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By: Necropotent, Steven Moody
Oct 24 2007 10:36am
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Level With Me

Greetings fellow MTGO players. I’ve been an avid reader of Magic articles for a few years now and I’ve had the privilege of enjoying some truly remarkable reads in my time.  After reading and being positively influenced by so many authors, I decided to attempt to give something back to the community and become an author myself. To begin the process, I thought it might be best to write about my attempt to solve the challenge of building a deck with Leveler. The challenge, of course, is finding a deck that won’t lose every single game it plays. I’d like to keep it as cheap as possible. This will mean using mostly cards I already own or acquiring cards of low monetary value through our beloved MTGO Traders. I will also attempt to keep it Extended legal as I believe this will not only be the cheapest route but also the easiest format in which to play. 

A quick history

Magic articles were influential in helping me survive several boring classes in college. I would make a quick stop by the computer lab before class where I would freely print off a few choice articles to read while the professor droned on about first century architecture or the environmental implications of global warming.

One sunny autumn afternoon found me in a lecture hall for Geology 120, Intro to Earth Science. I distinctly remember that afternoon in particular not only because almost everyone else in the class was sleeping, but because something strange happened as I was reading Jim Ferraiolo’s article, DNA: Mind’s Desire for the Masses. For those of you who don’t know the writer or the deck, Jim Ferraiolo was (and still is) notorious for inventing and piloting off-the-wall rogue decks to top eight finishes at States and Regionals. The idea behind the deck (named “DNA”) was to link together a couple of utility sorceries on a Spellweaver Helix, draw lots of cards while putting a lot of land into play, go nuts, then Mind’s Desire into a Tendrils of Agony or a Brain Freeze for the win. One of the cards that was usually slapped onto the Helix was Explosive Vegetation.

 

Explosive Vegetation
As I was reading the initial deck list, pondering over its strengths and weaknesses, the professor kept saying something about a certain type of “vegetation.” He had a strong British or Australian accent, so it came out like “veggie-tay-shun.” And he just kept saying it, over and over again. “Veggie-tay-shun on this southern slope affects the veggie-tay-shun of the earth’s ability to produce more veggie-tay-shun.” I just couldn’t resist. It was too uncanny. I raised my hand and the professor stopped dead in his tracks, probably alarmed by the fact that a student was not only awake but listening well enough to ask a question. “Yes, you haive a question?” “Uh, yeah, would you say that the type of veggie-tay-shun you’re describing is an explosive veggie-tay-shun?” There were a few snickers from some classmates who noticed my emphasis on the pronunciation of his endeared word but they missed the real meat of my corny joke. “Yes! Exactly my main! Wot is happening is…” I honestly don’t remember exactly what else the professor said in response to my question. I distinctly remember two things: (1) the professor being very excited by my question and (2) the guy four rows in front of me who turned around in his seat with a raised eyebrow and mouthed, “Magic?” I nodded my head and simultaneously found a friend to sit beside and chat with for the remainder of the semester.

I felt it prudent to share that story as it not only illustrates my reason for writing this article, but highlights to me the importance of the ever-developing community of Magic players who love “The Game” so much that they choose to take time to write about it. Magic articles are more to me than something to buy my time while I’m stuck in a boring class. They are more than yet another way to improve my game play. Magic articles are a window into the depth of the game I know and love. They are the reflections of people who think about Magic almost constantly. They are the fruits of a community of loyal gamers, like me. To all you who may be reading this article and have written one (or many) of your own, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your hard work and contribution.

Leveler

Out of respect for all the writers who have meant so much to me I am undertaking the responsibility of writing an article of my own. Oddly enough, it has come about in much the same way as the aforementioned article: selecting a card that rarely sees play and designing a deck around it. From time to time I come to a place where I just want to try and create something new. I came to that place recently and decided to pursue a challenge: Leveler.

I had always regarded Leveler as one of those cards that was almost absolutely unplayable. Given its massive power and toughness and its moderately low relative casting cost, my mind immediately turned to Pandemonium. Now, as far as putting a high-power creature into play and slinging its Pandemonium damage at the opponent, Phyrexian Dreadnought is probably a better choice. Last I checked Phyrexian Dreadnought was a $10.00 card on MTGO Traders (which is expensive to a guy like me). Plus, you’d either have to have the creatures to sacrifice to him or Stifle his ability, because the “Pandenought” deck was so brutal that the Dreadenator got hit with an errata eliminating his ability to simply be put into play for one colorless. Also, it would immediately throw the deck into that dangerous chasm we call “Classic.” And we all know the players who emerge from that dark depth victorious only do so scarred.

