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Sligh of the Times
By Aaron Swersky
There was an article posted nearly a year ago about Sligh, and how it works. While that article(for those of you who want to have a look) does indeed hit upon many good points, there are also a few points that it misses...and a few points that its detractors miss as well.

First, to play Sligh, we must understand Sligh. The concept has deviated significantly from its first incarnation, in which Paul Sligh piloted a deck to a very impressive finish by optimizing his mana curve (in other words, making sure he made the most out of his mana every turn). In this day and age, Sligh refers to a deck style that prefers to run its opponents over with small, expendable creatures, using burn spells to clear the way for them or finish if the creatures in question are unable to do the job. The deck's essence is speed; while it is possible for a Sligh player to win if his deck doesn't defeat his opponent very quickly, it becomes difficult to mount an offensive as the opponent's creatures become larger and more aggressive, often utterly overwhelming the Sligh player's creatures (which were never intended for anything but attacking a defenseless player).

Let's have a look at the usual suspects to understand what we're dealing with, and what makes a creature Sligh-worthy.

Jackal Pup (R)
Creature - Hound
Whenever Jackal Pup is dealt damage, it deals that much damage to you.

Goblin Cadets (R)
Creature - Goblin
Whenever Goblin Cadets blocks or becomes blocked, target opponent gains control of it.

Ball Lightning (RRR)
Creature - Elemental
Haste, Trample
At the end of any turn, sacrifice Ball Lightning.

These are some of the most frequently played Sligh creatures around. But it's important to remember that for the Sligh deck's purposes, these creatures have no drawback. Ball Lightning is not a 6/1 creatures, it's 6 points of burn for 3 damage, that the opponent can deplete slightly by pushing a (probably quite small) blocker into the way. The damage dealt to you by Jackal Pups is irrelevant, as the game is unlikely to last long enough for the damage to kill you if your deck operates correctly (and if it doesn't, a creature that wouldn't pass damage along would probably be equally ineffective). And while Goblin Cadets are useless so long as there is a blocking creature available, they are exemplary on an unoccupied field, and that's the purpose to which Sligh will put its burn spells while Goblin Cadets is in play.

This only encompasses part of the Sligh deck, however. Were it not for the burn spells, Sligh would be extremely underpowered to the point of unplayability; indeed, Sligh relies on an empty board to run unopposed. So, which burn is optimal? It is important to remember these facts when creating a Sligh deck:
1) You do not want the game to last more than a few turns. The longer the game runs, the more unlikely your victory.
2) Expensive spells are risky, especially with your slim mana reserves.
3) Power-to-mana ratios must be tuned to the maximum in order to make the most out of each card.

To this end, I offer the following:

Chain Lightning (R)
Chain Lightning deals 3 damage to target creature or player. Then that player or that creature's controller may pay RR. If they do, they may copy this spell and choose a new target for it.

Lightning Bolt (R)
Lightning Bolt deals 3 damage to target creature or player.

Incinerate (1R)
Incinerate deals 3 damage to target creature or player. Creatures damaged by Incinerate can't regenerate this turn.

Fireblast (4RR)
Fireblast deals 4 damage to target creature or player.
You may sacrifice two mountains instead of paying Fireblast's mana cost.

All of these spells offer excellent mana economy; each one does more damage than the amount of mana it costs, with Fireblast shining through as the front-runner; the Sligh player will virtually never pay the casting cost, opting instead for four points of 'free' damage. This effectively causes the opponent to start with less life than normal; if the Sligh player is holding on to a Fireblast, he can play it any time he has two Mountains in play. As a result, the opposing player virtually begins the game with 16 life, or even 12 life if he is unfortunate enough to find himself facing a Sligh player with four Mountains and a pair of Fireblasts in hand. In particlar, Fireblast is exceptional with Sligh's sole artifact standby:

Cursed Scroll (1)
3, T: Name a card. An opponent chooses a card at random from your hand. Reveal that card. If the card is the named card, Cursed Scroll deals 2 damage to target creature or player.

