never know if you are ready to tap the mana for a big spell after the attack phase or if you are just planning on pumping the Pyrosaur. Last but not least, pumpable creatures allow you to trade for card advantage. In a Sligh deck itís important to have creatures in play but you almost always have more creatures in your deck than your opponent. Making a one for one trade with the Pyrosaur and saving your Blazing Salvo or other burn spell for another target will almost always be a play to your advantage. Add to this the fact the Pyrosaur can take out bigger creatures than most of your burn (since most good X burn spells are gone) makes the pump effect very worthwhile.

Having made that point the next thing to look at are disadvantages. You will notice that the first 2 cards canít block. To the Sligh player this may as well not be a disadvantage at all; if you play Sligh and you have a creature held back to block (except when it has summoning sickness) you may as well concede since you are already losing. The Mad Dogís drawback is similarly nil. Since we already decided that holding blockers back isnít going to work for an aggressive Red deck then you may as well be attacking every turn. Mad Dog simply makes sure that you donít forget to attack. Comparing these disadvantages, however, we can see that Mad Dogís disadvantage is much worse (especially with all the Opposition/Static Orb decks that will Tap your permanents and thus keep the Dog from attacking). The Dog has an ability which gives the opponent additional means of destroying your creature (and thus gain card advantage) while the "canít block" disadvantage doesnít allow your opponent the extra chance at card advantage (life is almost never as important a resource as cards unless you have 0 life). Some players will argue, however, that the Dog may as well be dead if it isnít attacking, they may have a point.

Having read all that stuff about attacking and aggressive Red decks you probably are looking down your nose at the poor Mogg Jailer. I canít blame you. Mostly I included this guy since I have seen a fair share of players toss him into their deck. They say that they can just use burn to clear out opposing creatures with power 2+. First off, any creature in any Sligh deck that wonít always be able to attack is bad. The second thing that I want to point out is that many of the creatures with 2+ power also have 2+ toughness. 2+ toughness means it could have 4 or more toughness and that is always hard for burn to deal with. My advice is to leave this bad boy at home.

Last up is a creature that, surprisingly, has been much maligned. The Minotaur Explorer is a card that you either love or hate. I think he definitely deserves a slot in your Sligh deck but if you arenít comfortable with him maybe include less than 4. The upside, obviously, is 3 power for 2 mana, always a good deal. The downsized is the fact that you discard a card. Players who donít like this hunk oí beef claim that he costs card advantage. I personally think the Minotaur ramps up your offense with a big enough threat to outweigh the lost card advantage, especially since the consistency of Sligh (where every non-land card can deal damage, and thanks to Barbarian Ring some of the lands too) tends to make real card advantage (cards in play) more important than pure card advantage (total card advantage including cards in hand).

Now take a minute and think about how you would rank these cards. . .ready? My top choice goes to the Pygmy Pyrosaur. Many players wonít agree with this but he makes my deck every time. Cheap pumpability canít be beat. The more traditional choice and my number 2 pick is Goblin Raider, heís simply solid and one of the best 2 mana picks out there. Pick number 3 goes to the Explorer, the triple patty extra value meal (I will come up with a good beef related nickname before this set rotates out). His disadvantage is definitely felt by this deck (the disadvantages of the first two picks will almost never be felt) but between his power and the deckís consistency it can be easily overcome. Pick 4 goes to the Mad Dog since against the wrong opponent his disadvantage will slow the deck down and there already are much more solid 2/2 picks. Last and least is the Mogg Jailer, this guy is bad and should just be locked up since that is exactly what will happen to him if you play him in your deck.

Okay, by now you either think Iím a genius or a nincompoop. Stick with me and maybe I can redeem myself (or condemn myself) with the 3cc picks.

Storm Shaman

2R, Creature Cleric 0/4, 7th Edition Uncommon
R: Storm Shaman gets +1/+0 until end of turn.
 

Orcish Artillery

1RR, Creature Orc 1/3, 7th Edition Uncommon
T: Orcish Artillery deals 2 damage to target creature or player and 3 damage to you.
 

Goblin Chariot

2R, Creature Goblin 2/2, 7th Edition Common
Haste (This creature may attack and T the turn it comes under your control.)
 

