Explorations #34 - Casual Deck Doctor: Barbed Wire Fence
Welcome back everyone to another episode of Casual Deck Doctor! I received good feedback and a bunch of awesome entries after the last one (which you can read about here), so I've decided to continue the series.
Before we get started, I'm always taking entries for future Casual Deck Doctor articles. If you're interested then send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with a decklist and a brief writeup of what you were going for. If I choose your deck then I'll take it through a bunch of test games, make some tweaks, maybe try out a few different directions. Check out my past articles to get an idea of what I'm talking about here.
If I choose your deck to write about, then I'll send over two packs of the latest expansion set, or two packs of something else that's still available in the store if you would prefer something else.
Ok, let's get started!
Back around when The Dark was the new hotness, one of the guys in my playgroup used a deck based on Manabarbs, Ankh of Mishra, and Fellwar Stone. It's been a really long time, but I remember it looked something like this:
Now, my buddy's deck didn't REALLY look like that. Most of the casual decks we made back then were more than sixty cards. When I first started out my friends and I played every card we owned - and we later evolved to tuned lists of seventy-five. My first tournament (type 1 back when The Dark was the new set) was a REALLY big eye opener - I don't even think I resolved a single spell that mattered in the entire tournament.
Those early decks are almost physically painful to think about in retrospect. Not only were they huge and inefficient, but they didn't run full playsets of anything and were heavily weighed towards cards way up on the manacurve. This may be painful to think about, but I think that this is a phase that most (if not all) players go through early on in their Magic career. Long story short, the list above may not be a perfect replica of what my friend shuffled up back in 1995 or so - but hopefully you get the idea: make generating mana miserable for your opponent!
Ankh of Mishra penalizes your opponent for putting lands into play, Manabarbs penalizes them for tapping them. Sisters of the Flame, Llanowar Elves, Birds of Paradise, Fellwar Stone, and Sol Ring generate mana without the use of lands. Fireball, Hurricane, and Stream of Life allow us to pour this pain-free mana into huge effects. Juggernaut beats down if Fireball can't get the job done.
I really loved this deck back in my early days of Magic, and I really respected my buddy for coming up with something like this. At the time it was a pretty unique idea in my world, and since then I've always been partial to Manabarbs.
That brings us to today's focus for Casual Deck Doctor, coming in from Gareth Begley:
Just read your latest article and saw that you were still wanting some casual deck ideas, so I thought I'd drop you a line. I'm not sure if this deck has already been fleshed out elsewhere, but here it is anyway.
I'm a big fan of the current set of borderposts like most, but I wanted to incorporate their fantastic mana-producing ability with a hint of control. I really liked the creatureless white/black lock deck that did so well in Japan, and took a slice of that as well. I've also been chasing a home for a good manabarbs deck for a while, so when the borderposts were released, I had a good excuse to tinker around for a bit. The deck pretty much works by sweeping early, then locking with manabarbs and producing 80% of your mana through them, thus not taking the point of damage per tap. Here's the list, I'll explain the choices at the end:
4 Broken Ambitions
4 Path to exile
4 Windborn Muse
3 Martial Coup
3 Batwing Brume
2 Sower of Temptation
2 Vendilion Clique
4 Fieldmist Borderpost
3 Firewild Borderpost
4 Veinfire Borderpost
3 Wildfield Borderpost
2 Mistvein Borderpost
To be honest, i havent played around with the land/BP combinations as much as i should have. Some Tri Lands throw in the mix may work also. Essentially, I try to counter or remove as much as a can before a manabarbs hits the table, then run 5 or so BP's to sweep and play spells while my opponent second guesses everything he or she casts. It plays out very well with PTE, as opponents tend to feel that they need to get the most bang for their buck, by casting big creature spells which are removed by a single tap of a 0 pain BP.
This deck also thrives from windborn muse, as the extra mana needed to attack can hardly be afforded. This deck does have its obvious downfalls though, and some people question an actual win condition within the deck. Not drawing Manabarbs can be a gamebreaker, but the deck does hold its own ok. WOG would be an obvious auto include if I wasn't so budget concious, and Finks need to go in there somewhere as well. Overall, I think its a great casual deck; cheap, fun, and functional. It still needs some work, hopefully from someone like yourself, to evolve to something great.
