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Avatar Bruce Gray - January 7, 2016

Casual Encounters – New Budget Brews for Your Next Casual Night

Demonic Pact Artwork

New Budget Brews for Your Next Casual Night

by Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters

Welcome back folks! It’s been a while since I sat down and provided you guys with some fun new decks for your next casual card night, so I thought I would sit down and share with you what I’ve been brewing. The good news for you guys is that I’ve actually got TWO decks here for you and who doesn’t love a 2 for 1 special? Even with all the talk of Battle for Zendikar being less than thrilling from many perspectives, there are still loads of fun and interesting things you can do. Let’s take a look at a couple of things that I’ve brewed up and see what you think.

Budget U/B control

One of the biggest things about the current standard environment that makes it so prohibitive to get into a top tier competitive deck is the sheer value of Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. Any deck playing Blue wants a playset of Jace! Let’s face it, the card is extremely powerful and likely worth every penny you pay for it if you grind out lots of matches. Sadly, I can’t afford the $320 for a set of four. However, there was another Blue mythic from Magic:Origins that no one even talks about and I can afford. I’m thinking of none other than Disciple of the Ring. I had the chance to draft this guy in back to back drafts and this guy was amazing. He has almost every relevant ability you would ever need on a creature stapled to him and if you fill your yard with Instants and Sorceries you can dictate the terms of the game fairly easily with an active Disciple of the Ring. So, the question is, can this be a big deal in some other environment than just draft? I suspect the answer is yes. Here is the list I put together.

Budget B/U control

The game plan seems simple enough. You want to push into the late stages of the game by answering their threats through bouncing them, countering them, or just outright killing them. Using your spells to handle their threats should allow you to pile up a bunch of fuel that you can then use with Disciple of the Ring to either further deal with their threats or to take the fight to them. It wouldn’t take much to pump the Disciple into being a very real threat and a quick clock.

Let’s suppose that your opponent can deal with your #1 threat like the Disciple. Did you notice any other backdoor wins? How about Demonic Pact and Disperse as being a potentially deadly way to really cinch down on your opponent? Get max value off the Pact and then bounce it, recast it and then repeat…seems pretty good to me. Also, don’t forget Damnable Pact and the Mage-Ring Network. If you get into a situation where you have available land at the end of their turn, charge up the Network and wait to be able to fire off a massive Damnable Pact at them, make them draw a whole pile of cards and die as a result of the damage. Nothing quite like a Black “Fireball”! The last trick is Learn from the Past which acts as a way to deck your opponent if you need to get that far.

The only cards that are expensive in this deck are the 2 Languish, 2 Crux of Fate, and the Demonic Pact. Even those are fairly modestly priced in most respects and available right here at Three Kings Loot. Otherwise, the Disciple is about $1/ card, Damnable Pact is about fifty cents, and everything else is super inexpensive, even the lands.

Now, there are lots of good upgrades to run that can still be budget friendly. Ultimate Price is a strong removal spell that is much cheaper to cast, but it doesn’t handle multicolored creatures like Siege Rhino, Anafenza, Mantis Rider or Atarka. Yes, Reach of Shadows is bad 5 mana removal, but at least it can handle those big time threats instead of being a dead card. Murderous Cut might be upgrade on both counts, but exiling your yard isn’t ideal when you want to fuel the Disciple. Of course, you could full on upgrade to Ruinous Path, but that is one more sorcery speed spell and that just might be too slow, or too expensive for the old pocket book. Cancel is eligible for an upgrade with a Scatter to the Winds, but as a rare that may not economical. Spell Shrivel would work almost as well in most situations but I would rather have the hard counter as opposed to the conditional element as part of Spell Shrivel. Reave Soul could stand to be upgraded to Complete Disregard and the only reason I’m running Reave and not Disregard  is that I don’t have any more in my box…they are already all in decks! Reave Soul is fine, but the same issue surrounding casting it at Sorcery speed crops up again.