For the uninitiated, the Cursed Scroll is optimized by emptying one's hand - a feat quickly accomplished by the Sligh player - and then activating Cursed Scroll with one card in hand. The opposing player can not fail to reveal the card you name, so 2 damage is assured. Many a Sligh player has tapped three Mountains, revealed a Fireblast in play, and then cast that Fireblast for a total of 6 damage, finishing off their unlucky opponent.

After this point, builds of Sligh begin to differ somewhat. Let us look at the core of our deck, beginning with 18 Mountains (which is often all, or even more, than a Sligh player needs).

18x Mountain

4x Jackal Pup
4x Goblin Cadets
4x Ball Lightning

4x Incinerate
4x Lightning Bolt
4x Chain Lightning
4x Fireblast

4x Cursed Scroll

The above only represents 50 cards, which leaves us 10 slots to customize our decks. This is where individuality plays a large part in how decks are constructed. Many players will choose to include an equal complement of burn and efficient creatures, often from the following choices:

Thunderbolt (1R)
Thunderbolt deals 3 damage to target player or 4 damage to target flying creature.

Shock (R)
Shock deals 2 damage to target creature or player.

Seal of Fire (R)
Sacrifice Seal of Fire: Seal of Fire deals 2 damage to target creature or player.

Sonic Burst (1R)
As an additional cost to play Sonic Burst, discard a card at random.
Sonic Burst deals 4 damage to target creature or player.

Scent of Cinder (1R)
Reveal any number of red cards in your hand. Scent of Cinder deals X damage to target creature or player, where X is the number of red cards revealed in this way.

Goblin Grenade (R)
As an additional cost to play Goblin Grenade, sacrifice a Goblin.
Goblin Grenade deals 5 damage to target creature or player.

Fork (RR)
Put a copy of target instant or sorcery spell onto the stack, except that it copies Fork's color and you may choose new targets for the copy.

T: Add 1 to your mana pool.
T, Sacrifice Wasteland: Destroy target nonbasic land.

Strip Mine
T: Add 1 to your mana pool.
T, Sacrifice Strip Mine: Destroy target land.

Ironclaw Orcs (1R)
Creature - Orc
Ironclaw Orcs can't block a creature with power 2 or greater.

Mogg Fanatic (R)
Creature - Goblin
Sacrifice Mogg Fanatic: Mogg Fanatic deals 1 damage to target creature or player.

Goblin Piledriver (1R)
Creature - Goblin
Protection from blue
Whenever Goblin Piledriver attacks, it gets +2/+0 until end of turn for each other attacking Goblin.

...and many, many more, more than I could hope to mention in this article. In particular, some choices are only appropriate for certain decks; my current build would be crazy to risk Goblin Grenade without more Goblins to feed to it. And some choices are no longer optimal. In particular, Goblin Brigand has surpassed Ironclaw Orcs recently.

Goblin Brigand (1R)
Creature - Goblin
Goblin Brigand attacks each turn if able.

With the same casting cost and power/toughness as the Ironclaw Orcs, and an equally irrelevant drawback, its creature type actually makes it the superior choice, making it a potential booster for decks that run Goblin Pilderiver and a suitable sacrifice in the name of Goblin Grenade.

Caution must be taken when customizing your Sligh deck, however, as cards that may look very useful actually turn out to be less than optimal - or even burdensome - in reality. For example, Scent of Cinder has been toyed with to its ultimate conclusion, and while it can conceivably be 1R for 8 damage on turn 2, this also requires the Sligh player to do nothing but play lands and cast one spell for the first two turns of the game; this usually spells death for the Sligh player, who is no longer able to outrace his opponent's creatures and is forced to resort to burn-or-die strategies that render a substantial portion of his deck useless.

While spells like Thunderbolt may offer good mana economy, they are limited in use; Thunderbolt will seldom clear the way for one of your attacking creatures, making it a suboptimal choice for a deck like Sligh that wants to give its creatures the opportunity to attack unblocked.