Honestly, the card stinks (Phase One: Idea formation)

So far we’ve got an idea: put Leveler into play with Pandemonium already on the table for a quick 10 to the dome. Then what? We still lose our freakin’ library! Alright, what if we could double that damage, via two Pandemoniums, Overblaze, Furnace of Rath, or Gratuitous Violence. These ideas could work but we’re increasing the number of cards necessary for our little “combo.” Gratuitous Violence might work well in conjunction with Pandemonium in general. If we do that, though, it seems like we’re just building a deck around those two cards and not necessarily Leveler in particular. Besides, there again, we run into the problem of having a combo that requires too many cards. This one would require both a 3R and a 2RRR casting cost enchantment to be in play before we invest in the five for Leveler.

I’m not attempting to build a competitive deck, in the strictest sense. But I do enjoy winning and winning in the casual room these days is no small feat. Having a ten-card combo based around Leveler could be fun but I’m going to steer away from it this time. That’s where we might end up in the end, but I’d rather not.

The question still remains: What happens after Leveler removes our library? We can’t just shuffle it back in with Feldon’s Cane because when he removes that library it’s gone for good. We could Stifle his drawback ability. But we run into the pricey card problem with Stifle. Also, 5U spread out in two cards is an expensive casting cost. 

From where I stand

Seeing as how I’ve mentioned pricey cards a couple of times at this point, I think it would be best for me to go ahead and explain my personal card buying policy. Being a man of low income, I don’t have a whole lot of money to spend on cards. If I do come up with some significant scratch, I try to invest the money in cards I know I’ll play with a lot, such as Onslaught sac-searchers (e.g. Windswept Heath), Ravnica block duals (e.g. Temple Garden), Birds of Paradise or Solemn Simulacrum. I shy away from buying popular Standard cards because they’re always over-priced (in my opinion) and they almost always come down in price when Standard season ends. In this particular situation, Stifle could potentially be a good buy if I wanted to play competitively, but I just can’t justify it yet. 

Options

Back to the problem: my library just got removed from the game. We could put in Research/Development and try to bring back a few select cards from what we lost. This has potential in that we’d be able to create a new library of four select cards and hope to win the game in those following four turns. The one drawback with Research is that it would require creating a  three color deck or a deck that splashed at least blue and/or green. This isn’t terrible so we’ll keep it as an option.

Another idea I had was to use an enchantment with an “instead of drawing” ability, like Words of War. We could also get away with something that would skip our draw phase altogether. Abundance would work because although it technically doesn’t “skip” our draw step, it bypasses the draw with its “instead, reveal” clause. Shared Fate would work similarly while Elfhame Sanctuary, Solitary Confinement, and Symbiotic Deployment would all suffice in skipping the draw step. We’ve got some real options for allowing the deck to continue to function (i.e., not lose) after Leveler hits the felt-topped table.

The Abundance is appealing at first glance because it would enable us to pull off that juicy combo with Sylvan Library. There’s a potential hang up there as Sylvan Library is $2.00 and Abundance is $1.00. And, no, it’s not Extended legal. While not terribly expensive at a grand total of $12.00, it’s not ideal. Still, this idea intrigues me as I would be able to potentially put the combo to use in other decks. It works well with a combo deck (like the one I’m trying to build) that needs several pieces in order to operate. We’ll keep this option in mind.

What about Elfhame Sanctuary? Simply put, this enchantment could answer a lot of problems. It would help us pick out some lands, if need be, and simultaneously survive the aftermath of Leveler. As an uncommon at $0.50 on MTGO Traders, it’s a real option.

The “Words” enchantments are just as viable. Words of War is productive in that it actually does something with an empty library. Two damage to something at the beginning of the turn isn’t bad at all, especially when the alternative is losing the game. If Pandemonium is in play, as it should be, Words of Wilding would actually be better as we’d not only get two damage on the stack but a 2/2 Bear token to boot. We could potentially run Words of Wind, which would enable us to return the Leveler in order to recast it for another ten damage smack to the face. 