My early version of a sideboard would include 2 copies each of Encase in Ice and Self-Inflicted Wound as very solid sideboard options. I think I would also opt to run 2 copies of Mire’s Malice as a way to force discard and clear out their hand. Malice can also work to give you a late game threat with an Elemental should you need it. There is no doubt 2 copies of Dispel would make the grade as well simply for a little insurance. There would need to be some other serious considerations, but these would almost assuredly make my first 75 for this deck.

You could rock this with your buddies on a Saturday night and feel fairly assured that it could be a real pain in the derriere, but I don’t think you would be ashamed to sling this at FNM either…and the impact on your pocket book would be very manageable.

My second deck runs a couple of the same cards, but whereas the Control deck played these cards as an alternative win con, this time it would be a major key to victory.  Let’s take a look at what I’ve got this time around.

G/B Damnable Cutthroat

The game plan this time is a little different. This acts very much like a token swarm deck. Cast a bunch of dudes, make some Scions, and then pump the team for the win with a Joraga Invocation or a Tajuru War Caller. Now, if that doesn’t work or you can’t find the Overrun style effect, Zulaport Cutthroat could be a win con if you just sac all your dudes to drain out your opponent. However, the really greasy way to get it done is to sac all your tokens (hopefully with the Cutthroat in play) to cast yet another massive Damnable Pact to close out the match. If you don’t have enough Scions feel free to power up the Mage-Ring Network and then just go mana crazy when it’s time to finish off your opponent.

The issue with this sort of deck is that it is extremely creature reliant meaning that a board wipe pretty much shuts this one down. Oh, and by the way, there are LOADS of wraths in this Standard format.  However, decks looking to trade 1 for 1 with a token deck won’t be too happy to play you because their exchanges will invariably be much worse. If this deck can get online, go wide, and maintain pressure then this deck could be a real pain in the neck for some decks out there.

Now, I need to confess, I haven’t had a chance to put these through much of the way of testing.  My wife and I had a new baby boy about 6 weeks ago, so testing has been somewhat limited, but I am 100% prepared to take both of these to battle at my next casual night and see if I can’t grab a few wins by casting  Damnable Pact AT THEM. It just sounds glorious! And the best part is both decks are cheap so I won’t feel bad if they need to be scraped or adjusted.

Well, thanks for stopping by and having a read. If nothing else I hope my brews have given you a little inspiration to sit down and do a little brewing on your own. I get the sense from people out there in the MTG community that the relative let down of Battle for Zendikar is suppressing some brewers because they aren’t super enthused with the quality of the cards. However, as you can see, there are still lots of other fun things you can be doing with Battle and still enjoy the experience.

So, until next time, have yourselves a great MTG day and be sure to stop by next time for another Casual Encounter.

 

By Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters

@bgray8791 on Twitter

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Avatar Bruce Gray - April 7, 2014

Casual Encounters – Underappreciated cards of Magic sets past: R...

Return to Ravnica - Jace and Niv-Mizzet

In my never ending quest to dig up some fun cards that I can use to spice up my next casual card game I turned my attention to my box of Return to Ravnica and rooted through to see if there was anything else that I could dig out.  Return to Ravnica was a terrific set that will be known for a few things.

Return to Ravnica brought back the 10 guilds of the original Ravnica set which is immediately a fan favorite.  This interesting new twist made the set rich and very flavourful as each of the guilds got their own mechanic to make them interesting.  It also brought back the shocklands, which in my estimation, are the 2nd best set of dual lands printed.  Obviously, the best set of dual lands is the original set with no drawbacks at all, but the shocklands are intriguing in their own right. The shocklands present the option of coming into play untapped at a cost and are quite skill intensive in order to balance the need for untapped land with taking damage from shocking yourself.  The shocklands also have the two different land types in the description (island/ mountain etc.), just like the original dual lands, making them very appealing in other formats where having untapped land is paramount regardless of the cost.  As a casual player I can fully appreciate why these lands are highly coveted and extremely useful and pick them up whenever I can.  Return to Ravnica also introduced a whole swath of terrific cards like Jace, Architect of Thought, Sphinx’s Revelation, Supreme Verdict, and Loxodon Smiter.  These cards have seen extensive play in Standard since their release and with good reason.

