Thran Utopia #23: Brewing With Bad Cards

Sometimes I cannot resist the temptation I have to build some kooky concoction around a card that is bound to not ever see the light of tournament play. My most recent venture into the world of crappy Johnnytastic-ness, a moment of Johnny weakness if you will, was when I gave into the urge to at least think about an ofEmpires-deck. And so I did. Then I got to wonder – what are the things I shouldn’t do when building this deck? There are pitfalls when brewing decks, but even moreso when brewing with questionable cards. Since I am well-versed in the realm of turning junk rares into decks, I have enough experience to fill you in.

So you look at the spoiler of the most recent set and see it. “Wow, how cool would it be if this worked?” Very cool, undeniably! But are the hoops you have to jump through worth it? As said, I consider myself no stranger to the world of crap rares. My most blatant example has to be Sky Swallower – no, not the Simic one. That one is actually good. No, I managed to put together a bag of absolute trash, unlike Ben Bleweiss’s deck which kinda worked, around Sky Swallower. That’s because on top of Sky Swallower, I managed to find room for… hold it… Phyrexian Etchings.

Are you done laughing? No? I’ll wait.

Alright. Now that you’ve had your three-and-a-half-hours of uncontrollable laughter, let’s get to the real content. I’ll be going over five points of interest using the concept of a future deck using the three ofEmpires-artifacts.

Try to get the most out of your cards

If the card (or in my case, cards) you want to build with are underwhelming, you have to do your best to get the most out of them. What does this mean? For one, you have to maximize their potential when they are in play. Second, sometimes you need to help your deck a little to get to the point where you can maximize the potential. Let me explain.

In the case of ofEmpires.dec, you obviously want to have the holy trinity in play as soon as you can. This means that card selection, card draw and card tutoring are very welcome. It’s the same as with the UrzaTron in that you don’t just need any three pieces, you need three specific pieces for the machine to work.

By getting to the point where you can maximize potential, I mean that you have to make sure you are still alive when you are actually able to play and/or (ab)use your core cards. In the case of ofEmpires.dec, it means you need some early defenders.

For me specifically, I want to run a monogreen deck with these artifacts, much like Seedborn Muse did recently. This means that while I eliminate the power of blue draw, search and filtering, I gain mana acceleration to speed up my Throne-plan. After all, if your deck takes some time to get online, you can do two things: slow your opponents down, or just speed up yourself (or both, which is the case with cards like Overgrown Battlement and Sakura-Tribe Elder).

There’s more than one basket for your eggs

I think the biggest pitfall for deckbuilders, especially when a gimmicky or underpowered card is involved, is that they make their whole deck about the card. What this means is that people eschew a plan B in favor of getting the most out of card X. And yes, this point kind of contradicts the point above, but it’s somewhere in the middle that you need to strike a balance. If you’re going all-in on your card(s), you risk losing when you don’t get your act together. But if your plan B takes front stage, then why would you even bother running your initial plan A?

In the Empires-deck as submitted on the Muse Vessel, the plan B is to win with Ezuri’s Brigade, Fangren Marauder and Darksteel Juggernaut. You could easily see the Plan B taking over, maybe turning the deck into a green-based affinity-slash-metalcraft deck. And if the deck goes that way, it’s not hard to foresee a deck without the crown jewels.

In my deck, I haven’t really figured out what my second wincon will be. I like Ezuri’s Brigade and Darksteel Juggernaut too, but there might be something else out there. Still, the whole Plan B-story is a trap I have found myself in more than once, so I’m very aware of building one into each of my gimmicky decks. For example, my Wort deck from a few weeks ago suffered from this syndrom. But, being a combo deck, I kinda let it slide. That was until I rebuilt the deck after making a comic about it. The deck I built there, while lacking Wort (the original centerpiece), was much more diverse and therefore able to still have game even though the stars weren’t perfectly aligned.

Be open to killing your idea

Which brings me to my next item: don’t hold on to an idea that’s unreal. I did this too at first with Wort, mind you, but after a while I saw that I didn’t need her in the deck. The same has happened to me before with Toshiro Umezawa, for instance. If the deck you built isn’t an optimal <insert card name here> deck, you can do two things: up the theme and synergy, or bite the bullet and take said card right out of the deck. This all depends on your motive: if you really want an <insert card name here> deck, you try to make it work. Otherwise, you just go for the more powerful build. But whatever you do, don’t be afraid to experiment, and make sure the path you go down is a clear-cut one.

