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Type Fun's Running the Gauntlet
By Stephen O. Bahl
This article was originally written for the "Type Fun" blog operated by CPA members Oversoul
and Al0ysiusHWWW. All such articles archived here were written by one or both of those individuals.

Last Friday I got a package in the mail from Wizards of the Coast. There was this really cool promotional deal where they were giving away cards. Each person who signed up while supplies lasted got two mini-decks of 30 cards each. I'm sitting here with mine as I type this. I haven't opened them up yet, but since they're sealed decks, I feel like I should do something with them. Since this blog hasn't been updated in a while, making this the subject of a new article seems like a good "something."

The contents of the package I received include a white deck and a black deck with some nice art and a short thematic sentence about the color of the cards in the deck on the front of each box. The back of each box says the same thing. I'm ambivalent about this whole "You are a planeswalker" thing. I mean, each deck is only 30 cards. I've always thought one needed a full 60-card deck in order to be a true planeswalker. But it doesn't really matter since I do have two of them. I also got this little poster thing with some rather dramatic text on it. I particularly like this bit...

"In your hands like the weapons of a Planeswalker, two decks containing a powerful arsenal of sorcery. Slide one to a friend and see if they have what it takes to weather your storm, or combine them into a single 60 card deck and dominate rivals by unleashing a wide array of spells & creatures."

No, I don't know why they used a comma instead of a colon in that first sentence or why they made that last "and" an ampersand. Shut up. I think I'll be doing both of those things they suggested. I don't have any friends. But I'll slide one over to my doppelganger. Before I do that, I'll open them up and see what cards I actually got.

Well, I opened the white one up. As well as the deck there was another poster. This one had some more information about the different colors on one side and a guide on learning how to play the game on the other side. I won't be needing that. I am an expert. Now for a decklist

1x Soaring Hope
1x Serra's Embrace
2x Neck Snap
1x Armored Ascension
2x Holy Strength
1x Loxodon Mystic
2x Wild Griffin
1x Skyhunter Prowler
2x Steadfast Guard
1x Samite Healer
2x Suntail Hawk
2x Honor Guard
12x Plains

No rares. There are some good cards here that I can use, though. I can't picture this "dominating" any rivals, but the black deck is probably just as puny, so we'll see how that works out. The black deck seems to have another poster just like the white one had, so I'll ignore that and move right on to the cards...

1x Corrupt
1x Gloomlance
2x Essence Drain
2x Mind Rot
1x Megrim
1x Afflict
1x Distress
1x Contaminated Bond
2x Highway Robber
2x Moonglove Winnower
2x Ravenous Rats
2x Smolder Initiate
12x Swamp

Hey, the black deck has a color-hoser. No fair. Actually, I don't think it'll matter. This deck has some better cards, but I'm too rusty to immediately tell which deck will have the advantage. If I had to guess, I'd go with the black deck. The white deck relies too much on local enchantments. But hitting the enchanted creatures with spells, the black deck will rack up card advantage. But if it can't do that, for whatever reason, it will get pummelled to death by boosted creatures. We'll find out soon enough. I'll pilot the white deck, with my doppelganger taking the black deck (he's the one who's evil, so it only makes sense).

Game #1:
I win the coin toss and elect to go first. I drop a Plains and a Suntail Hawk. Probably the best 1-drop in the deck and it works whether I want to go on the offensive or the defensive. I'm holding Skyhunter Prowler, Honor Guard, Holy Strength, Serra's Embrace, and Plains.

My doppelganger opens with Swamp and Smolder Initiate. Fine with me. I untap, draw (Soaring Hope), and drop another Plains. Looking at my hand right now, I'm in danger of being manascrewed. Oh well. I play Holy Strength to give the Hawk a boost and attack. Then I drop Honor Guard and end my turn.

My doppelganger does draw, Swamp, go. I draw just what I needed: another Plains. I play it and then attack with both creatures. No blocks. My doppelganger is down to 15. I play the Skyhunter Prowler. If I can put Serra's Embrace on the Honor Guard before my doppelganger does anything, this game is mine for sure.

He plays another Swamp and Mind Rot on me, taking out my whole hand. Not good, but I've got him on a demanding clock now. I draw another Holy Strength, so I put it on Skyhunter Prowler, figuring that a 2/5 will make an excellent blocker for pretty much anything I'll be facing. I attack with everything, bringing my doppelganger down to 10.

My opponent drops another Swamp and Moonglove Winnower. Well, that shuts down Honor Guard as an attacker for now. Good thing I put the second Holy Strength on a flier. I draw another Plains. The only sensible choice is to play it and attack with my two fliers, which is what I do. I've got him down at 6 now.