Now, I’d like to take a moment and dispel a notion.  I’ve played at my fair share of drafts, sealed events, and the occasional constructed event at the local gaming shop.  The usual players consistently talk to me like I haven’t got a clue what is going on and like I have no idea how to play.  Just because I usually play casually doesn’t mean I don’t understand what is happening, or that I can’t identify what is the difference between a powerful card and a weaker card.  I actually have a very good idea what the difference is and it isn’t that I choose not to run the powerful card…it’s that I can’t play with them because I don’t have them.  Many casual players operate on a budget and picking up the high end, pricey cards isn’t feasible.  In my case, I crack a relatively small number of packs each month…that’s it…and I have to play with whatever I find.  So, while I would like to play with all the best cards, I am forced, out of necessity, to get the job done with other things.

So, while Return to Ravnica yielded some terrific cards that are run extensively in Standard, it had some quieter gems that I would encourage you to dig up and give them a try, if only to diversify your next casual encounter.

 Common:

The first card s exactly what the player of a White “weenie” or a control/tempo deck wants to run.  It is cheap, suitably aggressive, and plays into the strategy to tempo your opponent to slow them down.  Who is this guy?  Why it’s Azorius Arrester.  This guy is a staple in White.  He is clutch in the late game to remove the opponents’ best creature for a turn.  He is key in the early game to get out in front of the race by clearing the road for early damage.  He trades up to take out “Bears” quite favorably.  He is just a useful and versatile 2 drop and a nice addition to the deck.  My friends often choose to ignore this little guy, but I’ll run a full playset every time.  He’s just a meat and potatoes type of creature that doesn’t get much love and is often passed over for flashier cards.

Another favorite of mine is in a very different colour.  I rarely choose to play Black, but this common has helped me to feel more comfortable because it allows me to play a little more aggressively.  Sewer Shambler is a 3 drop (1 black, 2 colourless) for a 2/1.  This is hardly earth shattering and is in fact a little overpriced for what you get. However, the real beauty of this guy is the Scavenge ability on this card.  When I saw the Scavenge ability I was intrigued.  It made creatures in your graveyard very useful and potentially explosive sources of damage.  Some of the Scavenge costs on some of the creatures in Return to Ravnica are really steep and provide very little benefit (i.e Drudge Beetle).  However, the Sewer Shambler  has a very reasonable cost of…exactly what you paid to bring it into play.  So, for 3 you get to give another creature in play +2/+2 (Sewer Shambler’s power)…wait…isn’t Sewer Shambler a 2/1…so by scavenging this creature I get MORE than I would if I had the creature in play?  Wow…um…ok! Thanks.  So, this inexpensive common can do double duty in a deck as a) a creature to apply pressure, but more accurately to block and die and b) a reasonable costed pump spell to boost another creature you control once it is in your graveyard.  This is very applicable and sometimes the difference between finishing off your opponent or giving him an extra turn to dig up an answer.

Uncommon:

