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By: marchpumpkin, March Pumpkin
Feb 07 2008 3:33pm
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I am marchpumpkin on MtGO. I am definitely a Johnny by Mark Rosewater's classification system, thogh I have a bit of Timmy and enough Spike to keep me competitive. I love to win through non-standard means (decking an opponent, Coalition Victory, Mortal Combat, etc.). I see certain cards and they just take hold of my mind and I MUST figure out a way to make a deck that has a decent chance of winning - at least in the Casual Rooms. My decks will not win PTQs though they might get you an occassional Top 8 at FNM if you play with them in real life. Instead, my decks are more for fun and experimentation, but definitely help you learn strategies of play and value of individual cards that Spikes might currently be overlooking.

Another thing I love is limited card pools. I am about to mention Mark Rosewater's name again, but since he is one of my two favorite authors on WotC's Magic site, that makes sense. Mark has basically said that creativity thrives off limitations. Put boundaries in place and your mind will fight against them to come up with better solutions. In that vein, I enjoy building Budget Decks and in these articles will tend tofollow my other favorite WotC author, Ben Bleiweiss by limiting myself to a ceiling of 30 TIX. Unlike Ben, I am also going to limit myself to the Standard format (maybe with occassional forays to other formats).

Also, in the theme of Ben Bleiweiss, we will test the deck build in the casual room in single game matches. This is to test whether the central theme of the deck is sound, not whether it has a sideboard good enough to help it compete in the current meta-game. The meta-game shifts too much to really build a successful sideboard - it might be perfect while U/G control is on top, but in a week or two, it is worthless when RUW blink takes over. I will mention sideboard ideas but will not be extensively testing them.

Our basic guidelines so far:

   1. Decks that cost 30 TIX or less (at the time of the writing)
   2. Decks that build off a central theme such as non-standard win conditions, or combo pieces
   3. Decks built for Standard (at the time of the writing)
   4. Single game duels in the Casual Rooms


How do I go about building a Budget Johnny-style Deck? First, I need something to build around.
When Tenth Edition was released, I saw a card from Urza's Saga that grabbed my mind and wouldn't let go, Sleeper Agent.
A 3/3 for B? I was hooked! But, wait, your opponent gets it?  But it does two damage to him/her each of his/her upkeeps. So as a turn one opener, pay B, give it to your opponent. On their turn, they take two then beat your face for 3. Okay, that's not a very good race - two to them versus three to you every turn.

Now, Johnny, how can I fix this?

Right off the bat, I see two possibilities: Offset the damage or neutralize the creature.

Offsetting the damage means playing black spells that give me life like Consume Spirit, playing green spells like Natural Spring or playing white spells like Reya Dawnbringer. While this is a legitimae strategy, it doesn't feel like Sleeper Agent becomes the focus of the deck. Lifegain becomes the focus and the Sleeper just becomes a way to win the race.

Neutralizing the creature can also be done through auras such as Gelid Shackles (Heart of Light and its ilk would not work as they prevent all damage and Sleeper Agent actually deals damage during upkeep rather than black's typical loss of life.) or with big walls. White and blue have big walls (white's are better), green and red have fatties that can act as walls and black has....well...Drudge Skeletons.

The wall approach, however, can backfire. Your opponent can attack into a wall or fatty that will kill the Sleeper. What other way can we stop the Sleeper from being an advantage for our opponent?

Sleeper Agent

Sudden Spoiling

My answer: Two wonderful 'fog' effects.
Darkness is exactly that - a black Fog. Had the idea of timeshifted cards existed back in the days of Legends, (Darkness)
would have had a Time Shifted frame (well, so would Holy Day ).

Sudden Spoiling does double duty. Not only does it 'fog' the board by making your opponents creatures 0/2's (effectively making them deal no damage unless they apply some effecet AFTER you Spoil them), it can also be used to take away abilities of bothersome creatures.