Shared Fate would be cool in that by eliminating our library it would give our opponent that much less to work with than normal. At the same time, unless we had several ways of adding all five colors of mana, we wouldn’t really be able to use this card against the opponent.

When I first saw Solitary Confinement I thought we had a real winner because the enchantment would keep us from getting beat up by our own Pandemonium. I don’t think it’s a good idea because the upkeep would be terribly difficult to sustain. It would only last X turns where X is the number of cards in our hand after we play it. It also would require tricky timing in that it would have to hit the table before or right after Leveler and not on the following turn. Solitary Confinement pales when we compare it against an enchantment like Words of Wilding that could be played at any time with no drawback.
Words of Wilding

Finally, I think we have to consider Reito Lantern. Reito Lantern could be played at any time before Leveler. We could use it offensively if our opponent were running cards with flashback like Deep Analysis or other abilities, like Genesis. It would function as a way of putting what is in our graveyard (creatures and other spells) back into our library. We could do this selectively, choosing one-by-one the card we need the most. One drawback is that we will only get out what we have already put in. This would likely be mana-fixing spells or card drawers that were used in an attempt to find Leveler and Pandemonium. I realize now that I was hasty in counting out Feldon’s Cane. By the time we get Leveler and Pandemonium in play we’ll probably have a few cards in our graveyard – enough, at least, to last a few turns while Leveler proceeds to finish the job.

Considering it all, I think our best option is Words of Wilding. Let’s move along the path to deck building and begin working out what other colors we will run and for what purpose.

Phase 2: Deck rough draft

I think at this point I’m ready to hash out a rough initial deck list. I’m leaning toward a red/green build; red for the necessary Pandemonium and possible direct damage to ward off creatures, green for Words of Wilding, mana fixing, a few creatures of our own and some possible card drawing.

The Heart:
4x Leveler
4x Pandemonium
To keep it pumping after it tries to end itself:
3x Words of Wilding
3x Words of War
Utility:
4x Sakura-Tribe Elder
4x Harmonize
4x Eternal Witness


At this point, some of my readers might be saying, “Hold up, Necropotent! You just put some pricey cards up on that list!” I know, Harmonize and Eternal Witness are both above-average uncommons. However, as I said earlier, I invest in cards that I think will see a lot of game play. These two uncommons, though both somewhat pricey, have seen A TON of play on my account. I highly recommend four copies of each for any online player that doesn’t already own them. And frankly, I would argue that they’re essential to the deck.

We’ll need Harmonize to keep the card drawing alive enough in order to find a Pandemonium and a Leveler (or two). I expect we’ll almost always find a need for the Eternal Witness when our Pandemonium gets Naturalized or we have to discard our Leveler for one reason or another.

I included everyone’s little buddy, Sakura-Tribe Elder, because he does so much for the deck. He can be used early on as a chump blocker before he gets that other Forest or Mountain we need. Also, if he’s in the grave and we end up using some sort of graveyard manipulation, he would be an ideal candidate for returning to play. In the event that we are getting absolutely swamped by our opponent’s creatures, the Eternal Witness can bring him back out to serve as another chump blocker.

From here, we have to decide what else we think we’ll need in order to make the deck functional. After some consideration, I’ve decided to remove the Words of War. I just don’t see it being practical. Instead, let’s go ahead and run four copies of Words of Wilding and include two Reito Lanterns.

What we have so far:
4x Leveler
4x Pandemonium
4x Words of Wilding
2x Reito Lantern
4x Sakura-Tribe Elder
4x Eternal Witness
4x Harmonize

Phase 3: Filling the remaining slots

That keeps the total number of cards in the deck so far at twenty six. If we run twenty four land, that leaves ten slots left to fill. In looking over the deck, I see two main problems that these ten slots should be devoted to.
Hey! That’s my enchantment!

First, if we put Pandemonium in play and do not win soon thereafter, we are going to get pounded by our opponent’s creatures coming into play. The deck has no way to restore its lost life when this happens. Green is pretty good at gaining life so there should be some viable answers out there for us. We’re looking for a card that’s cheap so that it does not interfere with our ability to play Harmonize, Pandemonium or Leveler. We’d also want something that would gain a significant amount of life, like an enchantment or creature we could draw from each turn or a really juicy spell.