At the uncommon slot there are a lot of choices, but the one that I always like seeing turn up is Thoughtflare.  This 5 mana draw spell (1 Blue, 1 red, and 3 colourless) makes my opponents chuckle because it seems so ridiculous, but every time I see it I’m always thankful it comes up.  It’s a massive hit. Let me explain why. Invariably I get stuck where I’ve got 1 or 2 dead cards in my hand.  They just aren’t helpful at this point of the game and are sitting there and I need answers!  Divination is ok…but it’s a sorcery and can be slow and clunky.  Opportunity draws me 4 cards, but that may put me into the situation where I’m at 8 or more cards and need to discard anyway…plus it’s 6 to cast instead of 5.  Thoughtflare acts like Opportunity and the discard ability is not unlike that of Faithless Looting.  So, Opportunity AND Faithless looting…for 5…at instant speed.  Sounds good to me! It is even better if the cards you discard have flashback or can be recurred by some means (Archaeomancer, Auramancer) so that you still have access to them, making this a very valuable way to draw cards. So, all in all, drawing 4 cards off Thoughtflare and then discarding two is just fine by me most times.  It digs me far enough that I can usually find something useful.  It slims my hand down by making me discard a pair of cards I don’t need that I can usually get back if I’ve planned for this.  It can be cast on my opponents turn at instant speed. It also makes me laugh because no one else ever thinks to run it.  Try it out yourself and you’ll see what I mean.

Rare:

There were some bomb cards at the Rare slot in Return to Ravnica, but one of them that never saw Standard play just screams Casual Card.  Perhaps it speaks to a little bit of my personality, but nothing makes me happier than taking my opponents creatures and then beating my opponent with them. Grave Betrayal is a hefty 7 mana  Black enchantment that whenever a creature your opponents control dies, the creature returns to the battlefield under your control AND gets a +1/+1 counter at the next end step.  If I’m running Black I’m packing as much removal as I can find slots in my deck and this card is great.  It is even better in a multiplayer game, because the wording on Grave Betrayal stipulates when a creature of ANY opponent dies I get control of it.  That includes board wipes, spot removal, combat or another form of removal, and they come back bigger thanks to the +1/+1 counter.  It basically means you have a pile of creatures from your opponents’ graveyards in front of you and get to smack your opponents with them.  Priceless! This is a perfect casual card and can take a multiplayer game from boring to ridiculously funny!

Mythic Rare:

By the time you get to the Mythic rare spot it is hard to actually pick something that is “underappreciated”.  Most Mythics find a home somewhere, but the one that lends itself to the most silliness and fun combat choices is Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius.  He’s hardly overlooked by players who know their stuff, but he never really found a deck in Standard and still hasn’t, which makes him a candidate to slide into some sort of casual build.  His casting cost of 6 (2 blue, 2 Red, 2 colourless) can be a bit steep, but hey, I’m the guy playing 7 mana enchantments and 5 mana card draw instants…so 6 is totally in my wheel house.  You get a 5/5 flying dragon, which is always cool.  These stats are largely on par with the classic dragon, Shivan Dragon.  However, the ability to draw cards and deal damage without combat that accompany Niv-Mizzet make him an awesome addition to a deck and a real menace.  Evasion, range, good stats, card draw…this guy does it all and sadly makes Shivan Dragon look like a powder puff. So, really the only drawback is the 6 to cast him, but I an a world of 5 mana draw spells and 7 mana enchantments, this can work and make your game all the more enjoyable.

No article would be complete without a deck list highlighting how some of these pieces can go together into a casual deck.  The one I’m showing here is for what my friends and I called “Hobo night” where we couldn’t play any rare cards.  Common and uncommons were allowed from any set, but no rares at all.  Yes, this is usually called “Peasant”, but we preferred “Hobo”.

U/B “Hobo deck”

This deck is premised on building your own hexproof, unblockable creature and then dropping your opponents to the floor as quick as possible.  Many of the creature can’t be blocked already (Keymaster Rogue, Deathcult Rogue) and Elgaud Shieldmate soulbonded provides the hexproof.  The other option is the Mask of Avacyn which is surprisingly useful.  To speed up the clock on your unblockable creatures, the scavenge ability of the Sewer Shambler and Zanikev Locust can be used to boost the crunching power of your attackers.  The other cards are mostly removal (murder, ultimate price, devour flesh etc) or cards that allow for deck manipulation.  Brainstorm is an all-star, but Sage Aven is extremely useful, Diabolic Vision is extremely powerful for a mere 2 mana and Pilfered Plans is an improved Divination thanks to milling of your opponents’ deck.  All in all, a fun, very inexpensive deck to put together that has lots of interesting lines of play and provides for lots of options.