This means that my ofEmpires deck will always have that trio of cards in its crosshairs. If I don’t do that, I run the risk of alienating them from the deck. And in this case, I don’t want to do that – unless, ofcourse, another angle presents itself and I find that particular deck better or cooler than the ofEmpires-one.

Don’t ignore good cards

Some people think that they’re being cute by using certain cards. In this cuteness, they forego cards that don’t need a lot of hoops to jump through. You should not be this player! Be open to cards that haven proven themselves, or are just powerful without too much hassle. It might not be the most creative thing to do, but the support cast is not where your creativity shines. That’s in your choice of weird cards and how you support them.

As an example, in my Wort-deck I was fiddling around with various big guys to hide under a Spinerock Knoll. I came up with very synergistic cards, like Knollspine Dragon and Chancellor of the Forge. They both fit into the deck perfectly but where somehow underwhelming. Rick suggested using Inferno Titan. I went with a 3-3 split of Inferno Titan and Predator Dragon and haven’t looked back since. Sometimes the most obvious is the way to go.

Defend against your weakness

My final point is different for everyone. Each player has his or her own strengths, and the same is even more true for weaknesses. My personal weakness is that my decks are slow, and sometimes too slow. What’s yours?

It could be that your weakness was already mentioned above. The most important thing to keep in mind is knowing common pitfalls you often fall in to (or at least face), and learning how to consciously avoid them. My weakness is that my decks are often top-heavy and slow. How do I counteract this? By lowering the curve and/or upping the defense.

If you take a look back at Seedborn’s deck, you see the deck is also slow. I want to start trying to lower the curve by removing a lot of the big guys and replacing them with acceleration. This, ofcourse, contradicts with my previous ‘There’s more than one basket for your eggs’-point.

I want to conclude this article with saying that all of the above points are connected in some way. By removing the high-end cards from Seedborn Muse’s deck, I am defending against my weakness. The cost of this is that it hurts the Plan B of the deck. And I don’t even have to mention the intricacies that take place when you are deciding how much of a <insert card name here> deck you want to make. Where is the line between a card-X-deck and deck-with-card-X? How can you get the most out of your cards? Are there any cards your overlooking? Is Card X really needed in your deck?

Fortunately, these questions are all very fun to answer. While it’s nice to build a deck with all proven-good cards, there is no better gratification than making a deck with cards that your opponents have to read because they never saw it before. Ofcourse, the whole still has to work – but that’s what today’s article was for. See you next week – maybe!

*  *  *

Writer’s note – Next week I’ll be going to the Formula 1-race in Monza, Italy. This is quite the journey and so I don’t know if I’m able to write an article for next week. On top of that, I got the whole weekend planned with pre-celebrating my upcoming birthday (September 9th, for those wondering, which is next Friday when I’m in Italy) and ofcourse watching the Pro Tour on Sunday! But I’m sure you’ll live one week without me. You’re all grown and mature, I’m so proud of you!

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Posted on September 2, 2011, in Articles, Thran Utopia and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Yeah, by the time I started playing with the deck, Fangren Marauder was replaced with Carapace Forger, as my initial run was waaaaay too slow. Still, the combo has won its fair share of games, and I can’t wait to see what you end up with. I love the deckbuilding theory behind this article as well.

    • Thanks for chiming in. I feel the core of your deck is really solid, I wonder what I can do to make it my own (i.e. not netdeck it) while still maintaining the overall feel of your deck. Playing, well, YOU in the deck is a great idea. My personal ideas so far are either a suite of Walls to defend and make mana (Wall of Tanglecord, Overgrown Battlement) or Sakura; maybe Oracle of Mul Daya to help with both mana and Druidic Satchel; and other multifunctional mana generators like Weatherseed Totem. I might just take this rat pack of cards with me on my trip next week. When the deck is done you’ll automatically see it!

  2. Those mana generators could fuel Genesis Wave if you were so inclined. It would be hilarious to use the Wave as a way of finding combo pieces instead of fatties. “Genesis Wave for 4…oh look; there they all are!”

    • Whoah… that’s insane. I might’ve just found my angle for the deck! G-Wave might be the card that differentiates my upcoming deck from yours. I’m trying to trade for them online as we speak!

      Also, should I go that route, the deck name will change from Royal Flush to Royal Wave, and therefore be awesome. There shall be no discussion.

  1. Pingback: Thran Utopia #25: The Royal Wave « Red Site Wins

  2. Pingback: The Royal Wave | Stidjen's Magic

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