The first that came to my mind was Essence Warden. We could probably count on her for five to six life (maybe more?) in any given game. If she’s out first turn, we could even get a few damage out of her before our opponent puts up a defense. On the downside, she would be an easy target if the Pandemonium is in play.

After browsing through the list of green spells that came up when I typed “life,” the only ones that jumped out at me were:

  1. Nourish – cheap and it gains six

  2. Ravenous Baloth – amazing, but expensive

  3. Dosan’s Oldest Chant – because it replaces itself by drawing a card

  4. Spike Feeder – he could gain life in a pinch while chump blocking or doing combat tricks

In the end, I think it’s best to stick with Essence Warden. If nothing else, it’s an option worth trying. After a few games, if we find she’s not pulling her weight we can find other options. 

No really, Leveler stinks

The second problem is that the deck isn’t utilizing the 10/10 behemoth that is Leveler. All he is doing is coming into play and dealing a straight up ten piece fried-chicken bucket to our opponent’s front door. He’s not staying around to enjoy the mashed potatoes or sweet tea. Because Leveler doesn’t have trample, we’re at the mercy of however many creatures our opponent has in play. They will be able to chump block to their hearts content. Hopefully, Pandemonium plus Words of Wilding will help out with this, but it’s not a given by any means.

Luckily for us, green is an expert at giving people trample. There are dozens of options, from instants to enchantments, which would give our guy a means to bust down the door. If we use instants or sorceries, we have to be careful in that Leveler is really the only target for those spells in our deck at this point. In the same way, if we invest in some lasting ability to give all our creatures trample, it would not be all that effective unless it increased their power at the same time. Overrun would be an excellent option but its casting cost is so high in this deck. I wish there were another option…

I know! What if we were to give him haste? If we were to be able to convince Leveler to attack the turn he comes into play, it would help matters drastically. This way, in the event that we’ve managed to clear the road for him, he could deal ten on his way in and another ten while he’s there, thus ending the game on the spot. Another bonus is that haste could be much easier to work with than trample. Especially if it comes in a package like this:

Lightning Greaves

Lightning Greaves is cheap and efficient. It would also protect our Essence Warden if Pandemonium ensues. If we are throwing 2/2 Yogi Bears into play, we could slap the Greaves on them and have them start looking for picnic baskets immediately. How many should we put in there? Having four copies would make it much easier to find. But the purpose it serves would potentially be redundant with multiple in play. For now, let’s only run three copies.

With the inclusion of four copies of Essence Warden and three Lightning Greaves, that leaves three slots left in our library. At this stage in the deck building process, the only threat we have not potentially answered is opposing artifacts or enchantments. As it isn’t uncommon to see Platinum Angels and Worships in the casual room, I think this is something we should be prepared for.

I initially leaned towards Naturalize or Creeping Mold simply because those cards get the job done. After browsing through my collection, I came across Viridian Zealot. I think he’s a great choice in that he’s cheap, has a power of 2, and can activate his ability in combat after blocking. If you don’t have Viridian Zealots, I think this card could very easily be replaced with something like Nantuko Vigilante or one of our two earlier choices (probably Naturalize because it’s cheaper).

Phase 4: Finalize the deck

As it stands, the deck is composed of four red enchantments, nine artifacts, and twenty three green spells, almost half of which require GG in the casting cost. The mana curve doesn’t look too bad at all. If you have put the cards listed so far into MTGO, you can click that little green Stats button in the bottom right. I love this feature because it pulls up some really helpful stats, like the mana curve in the lower left of the window. At an average spell cost of 2.88 and only four spells requiring five mana, I think running twenty four land will be appropriate.

A long time ago, I invested in completing a play set of the Onslaught fetch-lands. (I don’t have Stomping Ground, yet – maybe one day.) Because I have four copies of Wooded Foothills, I am going to put them in the deck. I do not think this is a necessary addition at all. The four copies of Pandemonium are the only non-green spells and fortunately for us, it’s only a single red in the casting cost. Not a big deal. If you have Highland Weald, Shivan Oasis, Karplusan Forest or Stomping Ground, those cards would be appropriate here. I’ve decided against running Gruul Turf because I don’t think it fits well in the deck. Red mana doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal. Only time and games will tell. The one factor which is important to remember is that we should run at least some Mountains so that Sakura-Tribe Elder can help us out if we need him to. I’m going to run four Mountains, four Wooded Foothills, and sixteen Forests. 