He plays another Swamp and Gloomlance on my Prowler. My hand is already empty, but losing half my attacking power hurts. He might still be able to make a comeback. Nope. I just drew Armored Ascension. I swing for 7 flying damage. Well, maybe the white deck is too fast for the black deck. Let's try another game.

Game #2:
My doppelganger goes first and plays a Swamp. No 1-drop. I draw, play a Plains, then an Honor Guard. My hand contains three more Plains, Steadfast Guard, Samite Healer, and Armored Ascension.

On his turn, he drops another Swamp and hits me with Distress, choosing Steadfast Guard. I hit back with an attack by the Honor Guard and play a Plains as well as my Samite Healer. I've drawn Soaring Hope, which is looking pretty useless right now.

He drops a Swamp and hits my Honor Guard with Afflict. Still no creatures on his side of the board. I draw a Plains, play a Plains, and can't yet play Armored Ascension or Soaring Hope, so I just attack with Samite Healer. Just 18 more damage...

He drops another Swamp and Moonglove Winnower. I draw a Wild Griffin I could play it and circumvent the Winnower, but Armored Ascension will deal more damage faster. I enchant the Healer and swing for 5. He's down to 13.

My doppelganger plays a Swamp and then Gloomlance on my Healer. I was afraid of that (+2 card advantage and I lose my source of damage) . I discard a Plains, leaving me with Wild Griffin and Soaring Hope in my hand. He attacks with the Winnower, hitting me for the very first time today and bringing me down to 18. This could be the turning point. I draw Holy Strength and play it on the Wild Griffin I also play.

Looks like I did the right thing, since his play is to Mind Rot me (as well as dropping another Swamp). I lose Soaring Hope. He attacks and brings me down to 16. On my turn I draw a Plains, play it, and attack, bringing him down to 10. I'm winning--kind of.

He plays a Swamp, attacks me, then empties his hand by dropping a second Winnower and Ravenous Rats (my hand was already empty). Yikes. I draw Neck Snap. Good. I attack, taking him down to 7.

Unfortunately, he drew and played Mind Rot, taking away my opportunity to Neck Snap one of his Winnowers. He attacks me for 5, bringing me down to 11. At this rate, I'll outrace him to the kill. And that's fortunate, because the Plains I just drew is useless. I'd save it in my hand to bait Mind Rot if he hadn't already played both, so I simply drop it and attack. He's down to 4.

My doppelganger alpha strikes me and then drops another Ravenous Rats (I guess holding the Plains would have been pointless anyway). I'm down to 6 and if he draws Corrupt, I lose. But if I draw Armored Ascension or Serra's Embrace, I win. It all comes down to topdecking. This is close. I draw Honor Guard. Well, it's better than another Plains. I attack, bringing my doppelganger down to 1, then drop the Honor Guard, hopefully chump blocking a Winnower and keeping myself alive to finish this on my next turn rather than his.

He alpha strikes again and I chump block a Winnower with the Honor Guard. But I'm down to 2 and he topdecked a Highway Robber, which brings me down to exactly 0. That was a very close game, but I lost. We're 1-1.

Game #3:
I'll go first again. My opening hand is 3x Plains, Serra's Embrace, Holy Strength, Neck Snap, and Suntail Hawk. Well, it's not much in the way of attackers, but it's good otherwise. I'll of course open with Suntail Hawk.

My doppelganger opens with Smolder Initiate. So far, this is looking like the first game. Hopefully that trend continues. I draw Suntail Hawk, enchant my extant Suntail Hawk with Holy Strength, attack for 2, and play the second Hawk. Looking good so far.

Another Swamp and he attacks with the Initiate. I don't block. Then he plays Contaminated Bond on my tapped Hawk. That's new. And annoying. I play a Plains, and attack with both Hawks, meaning I take 3 and he taks 3. Better to outrace him before he can play his big spells. I drop Samite Healer. He has 15 life left and I have 16 life left.

My doppelganger plays a Swamp and passes his turn. I draw Serra's Embrace, drop a Plains and play the Embrace on my Samite Healer. I alpha strike, bringing myself down to 13 and my opponent down to 9.

He plays a Swamp and Megrim paying 1 to make me lose 1 life. I draw Wild Griffin, alpha strike again, and play the Griffin. I'm at 9 and he's at 3. He's dead if he can't do something.