Hope you like it mate
Alright, so here's the first deck we're starting off with:
So Gareth's basic idea here is to use the new Borderpost cycle from Alara Reborn to exploit Manabarbs - cool! This list only runs nine lands, but a full SIXTEEN Borderposts. Broken Ambitions and Negate provide permission. Firespout, Path to Exile, and two of my personal favorites: Sower of Temptation and Windborn Muse pitch in for some creature control. Martial Coup is also partially creature control, but amps up into a very powerful win condition.
|A deck after my own heart...
Before I make any changes, I'm going to take this list as-is into a few test games to get an idea of how it plays. Gareth's deck is very budget-friendly, and I'm going to do my best in this article to keep it that way. Here we go!
Game 1 vs RG Shadowmoor
I start off with an Island, Mistvein Borderpost and Fieldmist Borderpost. My opponent casts Farhaven Elf and then Old Ghastbark, which I take out with Broken Ambitions. I add Wildfield, Veinfire, and Fieldmist Borderpost to my side of the table. He comes back with Scuzzback Scrapper, Elsewhere Flask, and Juvenile Gloomwidow. I use Sower of Temptation to steal his Juvenile Gloomwidow start to beat down with my 2/2 flyer.
My opponent comes back with a big Dawnglow Infusion to pump up his life total, and then tries to use Jaws of Stone to take out my Sower - but Negate saves the Faerie Control Magic's butt. I lay down a few more Borderposts and then cast Vendilion Clique during my opponent's draw step. He responds with Flame Javelin and takes out the Clique. I swing for two and he cracks back, but Batwing Brume saves me some life and does some damage to him in the process.
Mudbrawler Raiders and Scuttlemutt hit the table, but I clear out everything other than Sower of Temptation with a timely Firespout. He brings down Gloomwidow, but I have Path to Exile. He uses Elsewhere Flask to power out about a million Wolf tokens with Howl of the Night Pack, but I come back with Marial Coup (X=9) for the win.
Analysis: Gareth was right, games where you don't draw Manabarbs can be a little painful.
In this one I had way too many Borderposts, way more mana than I knew what to do with. Maybe this was just an anomaly, but this is something to keep an eye on in future test games. I had the game under decent control for a looooooong time, and was only able to get through for two per turn with the Sower of Temptation. Manabarbs would have sealed the deal a lot earlier.
I had Martial Coup for a few turns at the end, so I could have gone for it earlier - but I had to save it in case my opponent had Howl of the Night Pack... which he did. It would have been absolutely miserable to wipe the board and bring a bunch of 1/1 tokens into play just to see my opponent come back with a bunch of 2/2s.
In addition to this, I'm pretty sure my opponent made a big mistake using Flame Javelin on the Vendilion Clique instead of Sower of Temptation. He would have taken out a creature AND gotten his Juvenile Gloomwidow back, a creature perfectly capable of blocking Vendilion Clique.
Game 2 vs RGW Seismic Assault
I start off with Firewild and Wildfield Borderposts, my opponent plays out Vivid Meadow and Treetop Village. I use Vendilion Clique during his draw step and shuffle away Captured Sunlight - my other options included double Seismic Assault, Goblin Lore, and Knight of the Reliquary. I'm not worried about Goblin Lore, Knight of the Reliquary goes down to the Path to Exile I have in my hand, and I can't stop both copies of Seismic Assault.
He tries to cast one copy of Seismic Assault, but I use Broken Ambitions to stop that enchantment from hitting play. I bring Manabarbs into play and he concedes.
Analysis: I draw Manabarbs in this one, but it drew the immediate concession. I had him hurt with Vendilion Clique, and I guess he didn't think he'd be able to get anything together with his limited life resources.
| Game 3 vs RW Aggro
I have to mulligan away an amazing hand on the play with three Borderposts, but zero lands. He plays out Cerodon Yearling and I take care of it with Broken Ambitions and then play out Firewild and Fieldmist Borderposts. My opponent tries to cast Goblin Assault, but I stop it with Negate. I let Mark of Asylum through, and then use Broken Ambitions to take down a second Goblin Assault.
