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Lessons From The Field
By David James Bruce
My apologies, first and foremost, for the delay in the further development of “The (Casual) Deck.” The work progresses, but can only be ground at for so long before lists of cards turn into blurs of pixilated non-color on an electronic display. That’s five-dollar talk for my eyes are going crossed looking at all these cards. Thus, this article submission will not be concerning that deck, but another phenomenon that’s developed, recently

For two weeks, now, we’ve had regular night-long play sessions of Magic: the Gathering about the dinner table at my house. Typically, at least two other players are involved. The format is formatlessness; no cards are restricted, so far decks are sixty cards, and it’s every man, woman and child for themselves. So far, I’ve proven to be the target of choice having combo-killed both of my opponents on turn two of our first game together ever.

Here’s an excerpt:

To my right; Dave Almansor (who has written for Star City Games, in the past). To my left; a new player (he had just bought his first two pre-constructed decks that day – the mono-blue ninjas deck from the Kamigawa block and the red-green deck with Slith Firewalker from the Mirrodin block) Tim Rapson (which may, or may not, be the correct spelling of his name). At the risk of sounding arrogant, I will not detail what they were playing; we didn’t play long enough to find out.

A chuckle escapes me as we shuffle, “I hope you guys get to see the combo in this deck. It’s pretty cool. Not that I’m wanting to beat everyone down, I just want y’all to see the combo, it’s cool.”

Turn one? Urza’s Tower, tap for one colorless, play Mana Vault. Tap Mana Vault to play Metalworker. Pass turn.

Dave Almansor: “Uh oh.”

Me: “Can you kill it?”

Dave Almansor: “Wish I could. Damn.”

They both play lands and the turn comes back around to me. I take a point from the Mana Vault (no flawless victory, darnit), draw and proceed to tap the Metalworker to generate an obscene amount of colorless mana, which brings out Staff of Domination. Which untaps Metalworker. Which generates obscenely more amounts of colorless mana. Repeat ad nauseum. Gain ten trillion life, draw all but ten cards in my library, play eighty percent of them and lay down Karn, Silver Golem with tons of mid-range casting cost artifacts. Concessions from everyone!

Okay, so it may have been turd-like of me to produce my Mishra’s Workshop-less, P9-less MUD Domination deck, but I have a reputation around the area to uphold; I’m the Artifact King. I can do anything.

Unfortunately, MUD Domination turned out to be quite the one-trick pony, beyond that game. After three unsuccessful games, I was forced to retire it for more fun-oriented decks. While the Soulscour-based deck dominated, and of course Wildfire has been showing similar results, and Domain’s even done decently. However, I was most impressed by the power-less Deck Parfait build I’ve been tossing around. In at least three games, the deck has been reduced to one life and been able to stabilize and come back to win those games, as well as others.

What has not done well at all were decks with far more power to them. For instance, I have a very powerful OSE (short for Old School Expulsion, see if you can find something around the ‘net on it – I have it saved on a Microsoft Word document from back in the Beyond Dominia days) build, complete with a Time Walk and plenty of tricks. No Mana Drains, mind you, but in the build itself, they are not necessary. However, this deck only does marginally well against multiplayer games and casual games.

The same can be said of all Stax and Slax builds I’ve tried, The Deck variants (excepting The (Casual) Deck) and many other tournament-focused decks.

You know what occurred to me? Several things.

If you have a time constraint (a fifty minute round), and you need to play two to three games within that round, you will build your deck with that in mind, however peripheral. A deck that can survive for hours on end, but cannot win outright, will not be considered and thus deckbuilding theory and development through that avenue will not be considered.

If you have the all-powerful purpose of winning hanging above your head, you’re going to try and build the most savage, resilient and vicious deck you can think up (or copy). It will likely have either a low mana curve to avoid mana screw and ensure consistency, or some other avenue to consistency if your win condition(s) are singular or explosive. While I lack the verbosity and sheer brain-power necessary to communicate the message in statistical and exhaustive terms, suffice it to say that when you build a deck to win, it’s going to have the mindset to win and will be subject to the same foible and follies inherent therein.

Finally, if you only have to worry about a single opponent…the world becomes incredibly complicated when you have to worry about two. Especially if both parties are gunning for you from the outset.

What I came away with was how much trouble the tournament-geared decks had, as opposed to the ‘trick’ decks like Wildfire, Soulscour and NetherHaups. These decks were all niche tournament decks when they were initially built; how could they thrive in an environment of substandard card choices and superfluous considerations like multiplayer diplomacy? Quite simply, you’re going from a square hold to a round hole. It’s a different game entirely.

It’s not surprising that all these little lessons have illuminated a glaring flaw in design that I had initially overlooked when designing The (Casual) Deck. For instance, while I own The Abyss and would naturally have excluded it from The (Casual) Decks build for budget considerations, now I see that it would likely be the only thing standing between me and certain doom by at least one opponent. Without a way to keep more than one opponent in check, the Weissman School of Thought finds itself at the mercy of the Wakefield School of Thought; the one fatty you can’t deal with is the one that kills you.

And, thus, we return to the drawing board with a far broader set of considerations; that of handling multiple opponents. These, then, are my lessons from the field.

David James Bruce, aka theBruce58

Read More Articles by David James Bruce!

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