He plays a Swamp and Essence Drains my Wild Griffin. But that's not enough to save him. I draw Plains, play it, and alpha strike, bringing myself down to 6 and him down to exactly 0. He was holding two Swamps and a Corrupt in his hand. I beat him by a turn, but I did win.

Game #4:
He goes first and plays a Swamp. I don't have a 1-drop either. I draw a card. I'm holding 4x Plains, Samite Healer, Steadfast Guard, Wild Griffin, and Neck Snap. So I play a Plains.

He plays a Swamp and Ravenous Rats. I discard the Samite Healer. I draw Soaring Hope, then drop a Plains and Steadfast Guard. Those Rats aren't getting through anytime soon.

My doppelganger drops another Swamp and hits me with Mind Rot. I want to save Neck Snap in case I need it, so I discard a Plains and Soaring Hope. On my turn, I draw Honor Guard, drop a Plains, attack with Steadfast Guard for 2, and play Wild Griffin.

He plays a Swamp and ends his turn. I attack with both of my creatures. He chump blocks the Guard with the Rats. Except it wasn't a chump block. It was setting me up for Afflict. I lose the Streadfast Guard, but the Rats are out of the way for good and I still have Wild Griffin. My opponent is down to 16. I play Honor Guard.

He plays a Swamp and a Moonglove Winnower. I draw Loxodon Mystic, which I can't yet put on the table, so I simply attack with the Griffin, bringing my doppelganger down to 14.

He drops another Swamp and attacks with the Winnower. Neck Snap solves that problem. He then plays Contaminated Bond on my Griffin and Highway Robber, providing me with new problems. I draw Serra's Embrace and play it on my Honor Guard, then attack with the Honor Guard, bringing my doppelganger down to 13. I'm at 18.

He plays another Swamp and ends his turn. I draw another Plains and attack with both creatures. Now I'm at 15 and he's at 8. I drop Loxodon Mystic.

He plays another Swamp and ends his turn again. With eight Swamps on his side of the board, I don't feel comfortable lowering my life total any more and setting myself up for a big Corrupt, so I just attack with the Honor Guard and the Mystic. He chump blocks the Mystic with the Highway Robber. He has 5 life left. Then I play the Suntail Hawk I just drew.

He hits my Honor Guard with Corrupt. He's back up to 13. But not for long. Now that Corrupt is out of the way, I alpha strike, hitting him 6. Then I I play the Suntail Hawk I just drew (again). I'm at 12 and he's a 7.

He drops Moonglove Winnower. I draw a Plains, play it, and alpha strike again. He blocks, killing the Mystic and losing his Winnower. But I don't care. I'm down to 9 and he's at 3. I'll finish him next turn.

Ravenous Rats doesn't do a thing. I draw a Wild Griffin and swing with my fliers for the win. I'm starting to think that the white deck has a pretty decisive advantage. I'm 3-1.

Game #5:
My doppelganger goes first and opens with Smolder Initiate again. I draw a Plains even though I already had four of them. Mana-drowned? I have Serra's Embrace, which might come in handy later. I also have Honor Guard and Suntail Hawk, either of which I can play. This time I do Honor Guard first.

Swamp and an attack, which I don't block. Next turn, the Honor Guard will be able to block the Initiate and kill it without dying, so I might as well let it through now. I draw another Plains and play it along with the Suntail Hawk. Should have led with the Suntail Hawk. I could have attacked with it.

He plays a Swamp and Mind Rot. I discard two Plains. I draw a Steadfast Guard, play a Plains, attack with the Suntail Hawk and the Honor Guard (no blocks), and play the Steadfast Guard. I have 19 life left and he has 18 life left.

He plays a second Mind Rot, emptying my hand. I draw Neck Snap and attack with everything. No blockers. He's down to 14.

He plays a Swamp and Ravenous Rats, paying for Initiate's ability. I lose Neck Snap and 1 life. I draw Steadfast Guard. I attack with all three creatures. He blocks Steadfast Guard with both the Rats and the Initiate. Fine with me. I drop my second Steadfast Guard. I'm at 18. He's at 12.

He plays Highway Robber, stealing 2 life from me. I attack with all three creatures and he blocks the Steadfast Guard with the Highway Robber. Now he's back down to 12, though. I play the Skyhunter Prowler I just drew.

He plays another Highway Robber and ends his turn. I draw a Plains, play it, and attack with the fliers. His Highway Robber would just block the Honor Guard, so I leave him at home. I have 14 life left. He still has 12 life left.

My doppelganger plays Contaminated Bond on my Skyhunter Prowler. I hate that card. All I draw is another Plains, so I attack with the Hawk. He has three cards in his hand to my zero, but I have the advantage otherwise.