I bring Windborn Muse into play, but Incinerate keeps her off of the table. Glory of Warfare and Rakka Mar start to bring my opponent's forces back up to a dangerous level, but Path to Exile buys me a little bit of time. Cloudgoat Ranger and Cerodon Yearling are really scary with Glory of Warfare on the table, but I buy time with Batwing Brume... I just need to draw that seventh mana source for Martial Coup on five.
I take a boatload of damage, but get my seventh mana source and I'm ready to get this game under control. I go to cast Martial Coup, but then realize with all of my different Borderposts and lands - I don't have WW available! Bummer! I die to a whole bunch of dudes.
Analysis: Once again no Manabarbs. If I had managed to get WW towards the end there, I'm 90% sure I would have been able to secure the victory, but it seems that it was not meant to be. The permission elements worked out well this time around, and I was able to Broken Ambitions and Negate away a couple of key threats in order to buy time in the early game.
It's never fun to be engineering your entire gameplan towards staying alive at seven mana for your trump card... and then realizing that you're one white mana short.
So I've played a few games with this deck and I have to say that I love it. Gareth did an awesome job with this one, and it's a perfectly respectable deck. Not all casual deck doctor articles will be about completely overhauling the deck in question, sometimes I will use this format as a platform to get a cool idea out there and give someone credit for a badass deck idea. So if you're interested in sending in a submission, know that it doesn't have to be a total clunker! That being said, I do have a few ideas on how to tune this deck up a bit, and then a different variation on Manabarbs to talk about after that.
One of the major bummers of this deck, as discussed above, is that if you don't draw Manabarbs then it doesn't really do much. There are a few ways to improve this. The most obvious one is to add redundancy, which means adding in additional copies of the business card you want to draw - in this case Manabarbs. This is why you will see decks running 4x Lightning Bolt and 4x Shock. This deck would love to run 8x Lightning Bolt, but the rule of four prevents this from happening. The problem here is that you need to find an effect that matches the card you want more copies of in some way, and there aren't many replacements for the fairly unique effect of Manabarbs.
Another option is to increase the card drawing and filtering of the deck. I think this is something that this deck could really use. In the games above, I often had a little bit of trouble getting the correct mix of Borderposts, Lands, and business spells. I just am not getting the vibe that this is a deck that's comfortable drawing one card off of the top per turn, so I want to add in some way to get the look at a few more cards.
There are a few different options here, so I'm going to give a rundown of a whole bunch of options for drawing and filtering. People seem to like these lists, and I love making them!
This card has fallen out of favor lately, and I haven't seen it in many Standard lists. It's still used quite a bit in Vintage, Legacy, and Classic. One mana, draw three, with some built in filtering. The only downside is that this one is a sorcery, and we really want to keep our mana open for spells like Broken Ambitions.
This one is great in the late game for us, but not as good in the early game when we are looking to keep mana open for Broken Ambitions. Getting our card draw attached to a 2/2 flying creature is obviously awesome though.
Four mana for two cards, potentially spread out across two turns. This one gets a lot more exciting when we have some way to recur the Capsule.
Just an overall amazing effect that gives us tons of options - also just happens to draw a card.
I absolutely love this card, and this might actually be a good time to play with it? I can't help fight the feeling that it's terrible though. This one is no Remand.
Always strong as reusable card draw in a heavily blue deck. The only issue here is that our deck runs so few ways to defend a planeswalker; Jace may often not be too long of this world.
Kiss of the Amesha
Costs a ton of mana, but draws cards and pumps our life total back up after dealing with early aggression.
Obelisk of Alara
This one seems really interesting. It comes down for six mana which, again, is a lot. Since we're running so many different Borderposts, we should be able to activate the majority of the Obelisk's abilities. Draw filter, life gain, -2/-2, and Lava Spike are all very relevant abilities.