Ember Beast

2R, Creature Beast 3/4, Odyssey Common
Ember Beast can't attack or block alone.
 

Once again we see another undervalued pump creature at the start of the card list. The biggest disadvantage to the Shaman is the fact that 0 power means that you have to pump it up if you want it to do anything for you. Thatís a tough thing to commit to turn after turn. The advantage, however, is that it has 4 on the backside (toughness). In this format 3 is the magic number. A creature with toughness over 3 is very difficult to deal with for most of the decks. It can block the 3/3 Green counters that will be spreading around everywhere and it can dodge a lot of the burn. Considering the metagame (the combined effects that commonly played cards and decks have on an environment) and the power of pump creatures this card is definitely one to consider.

Orcish Artillery is a classic gem that was also underrated historically. This card may not have the power you would like to get for 3 mana but it can help overcome a creature stalemate with itís direct damage capability. With a Sligh deck, where creatures are your main road to victory, this power cannot be ignored. Still, few players have been talking about this card in their decks since it lacks the mindless aggression that has marked many recent Red builds.

The Goblin Chariot has been making a lot of Sligh decks, however. Most players lament that this is simply because nothing better is out there. Of course a 2/2 for 3 mana isnít a great deal, but Haste does help a lot. While that extra turn of attacking may not seem like much it can become a huge advantage quickly. The biggest advantage, however, isnít the damage itís the suprise value of a hasted creature. Last but not least (and again considering the metagame), a lot of decks are playing Blue. Blueís main defense is bounce (cards that return permenants to their owners hand) and haste negates a lot of the effectiveness of such spells since it wonít be affected by summoning sickness when you cast it again. This card has a lot of small advantages that add up quickly; donít underestimate this little guy.

The new guy (Ember Beast is the only non-reprint in the 3cc set presented here) has some big advantages. First, his power is equal to his casting cost and we had already determined that this was an advantage. Second, the 4 toughness is going to make a threat that sticks around and really worries your opponent. Once again, we are looking at a disadvantage that could cause him to miss turns attacking (just like the Jailer). The good news is that this will come into play less than the Jailerís disadvantage. With 20+ creatures in your deck the Roast Beast (never write hungry) will almost never be alone. Once again, though, there will be a lot of Opposition/Static Orb decks out there and this guy makes your deck very vulnerable.

So who do I choose? I choose you Goblin Chariot. Yep, thatís right. The Goblin Chariot gets my first pick because itís the most well rounded card of the bunch. This guy isnít the most powerful, or the best, but he doesnít have anything major holding him back either. He is simply solid and sometimes that can be enough. The Beast is next on my list as that 4 toughness is making him attractive, not to mention that he has the highest toughness of the group. Itís a shame that Goblin Artillery falls all the way back here. Every time I think of this list he is either #1 or #3. I guess the fact that so many of the good cards have 3 toughness makes him a little less desirable, still with a lot of playable grizzly bears (2/2 creatures, a generic term) he is definitely playable and will win games against a Meddling Mage. Including one or two is a good choice for any Red mage to make, going with 4 isnít as good though. Last but not least is my favorite card (yes I like the underdogs) the Shaman. Even 1 point of power would boost this guy to the top but it ainít there so the Storm Shaman ainít there either.

After discussing Red, we are ready to move on to its antithesis, Blue. Of all the blue effects, the most widely contested is currently the 1cc card drawing spells. No true consensus has yet to be reached but maybe we can come up with a few additional thoughts. Here we go:

Opt

U, Instant, Invasion Common
Look at the top card of your library. You may put that card on the bottom of your library.
Draw a card.
 

Sleight of Hand

U, Sorcery, 7th Edition Common
Look at the top two cards of your library. Put one of them into your hand and the other on the bottom of your library.
 

Careful Study

U, Sorcery, Odyssey Common
Draw two cards, then discard two cards from your hand.
 

Peek

U, Instant, Odyssey Common
Look at target player's hand. Draw a card.
 

At the top we have our 2 main contenders, Opt and Sleight of Hand. Whatís good about Opt? First of all itís an instant, which makes it more useful in control decks since you can play it at the end of your opponentís turn if you havenít had to counter a spell or you can play it in response to a spell to try and draw a counter spell. The advantage of Sleight of Hand is that it lets you look at both cards and then choose between them. This is a little easier to deal with since you wonít make a wrong decision. The benefit of both of these cards is that, even though you only draw a card, they get you 2 cards deeper into your library.