He plays a Swamp. He hits Honor Guard with Gloomlance and attacks with his Highway Robber. If I block, I take 3. If I don't block, I take 2. So I don't block. Now we both have 12 life left. I draw Holy Strength making my Suntail Hawk big enough to take on his Highway Robber. But should I attack? I choose not to. Trading blows with him can wait until I have the advantage.

He punishes me for this decision with Essence Drain on my Suntail Hawk, followed by an attack with the Highway Robber. Now he's at 15 and I'm at 10. I draw another Plains. I'm not even sure what card could save me now. I need to get rid of that Highway Robber.

He attacks me and plays Moonglove Winnower. I should probably just concede, but I don't. I draw another Plains. Yeah, it's over. I'm at 8. He attacks with both creatures (and even though I could block, I'd only take more damage by doing so), bringing me down to 4. Essence Drain on me brings me down to 1 and him up to 18. On my turn I draw another Suntail Hawk, but that doesn't matter. His creatures finish me off, but it was the Contamination Bond that really did me in.

Well, these mini-decks seem pretty evenly matched against each other. The white deck can hit harder faster thanks to cards like Armored Ascension and the black deck is more controlling and can potentially finish games with Corrupt. Enough pitting them against each other though. Let's take the advice of that poster and combine them into one full-size deck. I have a feeling that this isn't going to work very well. Instead of five-game matches, I'll go with three-game matches. Right now, I only have three decks available to test this against.

Round 1: White/Black Megadeck vs. Burn

This is going to be pretty uneventful. I'll be pleasantly surprised if my poor little deck can steal even one game in this matchup. Burn is fast. This deck is slow. Burn has the advantage against slow decks.

Game #1:
I win the coin toss. My opening hand is Wild Griffin, Corrupt, Gloomlance, Swamp Contaminated Bond, Swamp, Plains. Only one of those will do anything to slow an onslaught of direct damage spells, and that's Corrupt, which will take at least six turns to become viable. I'll probably be dead by then. I play a Plains and that's it.

Burn plays a Mountain and a Seal of Fire. So far, not too dangerous-looking. I draw Ravenous Rats, play a Swamp, and drop the Rats. Burn discards a Fork. On the plus side, that means it doesn't have a hand full of better spells to hit me with. But really, that did nothing for me.

Burn plays another Mountain and a Flame Rift. Now we're both down to 16. I draw Samite Healer. Well, it's not much damage prevention, but it is damage prevention. My goal is to stay alive and then if Burn empties its hand, attack like mad and hopefully kill it before it can topdeck enough direct damage to finish me off. Samite Healer could help with that. So I attack with the Rats and play the Healer and a Swamp.

Burn drops a third Mountain and plays Chain Lightning, then Forks it. I'm down to 10. I draw another Swamp, play it, attack with my Rats, and play Wild Griffin. Burn has 14 life left.

Burn plays Lightning Bolt and Forks it. I tap the Healer to prevent 1. I still take 5, meaning that I'm down to 5. I draw a Plains, play it, and could now use Gloomlance if I was facing any creatures. But I'm not. I attack with the Rats and the Griffin. Burn is down to 11.

Burn Incinerates me. I prevent 1 with the Healer. I'm down to 4. Burn Lightning Bolts me. I'm down to 1. Burn activates Seal of Fire. I'm down to -1. That's about how a lot of my games went down when playing Burn against scrubs. Only now I'm on the receiving end of it.

Game #2:
I go first. Plains, Plains, Swamp, Swamp, Neck Snap, Highway Robber, Essence Drain. A bad hand if I'm trying to out-aggro Burn. But that's impossible. I'm playing control here, so this can work. Or not. We'll see. Swamp, go.

Burn leads with Mogg Fanatic. Ooh, a creature! I draw another Swamp. Well, at least I'll definitely be able to cast Essence Drain if I live to see my fifth turn. I play a Plains. I wish I had a blocker for that Fanatic. Every bit of life I preserve helps in this matchup.

Burn attacks me and plays Seal of Fire. Getting the small damage out of the way early. I'll take some big hits soon enough. Only one Mountain though. I could win by opponent mana-screw. I draw a second Highway Robber and play another Swamp. One more turn and I can start dropping those little life-stealers.

Burn gets a second Mountain. Too bad. Another Fanatic attack and a Flame Rift. Burn's at 16 and I'm at 14. I draw another Essence Drain. I'm feeling good about this game. I could take it. I play a Plains and drop a Highway Robber. Now Burn's down to 14 and I'm up to 16.