This would be a good choice except our deck doesn't run any land for the retrace!
Research the Deep
I'd give anything for this one to be an instant, it would be perfect - even at UU I guess. With all of the Borderposts, our deck is very light on land - we'd be likely to win the clash often.
Scepter of Insight
Seven mana to get our first card...
If our deck ran more chump blockers then this one might make sense as removal even though it's just a cantrip.
Our deck already runs the Clique, which lets us filter away lame cards for better ones.
Costs four mana including UWB which is a little rough, but potentially filters our draw each turn from there on out. Can also gain us life or poke our opponent when necessary.
I'd love to run this card, unfortunately we don't really have any domain action going on.
There are a bunch of different options here depending on your own personal preference. I'm a huge fan of Ponder, so that's what I'm going to go with. When in doubt, go for the cheapest card (manacost-wise) that gets the job done. As for what to take out, there are six cards in Gareth's deck that seem less than optimal to me.
Out: 3 Batwing Brume, 3 Incinerate
I understand the point of both of these cards in the deck, but I want to try out some different cards in these slots. First of all I want to try out Ponder, so let's go with a playset.
In: 4 Ponder
For the final two slots I want to add a personal favorite: Banefire. Not only does this card give us an additional win condition, and the ability to take down 4+ power toughness creatures in the late game - but it's also pretty cheap right now. This card is less than two tickets, which seems much less than it should be based on power level. If this is the kind of card that appeals to you, then I'd recommend picking up a few copies - I've got a full playset.
In: 2 Banefire
The final thing I want to do here is balance the Borderposts/lands a little bit. I think Gareth did a pretty good job of working this out, but I want to retweak now that I've made some changes to the deck. When I'm in this situation the first thing I do is open up the SimpleLandCalc app that I wrote and get an idea of the rough ratios I should be looking for.
Here's the app:
... and here's an article I wrote on how to use it:
This deck is pretty tough to work out this way. The huge Borderpost count kind of throws things off, the lack of enemy Borderposts removes a bunch of options, and it's tough to incorporate the Borderposts mana costs since a lot of the time they cost 1 + a Boomeranged land. I'm no Borderpost expert, does anyone have tips on the best way to work out how many and which Borderposts to run?
I think the approach I'm going to use here is to pretty much ignore the Borderposts as cards that ever need to be cast for colored mana, at least for the purpose of determining the mana sources we need. With the various updates I made above, here's my adjusted deck.
Out: 1 Island, 2 Veinfire Borderpost
In: 1 Plains, 2 Mistvein Borderpost
... another version may look something like this, if you want to go with the Vendilion Clique idea.
Out: 2 Ponder
In: 2 Vendilion Clique
I'm going to test out v2 above for a few games. Let's see how it goes!
Game 4 vs Mono Blue Control
I start off by playing out a few Borderposts while my opponent just plays Islands. I Broken Ambitions his attempt to Boomerang my Borderpost, and then he manages to successfully use Boomerang to bounce a Borderposts... which is a gigantic pain. I eventually run Windborn Muse out there into Broken Ambitions. Next turn I cast a second Windborn Muse, and my opponent has a second Broken Ambitions.
We play draw-go for a while and eventually I play Ponder and he casts Dominus of Fealty. I cast Sower of Temptation to bring the big dude onto my side and attack for six. My opponent tries to cast Plumeveil, but does so during the declare blockers step so he's unable to block. He concedes.
Analysis: It's a bummer that my opponent misclicked, but I think I had this one wrapped up anyways. Thanks to Ponder I had Martial Coup for five with Negate backup this turn followed by Manabarbs next turn. I also had Banefire in my hand in cast something went wrong.
| Game 5 vs White Weenie
I keep a one land hand with Island and double Ponder, which I know is risky but hopefully I can get there. I start off with Ponder and don't see anything great so I shuffle up. My opponent plays double Akrasan Squire and starts to beat for three per turn. I Ponder again and don't see anything good, Broken Ambitions (Cenn's Tactition), and keep a Mountain on top of my library.