How else to deal with the Sleeper? Contaminated Bond makes it worthless - it can swing for 3 but its controller loses 3 life (See! There's that loss of life black causes!). Vampiric Link both neutralizes it as a combat threat AND gives me life each time my opponent is hit by the Sleeper's upkeep betrayal. Both of these cards also act to neutralize most creature threats my opponent might play.

With the 'fogs,' this deck is starting to move into the area of control. With that in mind, as much as I hate Land Destruction, we can get a serious leg up on our opponent by playing with 4 Pooling Venom and 4 Rain of Tears. Both will put serious hurt on their ability to do much more than bring out minor threats.


Twenty Eight slots filled so far. And so far no creatures that stay on our side of the board. Fine. Let's continue that trend. Let's not put anymore creatures in our deck but make our opponent pay for his/hers - including the Sleepres we give him/her! Stronghold Discipline has the potential to be devastating to many, many decks. In the current meta-game (I know, I know...I said I wouldn't worry about the meta-game. But with Lorwyn - and Morningtide as soon as it is on MtGO - creating a swath of tribal decks, creature heavy decks are all over the place), (Stronghold Displine) can dole out massive loss of life to white weenie, elf token generating, merfolk mill decks, etc. etc. etc.

Add (Phyrexian Totems) for mana acceleration and creatures who don't count when you play Stronghold Discipline. Another set of creatures that are not creatures that we can add to the mix is Spawning Pool. With it plus three Swamps untapped, we can effectively stop any non-flying, non-trampling attacked every turn. However, this may be a liability, as it uses a lot of our resources each turn. Plus, Spawning Pool comes into play tapped and I think this deck needs to keep its tempo going in order to lock down my opponent.

I will round out this deck with some Recovers. This will give some card drawing and allow us to bring our Sleeper Agents back when our opponent manages to get rid of them.

Using prices from as of Jan 27th, 2008, the deck comes out to a devastatingly expensive 7.94 TIX. Cheaper than a pre-con. :)
Spawning Pool


Agent Provocateur v1

by March Pumpkin

60 cards 7.94 TIX

Creatures: 4

4x Sleeper Agent

Lands: 23

19x Swamp
4x Spawning Pool


Artifacts: 3

3x Phyrexian Totem

Other Spells: 31
4x Vampiric Link
4x Contaminated Bond
4x Darkness
4x Sudden Spoiling
4x Pooling Venom
4x Rain of Tears
3x Stronghold Discipline
3x Recover

Now to practice in Casual Decks Room where I advertise as a STD Extreme Budget (8 TIX) deck

Game 1: The first taker I feel bad about. He/she was playing Blue/White with merfolk. I went first. Swamp - pass. He plays a Plains. On my turn, a second Swamp allowed me to play Pooling Venom on his Plains. His turn, he takes two from tapping his Plains plays and taps an Island and plays Silvergill Douser. My third turn - play Swamp. Play Rain of Tears destroying his Island. He concedes.

That must have been frustrating for him. and I can completely sympathize. However, the deck was gearing up to completely lock him down, so I consider this a success.


Game 2: My opponent is playing Kithkin. This is a deck I fear....weenies that can overwhelm me. I give him an Agent on my first turn. He plays weenie after weenie on every one of his turns. I keep managing to pull Sudden Spoilings and Darknesses  almost every turn. My Sleeper Agent is keeping him on a clock, slowly doing its job. He is down to 8 life with seven creatures in play when I pull Stronghold Discipline. On his turn, the Agent finishes him off.


Game 3: This opponent is playing Red/Blue suspend and morph. An early Sleeper Agent starts the clock. He smacks me with my Agent a couple of times before I neutralize it with Contaminated Bond. He gets  a morphed creature, an Errant Ephemeron, and a Dream StalkerStronghold Discipline and an animated Phyrexian Totem take him down far enough for the Agent to finsih him off before he can finish me off.