Burn Incinerates me. I draw Soaring Hope. Better save it. I might be able to use its ability to replay it. If I use it now, Burn will use the Seal of Fire to stop the lifegain. I attack with Highway Robber. Burn doesn't block. I play the second Highway Robber. Now Burn is down to 10 and I at 15. Yes!

Burn hits me with Chain Lightning and Lightning Bolt. I draw and play a fourth Swamp. I attack with both Highway Robbers. Burn blocks one with the Fanatic and sacs the Fanatic to ping me. I Essence Drain Burn. I have 12 life left and Burn is down to 5.

Burn does draw-go, which is another good sign. I attack again, but this time Burn hits the Highway Robbers, one with Shock, the other with Seal of Fire. That's not a problem for me, though. I drew Corrupt. This one is pretty much already won. I am pleasantly surprised. Another Essence Drain brings Burn down to 2. And I'm back up to 15 again.

Burn plays Seal of Fire. I just won. I draw Steadfast Guard and play Corrupt for 4. This is a rare moment. I beat Burn decisively and still had 19 life left. With a scrubby deck, too. If I can pull this off again, it'll be a major upset.

Game #3:
No lands, so I'd better mulligan. Swamp, Neck Snap, Distress, Plains, Plains, Skyhunter Prowler. Not good, but I can't afford to mulligan again. Burn goes first with Seal of Fire. I draw a Swamp and play it.

Burn plays another Seal of Fire. I feel another mana-screw for my opponent coming. I draw another Swamp, play it, and use Distress. Burn has Flame Rift, Sonic Burst, Ball Lightning, Flame Rift, and Shock. I get rid of Shock, since it's the only one Burn can even use right now.

Burn hits me back with Chain Lightning. I draw a Plains, play it, and drop Skyhunter Prowler.

Burn draws and passes the turn. That upset is looking more realistic right now. I draw a Plains, play it, and attack with the Prowler. I'm at 17 and Burn is at 19. My hand is all lands and Neck Snap, but at least I can stop Ball Lightning if that shows up in the near future.

Burn plays a Mountain and a Flame Rift. Uh oh. I draw and play another Swamp, then attack with Prowler. Burn has 14 life left. I have 13 life left, but those Seals sitting in front of me are telling me that it's more like 9.

Burn plays another Flame Rift. I draw and play a Plains. I could really use those Essence Drains right about now. Of course I attack. Now we're both sitting at 9 life. But again, those Seals mean Burn only needs to find 5 more damage, which is pretty much bound to happen. Oh well, it was closer than I'd have thought.

Burn taps both Mountains for mana, sacs them to pay for Fireblast, then uses the mana and randomly discards Ball Lightning to pay for Sonic Burst. I'm at 1. Burn sacs a Seal and puts me out of my misery. It was fun while it lasted.

Round 2: White/Black Megadeck vs. The Fluctuator

The Fluctuator tears bad decks apart, and even though it's our hero in this tale, the White/Black Megadeck is a bad deck. It has no way to stop Fluctuator. Disenchant would really be useful here. Or Plana Void. Or a lot of things. But the only removal this deck has is for creatures. The best chance I stand is to be really aggressive and do a lot of damage before Fluctuator hits the board, because once Fluctuator is in play, it's over in a turn.

Game #1:
I won the coin toss again and will go first. My opening hand is Holy Strength, Plains, Neck Snap, Smolder Initiate, Swamp, Highway Robber, Essence Drain. I'll play the Swamp and the Initiate right away.

The Fluctuator plays a Drifting Meadow. I draw a Swamp. I drop my Plains and put Holy Strength on Smolder Initiate, then attack for 2. 18 more damage to go and I'm on a clock much too fast for this to work.

The Fluctuator plays a Slippery Karst. Well, at least it's not going to be a third turn kill. I draw an Essence Drain and attack again. The Fluctuator is down to 16 life.

The Fluctuator plays a Drifting Meadow and a Fluctuator. Uh oh. It will win next turn. I draw a Highway Robber and attack. I still need to land 14 more damage and my opponent will almost certainly win on its next turn. Oh well, maybe next game.

The Fluctuator draws and then cycles five cards, cycles three cards, plays a Swamp, cycles two cards, cycles two cards again, again, cycles one card about ten times, and finally stops. 15 of the 26 cards in its graveyard are creatures. It taps a Swamp for Songs of the Damned, gaining 15 black mana. It taps both Drifting Meadows for WW. Then it uses Drain Life on me for 12 and hits me with Haunting Misery for 15. I take 27 and die. Fourth turn kill. Nothing in the world I could have done about it.

