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By: SpikeBoyM, Alex Ullman
Jun 08 2008 6:05pm
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 PDC is an all player run format on Magic Online.  It consists of competitive games using exclusively commons cards.  Games can be found in the "/join pdc" room and events can be found on the Magic Online official message boards.  For more information please visit pdcmagic.com.

It sure has been a while.

A Master's Degree will do that. I have spent the last six months getting ready to graduate and enter the dreaded “real world.” After finishing all my requirements, passing my comprehensive exam, crossing my Ts and dotting my Is, I have begun on the endeavor of finding a job. It is going well, but slow. Also, real life has been busy in addition to the entire school thing. What this translates to is a lack of time to play Magic at the level I am used to playing at. Similarly, it means that I have not had the time to write. Other events have conspired to keep me from putting the proverbial pen-to-paper. My main online testing partners are missing in action- one due to real life commitments and one due to university firewall issues. Combine this with V3's ability to turn certain people away for a while, and it is no real surprise (to me at least) that I have had some issues getting into the groove of writing and generally being hated on by the masses.

Yet a change is a coming and I want to take this moment to thank the editor here for being understanding in my educational endeavors. Good man all around. 

Back to business. Recently at PDCMagic.com, there has been some discussion around mana curve and its importance in PDC. The general consensus is that due to the speed and power of PDC being less than that of regular Magic, your mana curve is not as important, but still matters. The discussion can be found here.

I find a few things interesting with the discussion. The first is the confusing of efficiency of cost with mana curve. While these two concepts are linked, there are different. In PDC, for the most part, your mana curve is going to deal with creatures- creatures you would like to be efficient. However, the spells you cast are not as bound by the mana curve of a deck (unless you are trying to achieve something specific, like a turn three Armadillo Cloak every game). Rather, you want spells to be efficient: do something that impacts the game state for a cheap investment. Yet perhaps the most alarming discussion I found missing from the thread was an in depth discussion of how important a deck's plan of attack is to determining its mana curve. Figuring out how a deck will win is of utmost importance, and the mana curve should follow. Similarly, not every deck will need to have a tight curve: Freed combo; a deck that wins by activating Lifespark Spellbomb on a land that has the ability to produce more than one mana (with at least one being Blue) and then enchanting the land with Freed from the Real to produce an arbitrarily large amount of mana which is then funneled into a burn spell of some sort, does not really care about curving out. I know combo is a bad example, but it illustrates a point: not every deck starts a curve in the same place and not every deck needs to “curve out.”

Curve out is an interesting phrase I have used quite often. Every deck has a most expensive spell which acts as an end point to the curve. This spells cost fundamentally influences the way you build your deck, specifically the mana. Usually, the most expensive spell is the “game breaker” and as such, wants to be cast at the optimal turn (exceptions exist, such as utility cards Twisted Abomination and Krosan Tusker). Corrupt is a fine example of such a card. In Mono-Black Control, Corrupt ends games and often times victory is sculpted around a Corrupt. That means the supporting cast in this deck needs to cost less than the game-breaker while also aiding in the victory. This is why in my MBC decks I prefer Ravenous Rats or Augur of Skulls running into Phyrexian Rager into Warren Pilferers. Starting the game in this way allows me to “curve out” while dealing damage which is supplemental to the Corrupt plan. Similarly, running this card forces one to maximize the number of Swamps, making mana decisions relatively easy.


Erhnam Djinn

But what if the end-game spell is a kicked Probe? This will alter not only the way the deck is played, but also the cards that are to be cast before Probe. Bounce spells become more attractive here because of synergy. Also, because this card comes online a full turn earlier than Corrupt, the cards that come before Probe must do a little more than those that came before Corrupt. My reasoning is this: the end-game is coming sooner, so the cards should do moor. Perhaps in the Probe deck, Ravenous Rats are not good enough, and Pit Keeper is a better choice for the cost. The less time you have to get to your end game, the better the cards between need to be. Yet the game does not always end where the curve does, so these cards also need to be potent after the curve ends. Pit Keeper is a perfect example of a card that fits this mold, beating early while providing some card advantage late.