Right now I have two Islands and a Mountain in play, with a hand of TRIPLE Path to Exile, Martial Coup, and Windborn Muse. I use Vendilion Clique to ambush the 3/3 Squire and shuffle away one of my Paths looking for a land, but he uses Crib Swap to save his creature. I draw and Ponder, seeing double Firewild Borderpost and Island. Are you kidding me? I shuffle with Ponder and draw Martial Coup from the top - this isn't funny anymore.
I use Sower of Temptation to steal a Squire, but Oblivion Ring undoes any progress that I've made. I Negate Militia's Pride, but go down to zero from the exalted Squire beatdown...
Analysis: Not much to say about this one, I had a hand completely full of white cards and not a single white source. I could have stayed alive for a very long time if I had even just one white source...
Game 6 vs UR
I start off with Wildfield Borderpost, Firewild Borderpost, and Fieldmist Borderpost. My opponent plays out Rupture Spire and then Vithian Stinger. I'm getting pinged, but there's not much of a threat so I wait until I can play Manabarbs with Negate backup since he has Mountains and Islands in play at this point to go along with his Rupture Spire. I cast Manabarbs, he Negates, and I have a Negate for his Negate.
After this I play out Windborn Muse and start to hit him for two per turn while he pings me for one per turn. He takes five to cast out Mulldrifter, and I play out a second Manabarbs. He tries to Incinerate my Muse in response, but I have Negate. We continue to trade out pings and attacks, and it takes him a while to use the Mulldrifter to block plus the Stinger's ping to take down the Muse. I'm not sure why he didn't do this sooner, but I had Pondered into Martial Coup for five to close out the game.
|This is a strong board position.
Analysis: This was a pretty good showing for the deck. Landing one Manabarbs is awesome, but landing two is just amazing. Towards the end of the game he had to pay four life just to attempt a Negate... and it didn't even work! I'm pretty sure my opponent should have taken out my Windborn Muse earlier, but thanks to Ponder I had a hand full of gas: Martial Coup, Sower of Temptation, and Firespout.
I've been happy to cast Ponder every time I've had it in these test games. Last game it worked out awesome and kept my hand full of stuff to cast. In game 5 it didn't get me the white mana I needed, but it sure as hell tried hard. Can't blame Ponder here. I'd say this is a great change for the deck overall.
Game 7 vs BR Aggro
I start off with Ponder and my opponent cycles Igneous Pouncer. He spends the next two turns casting Goblin Outlanders while I lay down Borderposts. I cast Firespout to clear out his two creatures and then he just sits there and times out.
Analysis: Bummer, I had Windborn Muse and then double Manabarbs coming.
It still would be nice to streamline the mana in this deck a little bit more, but I don't think it's really possible without doing some color swapping. Heavy Borderpost commitment requires that we run basic lands, so shard lands, filter lands, pain lands, etc. are all out. We're in blue, white, and red which doesn't correspond to a shard directly so it's not like there's an Obelisk that makes perfect sense to play. The lack of enemy Borderposts also makes this tough. I mean I'm running Borderposts that generate black and red mana even though there isn't a black or red card anywhere in this deck!
So let's think about a potential color switch. Blue forms the permission base of our deck, red brings Manabars to the table, and white gives us most of our powerful control elements. Maybe there's a deck in here that runs black instead of blue, using discard and creature kill instead of permission? This way we'd be able to run something like Obelisk of Grixis to further smooth the mana. I'm going to leave further developments here as an exercise for the reader. Let me know in the comments or through email if you come up with anything cool here!
Before I switch over to a different style deck to close this article out I just want to mention a few different things. First of all, Wrath of God. If you want to go non-budget here then I'd figure out a way to run Wrath of God instead of Firespout. Firespout kills every creature in the deck anyways, so you might as well make sure to take out all of your opponent's creatures also. This deck is already heavy in white, so it should work out color-wise. Wrath rotates out in like a week so it's probably not worth getting worked up over.