Game #2:
My opening hand is Gloomlance, Steadfast Guard, Plains, Moonglove Winnower, Plains, Swamp, Neck Snap. I'll go first, playing a Plains.

Drifting Meadow to start with again. I draw Highway Robber, play a Plains, and drop Steadfast Guard.

The Fluctuator plays Remote Isle. I draw Essence Drain, play a Swamp, and attack for 2.

Fluctuator hits the board. It cycles six cards, again, again, again, cycles four cards, again, again, again, plays a Swamp, cycles one card, again, again, again, then stops. 23 creatures in its graveyard this time. Taps the Swamp for Songs of the the Damned, hits me with Drain Life for 18 and Haunting Misery for 23. I die twice. So I'll say that means I don't need to play this matchup again. There's no point in going up against the worst possible matchup for my deck once more. At least Burn has a weakness to life-draining spells. The Fluctuator is pretty much impervious to my deck. Discard might be able to slow it down, but only if I have a lot of discard in the same game as The Fluctuator isn't able to go off in the first few turns.

Round 3: White/Black Megadeck vs. Monoblack Pestilence

I am still the underdog, but much less so this time around. Monoblack Pestilence is another rare-free scrubby deck. But it is one that I built, so it has an advantage over this relatively random assortment of cards I'll be using. I'm not anticipating that I'll win this one, but I stand a much better chance.

Game #1:
I win the coin toss again, seriously. My opening hand is Afflict, Plains, Suntail Hawk, Skyhunter Prowler, Plains, Plains, Plains. So I start by playing Suntail Hawk.

Pestilence plays a Swamp and ends its turn. I draw Distress, play a Plains, and attack.

All Pestilence does is play another Swamp. But it will have a stronger late game, so I need more offense and I need it now. I draw a Highway Robber, play a Plains, attack, and play Skyhunter Prowler. I need some black mana.

Pestilence finally does something. It plays a third Swamp and taps out for Syphon Soul. All my hard work damaging it is undone. I draw a Swamp, play it, and attack with both of my creatures. Pestilence is down to 18 again. I could Afflict my own Prowler now for the card draw, but I'm not that desperate just yet.

And now another Swamp and a Pestilence. Not good for me. That thing can kill any of the creatures in my deck. So far the Pestilence deck has no creatures of its own to keep the Pestilence going, though. I draw Ravenous Rats, attack, and play the Rats. The Pestilence deck discards Corrupt.

Pestilence plays another Swamp and another Syphon Soul. I'm at 16 and Pestilence is at 18. I draw a Swamp, play it, play Distress and see two Corrupts and a Pestilence. Those Corrupts are nasty, but I'm getting hit by one no matter what as soon as my opponent draws another Swamp. I'll try to keep the Pestilence deck from having access to its own most potent weapon, so I choose for Pestilence to be discarded. I attack with everything. The Pestilence deck activates Pestilence twice, killing the Suntail Hawk and the Ravenous Rats, but leaving the Skyhunter Prowler alive. I have 13 life left and Pestilence has 15 life left.

Pestilence draws and passes the turn. I draw Steadfast Guard, play a Plains, attack, then play Steadfast Guard. Before the end of my turn, the Pestilence deck activates Pestilence twice. I respond by Afflicting my own Prowler (drawing Samite Healer). Both creatures die and Pestilence dies along with them. Now I'm at 11 and Pestilence is at 12.

Pestilence hits me with Drain Life for 3. I draw a Plains, play it, and drop Highway Robber and Samite Healer. I could really use Armored Ascension right about now. I'm at 10 and Pestilence is at 13.

And then it plays another Pestilence. Just my luck. I attack with both creatures. My efforts are met with Dark Ritual for three Pestilence activations. Well, that's probably the last Pestilence I'll see. There's only one more copy in that library. But I'm down to 7 and I need to find some damage before those Corrupts come online.

Pestilence drops a sixth Swamp and Corrupts me. That ruins my chances for this game. There's another Corrupt waiting for me next turn, I'm at 1, and Pestilence is all the way back up to 16. I draw Wild Griffin. I can easily play both of the creatures in my hand, but they won't save me from that second Corrupt.

Game #2:
I get a crappy opening hand. So does Pestilence. We both mulligan. My new opening hand is Plains, Swamp, Afflict, Plains, Holy Strength, Smolder Initiate. So I lead with Smolder Initiate.

Pestilence plays a Swamp and passes the turn. I play a Plains and use Holy Strength on my Smolder Initiate, then attack. I would have been nice to have Unholy Strength there instead. Pestilence is down to 18.