Of course, this applies if you are a true curve deck. To understand a true curve deck, one must examine the early days of Magic deck construction. Back in those days, many of the top decks started their curve at four. This led to Erhnam Djinn being labeled on of the better creatures and Icy Manipulator being something more than just a solid limited card. Then came Sligh, and everything was changed. These decks were built on a strict curve: only so many one, two, three drops curving up to a finisher. The idea here was to do something on every turn, even if the play was an Ironclaw Orcs, and by applying consistent pressure, win. No sometimes, not every drop was made on the corresponding turn; instead turn three would sometimes see a one and two drop instead of a three drop. That was okay, as again, the turn had been maximized. The goal was constant pressure and to win before the other game plan could be established. After Sligh, the mana curve mattered, and deck builders began to care about the first few turns of the game.

But PDC is not regular Magic. The relative power level is much lower and the game breaking spells tend to be more expensive. There are fewer buttons that aggro needs to avoid and no true sweeper a la Wrath of God. So what does curve matter in PDC?

Put simply, it does not matter to some decks. PDC, with its lack of “power” cards is a more forgiving format- you can play out all your creatures and have it not matter a large portion of the time. The games go longer which means there is less emphasis placed on hitting every drop with maximum effectiveness. Also, there is no Ball Lightning waiting at the end of the mana curve rainbow to dance with the leprechauns. The aggro curve lacks a knock out punch, which can make pure curve decks unappetizing in a PDC event. Combine this with the fact that games tend to last longer, and the optimization of the mana curve is less important in the average deck. All one needs to do is look at a winning MBC deck list- while there is some semblance of a curve, the goal is to dominate the late game with Corrupt and Consume Spirit while surviving to that point. This means that if you are going to be playing a curve deck in PDC, each drop should hold its own after the critical turn as well. Some examples of these cards include the aforementioned Pit Keeper, along with Werebear, Amrou Scout, Looter il-Kor, Phyrexian Rager, and really any other 187 creature. Honorable mention to Sparksmith. These cards are ones that I would describe as efficient, which will be further discussed later.

There are many reasons not to play a curve deck in PDC: the late game cards are more powerful; there are few knock out cards that fit aggressive curves; the creatures on the curve do not always impress; or maybe you just hate aggressive play. However, there is one big advantage, I feel, to running these decks: you can often win before the other decks come online. Yes, even though the cards are weaker and lack those great top of the curve cards, they can still just win, although more cards need to be dedicated to the end game. Take a look at Angel Stompy from this previous article.

A pure curve deck if there ever was one. Technically, this deck has a curve that ends at four with Tangle Golem. However, with the addition of Armadillo Cloak as a secondary end game card give the deck that much desired attribute: Reach. Cloak is a great card on turn three, but is still pretty savage as a late game top deck, and few creatures that get played can tussle with Tangle and win.

This is just one reason why I am such an advocate of Gathan Raiders. This card is pretty darn big-Negator big. In aggressive decks, it fits into the curve as a three drop and a five drop, ditching excess land. The Hellbent nature is not as bad as it could be, since most aggro decks at that point are either running out creatures or doming burn spells. The RG decks of yore would run Horned Kavu as their big man, often recurring a Nantuko Vigilante or Skirk Marauder late or a (Llanowar Elf) early. This has fallen out of favor mostly because of the tempo loss generated in the early turns, and the appearance of Scab-Clan Mauler in Guildpact. So, following this, curve decks can succeed if they have “two” end games or if their curve packs enough punch (a la Angel Stompy) to matter in the late game.

