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Tim Stoltzfus on Magic

Building a Battle of Wits Deck
August 22, 2005

Ok yes, I know, I missed last week. I suck. No excuses except that I was not happy with my style in my first few articles. I’m trying to find my voice here, and I hope that maybe my time of evaluation will give you a better read. Hopefully the extra-sized article this week will help make up for it, and give you some fun ideas.

On a couple of occasions Wizards of the Coast has tried to print blue enchantments encouraging people to play larger than normal decks. The first attempt was with Thought Lash, way back in Alliances. Unfortunately, it never really saw play in any major events, as the powerful ability to prevent any damage was offset by how quickly the card could cause you to become decked, and adding cards to the deck only diminished your chances of actually getting the needed Thought Lash into play. Thought Lash was tried by a few valiant souls, but just never caught on. I recall playing against Thought Lash once with a white weenie deck. A friend was quitting Magic and simply took all of his Blue and White cards, threw them together into a deck that was about 600 cards, and came to his last Sunday afternoon tournament. I was paired against him in the second round, and in one of the epic battles of all time, I ran out of cards the turn before I was about to deck him for the win. There’s just something wrong with attacking for 20 damage multiple times and never actually killing your opponent.

Fast forward several years, and in Odyssey,
Wizards presented us with Battle of Wits, an enchantment that cost 3UU to cast, and read “During your upkeep, if you have 200 or more cards in your library, you win the game.” This card actually did try to show up in tournament play, most notably played by William Jensen. Now, Wizards has brought back Battle of Wits in 9th Edition, giving us this extremely fun win condition to play around with, and maybe even make it good!

The problem with Battle of Wits is simple. You’re playing a 200-plus card deck! You want to get at Battle of Wits, get it in play, and hope it stays there long enough to actually win the game the next turn. That is hard to accomplish when you have so many cards in your deck. You’re giving up draw consistency, which is a big problem in a game that is all about consistency of draws at any remotely competitive level.

When William Jensen attempted to play Battle of Wits in tournament play, he played cards that accomplished primarily two roles. The first was giving his draws consistency. Cards like Opt, Probe, and Fact or Fiction all gave his deck the ability to churn through the deck quickly. Diabolic Tutor allowed him to go chasing directly after his win condition, Battle of Wits. The other primary purpose was to stall the opponent. Black removal and counter spells helped keep the game under control while he was digging through the deck.

The problem with today’s Standard environment is that blue has been weakened a great deal. Powerhouse spells like Probe, Undermine, Fact or Fiction, Exclude, and Repulse are all long gone. So what is a Battle of Wits player to do?

In looking at the current cardpool that is available, Enduring Ideal stood out to me immediately. Instead of having to tutor then cast the spell, you can put it directly into play from your deck, and if your opponent manages to deal with your Battle of Wits, you are able to simply search up another one.

The best color in today’s environment, from a mana consistency standpoint, is easily green. Kodama’s Reach, Sakura-Tribe Elder, Journey of Discovery, and many other similar cards allow you to pull land from your deck which can be important.

At this point, I’ll present you a decklist, and stop at the end of each section to give you the explanation for what those cards do, and some specific card explanations.

Win Conditions:
4 Battle of Wits
4 Honden of Seeing Winds
3 Honden of Infinite Rage
3 Honden of Night’s Reach
4 Honden of Cleansing Fire
2 Honden of Life’s Web

Notice something there? Namely the Hondens. I figured just in case your opponent does manage to knock out your Battle of Wits or, more likely, when you finally play Enduring Ideal, you find yourself with less than 200 cards in your deck, the Hondens give you a back up win plan. You may want to mix in one or two other delaying enchantments in order to win with. A Meishin, the Mind Cage is a perfect candidate for giving your opponent fits in this situation.

Mana Fixers/Deck Thinners
4 Enduring Ideal
4 Weathered Wayfarer
4 Sylvan Scrying
4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
4 Gift of Estates
4 Solemn Simulacrum
4 Journeyer’s Kite
4 Wayfarer’s Bauble
4 Kodama’s Reach
4 Jushi Apprentice
4 Sensei’s Divining Top
4 Gifts Ungiven

All of these cards specifically go dig out cards from your deck, primarily land. Many of them can dig up any land you like, which is why running five colors with a focus on a couple colors is not a bad idea. Other options include Journey of Discovery or Rampant Growth, for example. Jushi Apprentice may seem odd, but the card drawing is nothing to laugh at, and when it flips, you have the distinct ability to deck your opponent.

Delaying Tactics
4 Ghostly Prison
4 Wrath of God
4 Final Judgement
4 Oboro Envoy
4 Condescend
4 Hinder
4 Rewind
4 Genju of the Fields
4 Oblivion Stone
4 Tel-Jilad Justice
4 Pulse of the Fields
4 Eternal Witness
4 Steel Wall
4 Dripping-Tongue Zubera
4 Arrest

One trick to note here is the ability to Gifts Ungiven for Eternal Witness, Enduring Ideal, Battle of Wits, and some card you may need, like Wrath of God. They will always have to give you at least one piece of the puzzle to win the game. If you need mana to cast any one of the pieces, go get a mana fixer. A good opponent will look at your mana on the board and, if you have two Island, two Plains, and one Forest, they will give you the Eternal Witness. So for the fourth card, pick a land that produces green mana, or a mana fixer.

At this point, you’ll want to add about 100 lands. Start with your non-basics and fill in from there. Your non-basics should include Yavimaya Coast, Brushland, Adarkar Wastes, and Tendo Ice Bridge for starters. I would tilt the basic land choices a bit in the favor of Forests, since most of your mana fixers require green mana. A ratio of 40/30/30 is a good place to start for your Forests, Islands, and Plains, respectively.

This deck is obviously a work in progress which I will be tackling as much as possible, and every so often I’ll revisit this deck and hopefully be able to take into account feedback I get from the readers of this column.

See ya next week! I promise!

Tim Stoltzfus




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