Behold! Level With Me v1.0:

Lands
16x Forest
4x Mountain
4x Wooded Foothills

Creatures
4x Leveler
4x Sakura-Tribe Elder
4x Eternal Witness
4x Essence Warden
3x Viridian Zealot

Other Spells
4x Pandemonium
4x Harmonize
4x Words of Wilding
3x Lightning Greaves
2x Reito Lantern


Phase 5: Test run
Now comes the fun part: play testing! My goal is to play quite a few games and record the outcomes. I’ll have to pay more attention than just whether or not I won or lost. If the deck consistently loses, I’ll need to know why so I can know what to change. If the deck happens to win, it’s important to know why so that those winning aspects of the deck can be strengthened.
 
I hope to return in the future with another article on how the deck fared and what changes need to be made. As this is my first article, I warmly welcome any and all criticism you may have about the topic, writing style or any ways to make the article more enjoyable.

5 Comments

Great Article by Basic Land at Wed, 11/07/2007 - 12:52
Basic Land's picture

I really like your style, this will be a fun deck to try. I already have my leveler and panda ready to go. Just need to drop in some words and voila.

I can't wait until the next article in your competative on a budget series comes out. Keep on writing.

 

 

Excellent Article by DarkDragon at Fri, 10/26/2007 - 18:08
DarkDragon's picture

Nice job on this one. Like you, I'm one of those guys with a limited budget who attempts to build semi-competitive decks with underrated cards. I like the problem solving logic you used as well as the way this article speaks to the budget audience.

 While it would strain the mana base, I like the idea of using Research/Development to put 4 select cards back into your library. The 60-card minimum is in place to guard against quick combos, so I would imagine that something could be done with a dream library of hand-picked cards.

Again, nice job. I'll be looking for your articles in the future. =)

combo style by Anonymous (Unregistered) 76.213.132.25 (not verified) at Wed, 10/24/2007 - 16:14
Anonymous (Unregistered) 76.213.132.25's picture

One card to consider if you want to make it a combo kill would be Mishra, Artificer Prodigy. It may stretch the mana base in the deck you have now too far though. Just another way to go with the Leveler/Pandemonium thought though.

by Rob Rogers at Thu, 10/25/2007 - 11:19
Rob Rogers's picture

I like the Mishra suggestion. I've got an article coming up that mentions my own Mishra deck.

Also, I was thinking that Tel-Jilad Stylus might work out pretty well in this deck. If you're stuck with no library and need to draw a card, you can use the stylus to put a land or the stylus itself on the bottom of your library (which would then become a one-card library) at the end of your upkeep so that you have something to draw. With Pandemonium out, you could also put the Leveler on the bottom of your library and the draw it again to do another 10 damage.

Riftsweeper might work really well with this deck, too. With your library removed from the game, you could cast Riftsweeper to cherry-pick any card that Leveler removed from the game and put it right into your library. If you combined this with Tel-Jilad Stylus, you could potentially keep replaying Riftsweeper and your favorite cards.

suggestions by drob (Unregistered) 167.88.201.100 (not verified) at Wed, 10/24/2007 - 11:24
drob (Unregistered) 167.88.201.100's picture

I think this can be improved in terms of lowering the cost and still achieve the same thing / even better.

1. you don't need witness. you can use reclaim/recollect, much cheaper. yes you've 1 less chump blocker but you can find other ways to get defense.

2. essence warden. no need with so few creatures. instead replace them with 4 copies of pyroclasm. that would help you clean up the board before leveler comes or before leveler needs to attack.

3. words of wilding, i'd replace 2 of them with words of war, more diversity there is good, in case opponents have ways to stop creature attack.

4. zealot again no need. it's very slow, 4 mana to do less than creeping mold, and easily killed before opponents' killer enchantments/artifacts come down. naturalize would be good enough

5. add 1 warhammer, replace 1 reito with it. it's good for you, get you trample and gain life in case you're beat down pretty bad before leveler comes down. can even equip to elder for some life gain.