Another point that Gareth mentioned in his email was the lack of a legitimate win condition. I didn't personally find this to be an issue after adding in the Banefires. Martial Coup is as legitimate of a win condition as they print, and Banefire isn't far behind. Windborn Muse and Sower of Temptation provide two points of evasive power each, and Vendilion Clique provides three. Sower of Temptation has the ability to grab your opponent's best beater. I haven't even mentioned Manabarbs yet! Personally I feel there are plenty of ways to win in this deck, and I don't really feel like it's necessary to add more.
If I were to fully power up this deck with the feedback from above, then I would probably run a list that looks like this:
In: 3 Wrath of God, 1 Firewild Borderpost
Out: 3 Firespout, 1 Wildfield Borderpost
Gareth also mentioned the desire to get Kitchen Finks into this deck, and I think it's a fantastic idea - I just have no idea what to cut. I suppose you could trim a Negate and a Ponder to run a few copies if you wanted to. Something like Wall of Denial is another solid anti-aggro option here if that sounds like fun to you.
Before adding Ponder to the deck above I mentioned a few solutions to the problem of really needing to draw a Manabarbs for this deck to function: redundancy, card draw, card filtering. Another technique that we can apply to solve this problem is to utilize tutors. There are a few different tutors available in Standard these days, so I'll run down the list.
It's a tutor, but we'd never play this one in this deck.
Beseech the Queen
Unfortunately we don't run enough lands for this one to ever really grab anything.
Just better than Beseech the Queen in this deck.
Costs five mana, provides a Vampiric Tutor-ish effect.
Only searches for creatures.
Coming in M10, only searches for artifacts.
Too expensive for our purposes I think, it would cost seven mana (three colored) to search up Manabarbs.
This is the one we want.
Idyllic Tutors lets us search up any enchantment, including Manabarbs. It also lets us search up a generally useful card that combos in an awesome way with Manabarbs: Runed Halo. Here's another way to get around the pain of Manabarbs. Instead of avoiding lands by playing Borderposts, we'll give ourselves protection from Manabarbs with Runed Halo and tap as many lands as we want!
Back a while ago I wrote an article with sketches for decks based on new cards from the Conflux expansion. You can read it here SPGTODO. One of the decks that I sketched out there and always wanted to play was based on Idyllic Tutor, Sigil of the Empty Throne, and a toolbox of enchantments.
Here it is:
This seems like a great shell for a deck based on the Idyllic Tutor + Manabarbs + Runed Halo combination. We'll need to splash in a little bit of red, but other than that it should be pretty good to go.
Out: 1 Story Circle, 1 Greater Auramancy, 2 Scepter of Dominance, 4 Plains, 4 Mutavault
In: 1 Idyllic Tutor, 3 Manabarbs, 4 Rugged Prairie, 4 Battlefield Forge
This deck uses Idyllic Tutor and a whole ton of enchantments to search up depending on your current need. It runs lots of strong control elements, Sigil of the Empty Throne 4/4 beatdown potential, and then Purity and Martial Coup as additional win conditions.
If you want a budget version, then you could try something like this, which cuts the cost down a decent amount while still keeping the main themes together.
Out: 4 Rugged Prairie, 4 Wrath of God
In: 4 Jungle Shrine, 2 Scepter of Dominance, 2 Prison Term
You could also take Battlefield Forge out for something like Vivid Meadow or just good old-fashioned Mountain if you want. Martial Coup could come out for additional copies of Purity, although as mentioned above - Martial Coup seems to be going for a really good price right now.
I really had a blast with this episode of casual deck doctor. Gareth sent in an awesome deck and hopefully this article helps to get his cool idea out there to some people who can have fun customizing it to fit their style. I also got to revisit one of my favorite decks from the old days and update the Throne Control deck that I've always liked but just never had a chance to play. My deadline is coming up and this article is already very long so I'm going to wrap things up here. At some point in the future I'm planning on writing a full article on the Throne Control deck, so let me know if there's any interest here in the comments or via email. Also send in your casual deck doctor submissions!
Join me next Thursday when I take a look at a deck that wouldn't have been possible without the M10 rule changes. Well maybe it would have been possible, but it certainly would not have been as much fun.
Thanks for reading!
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