Stronghold Discipline

Profane Command

Both the second and third game, I found Recovers just sitting in my hand, which I figured might happen. and an Incinerate or a couple of Shocks would have lost me the third game. The Spawning Pools just sat on the table acting as Swamps. Might as well replace them with Swamps, except with only 3, dropping the land count to 22.

Also, we need to be able to control the board even better and/or draw more cards. Here are some possibilities: Dash Hopes (.08) - counters his spell or takes his life, Enslave (.05) - steals their best creature and hurts them for it, Melancholy (.02) neutralizes a creature but at a cost, Shrouded Lore (.04) Helps get back my utility cards, Colfenor's Plans (.14) gives me seven extra cards around turn four or five to work with, Null Profusion (.14) - replaces my cards as fast as I can use them, and Profane Command (4.66) - Extremely versatile and definitely the most expensive card in this deck.

I rule out Melancholy as it will tie up mana each turn. Null Profusion goes as I prefer to have more cards in my hand than just two to work with. Enslave is too expensive to cast. I decide to try one of each of the four remaining cards to see how they work out in the next few games.

A superstar card...but how many can we really put in at 4.66 TIX each?  OUT: 3 Recover, 4 Spawning Pool. -.85 TIX
IN: 3 Swamp, 1 Colfenor's Plans, 1 Shrouded Lore, 1 Dash Hopes, 1 Profane Command
New Total 12.01 TIX

Agent Provocateur v2

by March Pumpkin

60 cards 12.01 TIX

Creatures: 4

4x Sleeper Agent

Lands: 22

22x Swamp


Artifacts: 3

3x Phyrexian Totem

Other Spells: 31
4x Vampiric Link
4x Contaminated Bond
4x Darkness
4x Sudden Spoiling
4x Pooling Venom
4x Rain of Tears
3x Stronghold Discipline
1x Colfenor's Plans
1x Shrouded Lore
1x Dash Hopes
1x Profane Command


Back to the Casual Decks Room where I advertise as a STD Extreme Budget (12 TIX) deck

Game 4: My opponent is playing a mid-range black deck. I mulligan to 6 and we both get off to slow starts. Contaminated Bonds hold off his first two creatures until he has enough mana to make it worth his while to swing with a pumped Stromgald Crusader. A Sleeper Agent, a Stronghold Discipline, and an animated Phyrexian Totem allow me to finish him off just before he can finish me.


Game 5: I gave my opponent a Sleeper Agent before I had a solution to it in hand - important lesson for the future. Also, I could not figure out his deck for the longest time. turns out, it was a (Marchof the Machines) deck. This really hurt me as my two (Phyrexian Totems) were always creatures - and 3/3s at that. With only three swamps in play most ofthe game, it made it nealry impossible to use them to block or attack with - their penalty just being too much to handle. At the end, I could not find a way to do two final points of damage to him before he overwhelmed my defenses and finsihed me off.


Game 6: W/U Millfolk deck. Early Contaminated Bonds and a Pooling Venom slow down his merfolk rush long enough for me to get a Sleeper Agent in his camp. He Cancels my only Phyrexian Totem and I try to Dash Hopes his Merrow Commerce but he paysthe five life. That might actually have won the game for me seeing as how we now have a race between my sleeper agent and him milling me by tapping all his merfolk twice a turn (He had already gotten a Drowner of Secrets in play). A couple turns later, I hit with him with a Stronghold Discipline follwed next turn by Profane Command. On his turn, The Agent finished him off.


Game 7: Mono Green Elves. I lost this, in part, to putting out a Sleeper Agent too soon again. Used Pooling Venoms on two of his early Forests, but I am finding that this card is sub-par agianst mono-color decks - it is just too hard to hose their lands.  I waste a Darkness too early as he brings out a Changeling Titan right after I use it. It Champions the Sleeper Agent putting me on a completely defensive game (it also hurts that had I NOT played the Darkness this turn, I could have played Dash Hopes against his Titan).  I hold off a couple of turns, but just cannot get through the final few points of damage I need to win.