Pestilence plays a Swamp and Hymn to Tourach on me. I randomly discard a Plains and a Mind Rot. Here's where simply having more powerful cards is really helping my opponent. All I can do is attack and play the Honor Guard I just drew. At least I'm getting some hits in.

Pestilence plays a Swamp and a Cemetery Gate. I draw a Plains, play it, and attack with both creatures. Cemetery Gate blocks Smolder Initiate. Pestilence takes 1. Now that Cemetery Gate is out, I can't try what I did last time and use Afflict to take out Pestilence, so I might as well use it to draw a card. But it's an instant, so I'll wait.

Pestilence plays Demonic Tutor. Before the end of its turn, I Afflict my own Initiate, drawing a Plains. I draw Distress, which I unfortunately can't play. I put down the Plains, attack with both creatures so that Honor Guard can get through again and end my turn.

Pestilence plays a Swamp and, of course, Pestilence. I draw and play another Plains. I can technically still keep Honor Guard alive, but without Initiate to take up the Cemetery Gate as a blocker, that's pretty useless. I still get another hit in, bringing Pestilence down to 13.

Pestilence draws and passes the turn. But I know what's coming. I draw a Swamp, use it, and tap both of my Swamps to play Distress. Pestilence is holding Urza's Armor, Urza's Armor, Darkling Stalker, and Drain Life. Any one of those cards is bad news for me. But Darkling Stalker is redundant with Pestilence and Cemetery Gate both out. One Urza's Armor is enough to doom me, so taking one does nothing for me. Until my opponent has another Swamp, those won't do anything. So I'll get rid of the one card that threatens me now: Drain Life. I attack with both of my creatures. The Pestilence deck activates Pestilence five times, killing Smolder Initiate and Honor Guard (I could only make it a 1/5) . Well, I'm at 15 life and Pestilence is at 8 life.

Pestilence plays a Swamp and Urza's Armor. Now it can safely ping me to death in three more turns. I don't think I have any creatures that can survive it either. I draw Serra's Embrace. I have no creatures, so that sucks.

Pestilence draws and ends its turn. I draw Honor Guard, but don't feel like putting it out there to get killed. Before the end of my turn, I take six damage from Pestilence activations. I'm down to 9.

Same deal as before. Pestilence just sits there and then bashes me over the head every time I end my turn. I drew a Swamp, which wasn't going to save me. Now I'm at 3. The Pestilence deck plays another Swamp on its turn, then activates Pestilence once and finishes me off with Syphon Soul just because it can.

Game #3:
My opening hand is Moonglove Winnower, Plains, Mind Rot, Steadfast Guard, Plains, Gloomlance, Plains. Obviously I need to draw some Swamps soon. But I'll start by dropping a Plains.

Pestilence plays a Swamp and passes the turn. I draw a Swamp. Good. But I won't play it yet. I play a Plains and Steadfast Guard.

Pestilence again simply plays a Swamp and nothing else. I draw a second Swamp. I play a Swamp and a Mind Rot. Pestilence discards Urza's Armor and Darkling Stalker. I attack for 2 damage.

Pestilence plays a Swamp and a Fog of Gnats. I play a Swamp and Distress. Pestilence is holding Swamp, Swamp, Urza's Armor, and Cemetery Gate. That Cemetery Gate will be trouble even if I can get rid of the Gnats. But shutting out the Urza's Armor/Pestilence combo is too tempting, so I choose the Armor. I attack and Pestilence predictably blocks and regenerates the Gnats, but hey, it's not like it tapped my creatures, so it's no loss.

Pestilence plays a Swamp, attacks me with the Gnats, and drops a Cemetery Gate. I draw a Swamp. play a Plains, and play Moonglove Winnower. I'd like to topdeck an Armored Ascension, please.

Pestilence plays a Swamp and ends its turn. I draw Holy Strength, play a Swamp, and also end my turn. Gloomlance can't touch Cemetery Gate and it can't kill the Gnats while those Swamps are untapped.

Pestilence plays a Swamp and Urza's Armor. You've got to be kidding me. I draw another Moonglove Winnower. I enchant Steadfast Guard with Holy Strength and attack with both creatures, but Pestilence would rather take a damage than lose the Gnats right now, so the Winnower goes unblocked, bringing Pestilence down to 17. I Gloomlance the Gnats because I hate them.