If this is not the path the deck wants to take, there are other options. Mostly, curve decks are pure aggro- their control elements are akin to burn- answer and threat. In this way, Red aggro decks can adhere to a curve and play control in certain match ups without a sacrifice in the potency department. Combining utile cards with a curve can leave you with a fairly solid aggro-control deck. Take, for example, by take on the Cloak deck (since the writing of this article, this deck has posted a top eight finish at TPDC):


Most Cloak decks are mid-range. They play some good creatures that adhere to a curve and back those up with Cloak. But then they also run Guardian of the Guildpact and Silhana Ledgewalker, fine creatures but not really optimal drops for a curve. This is not for me. The deck presented here is most at home in a field of other aggressive decks and Blue based control. Dropping a turn one Ghazban Ogre can net you a significant advantage over the first few turns. The Rebel chain helps to make up for the lack of late game cards (aside from Cloak). Thrill of the Hunt is just a good card, saving creatures from removal while also punching through a few extra points here and there, and allows this deck to really control the combat phase. Mana Tithe and Oblivion Ring are the control elements of the deck, which give you the option of playing a tempo game. Going: threat, threat, threat, Tithe, O-Ring puts you in the driver's seat.

There you have it, an abbreviated discussion of mana curve in PDC. This really only skims the surface, as it does not talk about how mana bases play into this notion, but then again, I need to keep some topics for other articles.

This one will not wait, however. Efficiency, as I speak about it, how much oomph you get for the amount of mana you invest. Under optimal circumstances, Skred and Ghastly Demise both exemplify cards that can give you a great effect for the cost: one mana for one dead creature. This is how decks can construct a defensive curve: by having answers that are cheaper than the threats posed by the other deck. This is one area where Mono-Blue Control draws strength from. The answers MUC packs are almost always cheaper than the threats they answer. Counterspell is great on turn two, and just as great on turn 22. No matter what, the answer in MUC is going to cost two.

Building a deck full of efficient cards lends itself to building on a curve. This is also in terms of pure efficiency, and not synergy: Carrion Feeder is efficient if Scatter the Seeds is around; otherwise, not so much. This explains my unnatural love for all things with three power that cost two (such as Blade of the Sixth Pride above). Again, playing the most efficient threats can allow you to play more threats at a lower cost and allow you to play fewer lands, perhaps.

The questions of efficiency, then, is not one of cards that severely outmatch other cards, but rather cards with very similar effects for very similar costs. Burn spells often fall into this category, but going along with the theme of this article, let us take a look at Green cards. Giant Growth against Predator's Strike against Earthbrawn. Each of these cards provide a similar effect: +3/+3 at instant speed. However, which card you play will likely depend on the other cards in your deck and your path to victory. While Giant Growth may be the most efficient, it is at its best in a deck that is likely to get into combat situations where it wants to win as a surprise. Strike, on the other hand, is for the deck more focused on damage, having creatures survive combat and also punch through more points. Earthbrawn is the ultimate in versitility, giving a permanent boost or acting as a Giant Growth. Brawn is probably at its best in the deck that knows it is going to be getting into creature combat and wants to win more red zone tussles than anyone else.

When picking cards for your deck, you need to visualize how you are going to win and then select cards that are going to help you to that end- not the other way around. Sometimes, the right card is not the most efficient. Other times, however, curve will be king and you really do hope to hit Ball Lightning on turn three.

Keep slingin' commons,




Deck name for GW Stompy by theauthenticsimpsonian (Unregistered) (not verified) at Mon, 06/09/2008 - 14:11
theauthenticsimpsonian (Unregistered)'s picture

I'm the only person to play this version of the deck so far (I edited the list also since I ran into problems with some of the cards like the Ogre maindecked in testing), and we never really came up with a deck name. I called it Rebel Stompy, but I don't really like the name.

I love this deck by gnawph (Unregistered) (not verified) at Mon, 06/09/2008 - 23:11
gnawph (Unregistered)'s picture

I played a version of this when Timespiral was in standard.

Gosh darn I love Thrill of the Hunt. Spike, you inspire me.

Great Angel Stompy Twin! by icarodx (Unregistered) (not verified) at Mon, 06/09/2008 - 11:43
icarodx (Unregistered)'s picture

Nice article, Spike.

Does the deck you listed have a name? I really liked the interaction between early-drops, rebels, cloak and an anti-control package made of lion, tithe and thrill. Another deck you designed that I would feel confortable running in an event. Good idea!

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