Pooling Venom

Diabolic Tutor

Partly the problem has been gameplay (putting out a Sleeper Agent too soon) but there is still room for improvement in the card pool.

Rain of Tears is just plain out. I dislike Land Destruction and it often clogs my hand. Pooling Venom, while it CAN be LD, is also useful at hurting them for using their resources. I need to take at least one out but hate to take them all out as I have always been a fan of things like Psychic Venom, Manabarbs and Dingus Egg since Alpha. It is also one of my ways to do damage to my opponent. I never pulled a Shrouded Lore to even see how it might affect the game.

More Dash Hopes? More Profane Command? Diabolic Tutors to help with finding the utility card I need?
Profane Commands are prohinitively expensive at 4.66 TIX, but 4 would be 19 2/3 TIX which leaves room for low cost cards. The Tutors would allow a more 'toolbox' approach, putting only 'one ofs' of many cards in the deck. AT .38 TIX a piece, a full set of 4 Diabolic Tutors might really help this deck.

Another possibility is to add white for Dawn Charms, Pollen Lullabys, Holy Days, Pacifisms, and Spirit Links.

Discuss your ideas and suggestions and I will use them to expand upon the deck.



Thanks! by Ben Bleiweiss (Unregistered) (not verified) at Mon, 04/07/2008 - 22:15
Ben Bleiweiss (Unregistered)'s picture

Thanks for the kind words, and keep up the good work here!

 - Ben Bleiweiss

related idea by greyfriar at Tue, 02/12/2008 - 13:22
greyfriar's picture

So I've been trying this deck out with some success in the tourney practice room (4-1).  It's a variation on what you've been doing, although I didn't really check on the pricing, so I may have gone over. The sideboard is still being worked out. Anyway, here's the list. There's a lot of fun combinations, but I'd love to hear what others have to say.

 x2 Consume Spirit

x4 Contaminated bond

x2 Darkness

x3 Dash Hopes

x4 Dunerider Outlaw

x2 Liliana Vess

x3 Phyrexian Totem

x4 Pooling Venom

x2 Profane Command

 x4 Sleeper Agent

x2 Soul Spike

x20 Swamp

x2 Tendrils of Corruption

x4 vampiric link

x2 Whispersilk Cloak


The Stronghold discipline I moved over to the sideboard, and there's a bunch of terrors over there too. So far against any blue deck it's been a charm, and it even grabbed a tarmogoyf based deck in there was well. The loss was to a white weenie, and I think that had something to do with my draw/sideboard as well.


Anyway, thanks for the deck. It's a lot of fun to play.




PS Anyone else know of other "poison pill" cards in Standard? 


by Evu at Fri, 02/08/2008 - 15:57
Evu's picture

It just occurred to me that Sleeper Agent might actually be the card I've been looking for to form some sort of useful combo with Aurification.  Thanks for the inspiration!

by Anonymous (Unregistered) (not verified) at Fri, 02/08/2008 - 10:28
Anonymous (Unregistered)'s picture


 I like the concept.  The only issue I have is that I really don'y like messing with peoples many in extreme casual....


How about this(pulled out the Rain/Pooling Venom)-about 12 tix

x4 Sleeper Agent

x4 Blightspeaker


x4 Vampiric Link

x4 Contaminated Blood


x3 Phryxian Totem


X4 Dash Hopes

x4 Sudden Spoiling


x4 Diabloic Tutor

x3 Temporal Extortion

x1 Stronghold Discipline

x1 Profane Command(w/o this the whole deck clocks in at 8 tix)


x4 Spawning Pool

 x20 Swamps



May give this a try.  Thanks again for the article.


___helper_monkey on MTGO

Tendrils by phyxuis at Fri, 02/08/2008 - 06:26
phyxuis's picture

I am toying with this deck and one card that fits is Tendrils of Corruption. I am using them over the Rain of Tears.

by Anonymous (Unregistered) (not verified) at Thu, 02/07/2008 - 18:35
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I'm surprised that the decks you faced were so weak.