I would personally prefer to play with Opt since it generally seems more useful in the first couple of turns (and I have always played with the 1cc counters in my Blue decks). Itís more useful since if you have a 1cc or 2cc counterspell you donít have to decide between defense and card drawing until after you have seen what they have up their sleeve. Starting at about turn 4, Sleight of Hand becomes better card since it gives more options and the drawback of being a sorcery is lessened now that more mana is available.

Careful Study is a lot of fun and by far my personal favorite, although many players donít like it as much. The odd think about Careful Study is that it isnít a card drawing engine. Instead, it cycles cards. After you cast it your hand is actually diminished by one card and that can be rough to deal with. Still, the simple fact is you get to look at 2 cards and you may even get to keep both of those cards if you want. This means that while the quantity of cards in your hand diminishes, the quality of cards almost always improves. Better yet, this improvement always has the potential to be better than any of the other 1cc card drawing engines and often is better. Furthermore, the disadvantage is easily made up by playing creatures like Shadowmage Infiltrator and Thieving Magpie. The other advantages (which most players have realized) is that this spell can get you 3 cards closer to Threshold in a single turn and itís also a great way to dump creatures into the graveyard for reanimation.

The last card, Peek, is another newbie that people arenít sure about. A simple card that trades 1 for 1 is okay but fairly bland. Heck, you donít even get any choice in what you are picking up and that makes it worse than any of the other cards presented here. The difference is that this is the only interactive card engine for 1 mana. By interactive I mean that this card has some affect on your opponent. This card isnít so much about the card drawing as it is about planning your next few turns (especially if you can cast it first turn). It can set up huge plays for you (think about combining it with the power of Meddling Mage) and also make sure that you donít waste counterspells. This last ability is what makes this card so good.  By knowing more of what your opponent has you can be more selective when using your counterspells, for all intents and purposes this can lead to card advantage even a few turns after you played Peek. The ability to look at an opponentís hand, by itself, isnít great but as a cantrip (a spell that lets you draw a card when you play it) the advantage can come up big.

For my final picks I think I will stick with Opt as the first choice as I prefer all my decks to have the advantage of a faster beginning (and since I choose to play 1cc counterspells) while retaining consistency and hand size in the long haul. Sleight of Hand is my 2 pick and I can understand why the mid/late game advantages make it top choice for a lot of players. Careful Study and Peek both come in third as they are suited for different decks. Aggressive Blue decks will prefer to have Careful Study as they try to find their big guns (or combos) early, whereas Peek is more suited to passive decks that respond and can turn the knowledge gained into power. Donít be surprised, however, if some players are choosing to opt out of playing Opt or Sleight and start playing with 4 Careful Study or Peek instead. This decision will be rare, but with the right play style these cards can change the performance of the entire deck.

Well, before you move onto your own decks and the other colors letís take a quick moment to review some of the points that were brought up. The single most important point is to consider cards not on their inherent merits but on the advantages they grant to a specific deck. As we saw with Redís ďcanít blockĒ disadvantage the fact that the deck wouldnít need any blockers made this disadvantage one not worth considering. In a similar way, we saw that a deck with Careful Study would often find Peek worthless and vise versa.  Cards arenít good, decks are good. Even the best card will be bad in the wrong deck. Next, think about the metagame. This can be taken too far if your entire deck is tuned to a metagame that you ended up misreading. Still, making sure that you have 1 or 2 cards designed to handle the metagame at a number of different casting cost will really help when you are playing in the tournament. Itís always something to think about. Lastly, the impact that cards have may only be visible a few  turns down the line. Donít forget to think about this or you will be missing out on cards like Pygmy Pyrosaur and Peek.

Good luck on your own decks, have fun and remember to think. Also, I have found that itís always better to use your own head than to take the word of internet writers. If you do your own thinking you learn, if you donít you simply learn how to copy. Anyway, Iíll see you next week when I share some information on playtesting and practicing play skills.

Jason Chapman

chaps_man@hotmail.com 


 

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