Pestilence plays a Swamp and ends its turn. I draw Neck Snap. Oh, this works. I attack with both creatures. Cemetery Gate blocks Steadfast Guard and I Neck Snap Cemetery Gate. Where's your protection from black now, huh? Pestilence takes another damage and is down to 16. That Armor slows my assault to crawl, but I've now cleared away all the blockers.

Pestilence plays a Swamp and Corrupts my Steadfast Guard, undoing all of my hard work. I lose my biggest attacker and Pestilence shoots up to 24 life. All it has to do is sit and wait until it draws its namesake, then squash me like a bug. And I thought I stood a chance. I draw, attack with my Winnower, and play Highway Robber. Both of us are now at 21 life. Awesome.

Pestilence plays another Swamp. That makes nine of them and the odds that the next draw will be Pestilence, Drain Life, Darkling Stalker, or Corrupt keep going up. I draw Essence Drain, but I'm not in any hurry to play it. I want attackers on the board while they're still relavent, so I play attack with both of my creatures, bringing Pestilence down to 19, and play my other Winnower.

Pestilence draws and passes its turn. I draw Soaring Hope. Not useless, but the lifegain in this deck won't be able to outrun Pestilence. I'll play Essence Drain first. That and my attack with all three creatures brings Pestilence down to 14 and me up to 24.

Pestilence again does nothing. I'd better keep hitting it as hard as I can. I draw and play a Plains, then Soaring Hope my Highway Robber. I attack with all three creatures. Pestilence is down to 11 and I'm up to 27.

Pestilence plays a Darkling Stalker. That might be all it needs. I mean, that thing can be a 10/10 attacker. My Winnowers could kill it, but it'll just regenerate. I draw another unneeded Plains. I attack with the Highway Robber. Now if I can just do 10 more damage at some point before Pestilence can stop me.

Pestilence swings with Darlking Stalker. If I don't block it, I take 10. If I do block it, I lose a Winnower. I'll take 10 this time. But it only becomes a 7/7. The other three mana goes into a Syphon Soul. So now I'm down to 18 and Pestilence is up to 12. I draw a Skyhunter Prowler. I can use that to chump block the Stalker, so I play it after attacking with both Winnowers and the Robber.

Pestilence drops another Swamp. Each one makes that Stalker stronger. I block with the Prowler when it attacks. Pestilence doesn't pump it up, though. It just regenerates it. Instead it plays Dark Ritual and puts all of its mana into a big Drain Life. That pretty much seals my defeat. Pestilence is back up to 18 and I'm down to 8. I draw Essence Drain. Now I can kill the Stalker and bring myself back up to 11. I attack with everything I've got and bring Pestilence down to 14. Closing the gap?

Pestilence draws and ends its turn. I draw Mind Rot and since Pestilence is holding one card and isn't likely to hold more than that, I use it. Pestilence discards Hymn to Tourach. That accomplished nothing. So I attack with my three black creatures again, bringing Pestilence down to 11. I can still win this thing.

Pestilence uses Syphon Soul. Now I'm down to 8 and it's up to 13. I draw Suntail Hawk, which will only bounce of Urza's Armor without an enchantment to boost it. Might as well leave it in my hand as Hymn bait. My attack brings Pestilence down to 10.

Pestilence plays Fog of Gnats. I draw Neck Snap, but those pesky Gnats would just regenerate from it. I attack with all three black creatures. The Gnats block the Highway Robber and regenerate. Now both of us are at 8.

Pestilence plays another Swamp. If it gets Drain Life, Corrupt, or Pestilence, I lose. But until then, I might stand a chance. I draw and play a Swamp, then attack with the Robber and the Winnowers. The Gnats block the Robber again and Pestilence is down to 6.

Pestilence draws and ends its turn. I draw Smolder Initiate. Its ability would be handy if I were holding some black spells. Same attack as before. Same block as before. Pestilence is down to 4. I'm so close. On the off-chance that Smolder Initiate will help, I play it.

Pestilence plays its twelfth Swamp. Now it could play Pestilence and kill me in one shot on its next turn. But if it gets another bad draw, I can win. The suspense is killing me. I draw Ravenous Rats. I attack with the Robber and the Winnowers. The Gnats blocks the Robber and regenerate like they always do. Pestilence is down to 2. I play Ravenous Rats and pay 1 for Smolder Initiate's ability. Pestilence discards Dark Ritual and is down to 1 life.

Pestilence topdecks its namesake. Eight activations later, I'm at exactly 0 life. I lost, but that was ridiculously close. I was hoping to get one win in there and redeem this deck a little. Even though it's a piece of junk, I've sort of gotten attached to it.

Read More Articles by Stephen O. Bahl!

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