Although Sonic Burst is appealing, the requirement of a second card can not be overlooked; in essence, you are using two mana and two cards to do four damage. With the rest of your deck already tuned to maximize the potential of each card, Sonic Burst would often be better off as something as simple as a Shock, so that you can use the other card in your hand as well. It is also very poor synergy with Cursed Scroll; Sonic Burst wants you to have two cards in your hand, Cursed Scroll only wants you to have one.

While Wasteland and Strip Mine may both have great allure given their potential to disrupt an opponent's lands, it is important to remember that Sligh's power lies in its speed, not in its disruptive abilities...or rather, not in its ability to disrupt mana resources, but in its ability to disrupt creature resources. More importantly, neither land produces red mana, which means that it can be a Sligh player's death knell to draw five good Sligh cards, a Wasteland, and a Strip Mine in their opening hand. Both cards are quite good, but overusing them is the same as handing the victory to your opponent.

This is the Sligh deck I would use, were I to build one.

Sligh (Vintage, 60 cards)
14x Mountain
1x Wasteland
1x Strip Mine
2x Bloodstained Mire

4x Jackal Pup
4x Goblin Cadet
4x Ball Lightning
4x Mogg Fanatic

4x Chain Lightning
4x Lightning Bolt
4x Incinerate
3x Fireblast
2x Goblin Grenade
1x Fork

4x Howling Mine
4x Cursed Scroll

Two of the chosen cards have not been explained:

Bloodstained Mire
T, Sacrifice Bloodstained Mire, pay 1 life: Search your library for a Swamp or Mountain card and put it into play, then shuffle your library.

Howling Mine (2)
At the beginning of each player's draw step, if Howling Mine is untapped, that player draws a card.

Bloodstained Mire allows the Sligh player to run fewer Mountains, as each Mire is effectively a Mountain in itself. The paying of 1 life is irrelevant in a Sligh deck, and activating the Mire has the added effect of thinning the Sligh player's deck out by one land. This reduces the likelihood of drawing an unwanted land later on, further helping the Sligh player to maximize each draw.

Howling Mine is low in cost, and allows the Sligh player two cards a turn; this increase in tempo often helps the Sligh player more than his opponent, as he is more likely to be able to utilize both drawn cards every turn than his opponent, who may still be restricted to one card a turn due to the theoretically higher casting costs of his cards. While it does no actual damage of its own, it represents multiple extra cards for the Sligh player that he would not otherwise have, which may very well give him the added momentum he needs for the win.

Moreover, many people will question my removal of the fourth Fireblast. The reason for this is simple: while one Fireblast is excellent to have in your hand, the player is unlikely to be able to cast two Fireblasts in the course of a game, as doing so requires the presence of four Mountains (and Sligh hopes that the game will be over, or very close to it, by then). Three Fireblasts should make drawing one copy very easy, but two copies somewhat difficult, and that is the desireable outcome. What's more, the inclusion of Fork acts as a virtual fourth Fireblast; remember, when playing Fork, the costs for the spell do not need to be paid. Where the Cursed Scroll - Fireblast combo is potent, the Fork - Fireblast combo (tap two Mountains, play Fireblast, use the red mana to Fork it) verges on brokenness. Fork is more versatile than a fourth Fireblast, however, acting as a copy of any burn spell in your deck.

It is my hope that, upon reading this article, you have come to a better understanding of what cards identify Sligh, how it plays, and how to build for success. Best wishes, and remember: There Is No Turn Five.

Read More Articles by Aaron Swersky!

 - Thursday (May 17, 2018)
 - Tuesday (Aprl. 24, 2018
 - Monday (Apr. 16, 2018)
 - Friday (Apr. 6, 2018)
 - Wednesday (Apr. 4, 2018)
 - Monday (Apr. 2, 2018)
 - Friday (Mar. 23, 2018)
 - Thursday (Feb. 15, 2018)
 - Thursday (Jan 25, 2018)
 - Wednesday (Jan. 17, 2018)

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