So, next time you go to sit down and play a game with your friends at your next casual encounter, take a moment and look for a few little treats that you can do to liven up your playgroup, bring some fresh cards to the table, and take the evening from the usual, to the unusual.  Once again, thanks for reading and enjoy your next Casual Encounter.

 

Bruce Gray

@bgray8791

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Gerald Knight Gerald Knight - February 8, 2014

Knight’s Booty – Defenders of Phenax

Phenax God of Deception

So by now everybody has seen the new God of Dimir colours, Phenax.  When he was previewed (without the rest of the set) it was met with mixed reactions, at least it was on Mythicspoiler.com.  Half the people were saying how this card sucked and that they wished that Wizards would move away from the Mill deck, and the other half were screaming at how great the card would be, especially if you combined it with Consuming Aberration.  Let that combo sink in for a minute.  A powerful combo indeed and almost guaranteed to kill your opponent within 2-3 turns.  But that is almost entirely a casual deck.  Not that there’s anything wrong with casual, as it drives the market, but what surprised me was that nobody was talking about how this card could impact limited.

Consuming Aberration

In limited this card is going to be a bomb, and in my opinion it is almost assuredly a snap first pick.  When you figure that your opponent is running a 40 card deck then draw 7 on average for their first hand leaving them with 33 cards, and then by the time you get to play this baby down they have drawn 4-5 cards more leaving them with 28 cards or so.  And with this guy as a milling engine, the games won’t last long.  Much in the same way that Jace used to pump your deck in 2-3 turns when he hit the table and milled 10.  Only this isn’t a planeswalker, can’t be destroyed or attacked directly.  It’s an indestructable God.  So there is my limited analysis for you.

But back to the group of people that really drive this game, the casual market.  This guy is going to be a lot of fun and people are going to try and work him to death to make the fabled mill deck that seems to have become as niche a collection of cards as classic burn has.  So I thought to myself, why not try and see what can be done by combining as many high toughness stall out wall-type creatures in the deck as possible and waiting out Phenax to drop.

Phenax

Sadly we have no one drop defenders in Black or Blue, but we have several two drops that will fit in quite nice.  The first is Doorkeeper, a 0/4 defender which has built in milling already, which works well if you don’t have Phenax out already, but is probably a little lackluster once Phenax is in play.  Next we have Murmuring Phantasm, a very simple 0/5 defender for one and a blue.  Nothing too complicated, but it will clog up the ground rather nicely.   In keeping with going alphabetically we have Returned Phalanx next at a 3/3 with defender and a little combat trick that will let you attack if need be.

Moving into our three cost slot we can find Corpse Blockade, a nice 1 /4 creature that has a little combat trick of sacrificing a creature to gain deathtouch.  An ability that should make opponents wary about attacking into you at all times if you have another creature to offer up to the god.  After that comes a very nice Hover Barrier, a 0/6 defender with flying to boot.  There isn’t much out there that isn’t monstrous that this fat wall won’t take care of.  And after that comes an old goodie in Wall of Frost, a 0/7 defender that can cause your opponents creatures to stall out for a turn if they are blocked by him.  And then we have the new member to the Fat Defender family from Born of the Gods with Black Oak of Odunas, a 0/5 defender for two and a black that can pump itself up with +1/+1 until the end of the turn at the cost of a Black mana and tapping another creature.

Wall of frost

But we can’t rely on just these defenders in order to keep our opponent at bay, we need spells too.  Defensive spells, such as Hero’s Downfall, Doom Blade, and Voyage’s End.  Cards that can stall out our opponent until we can get our awesome defender mill engine online.  Another card that came to mind is Far//Away, a multi-purpose card that acts as both an edict and a boomerang effect.  Versatility goes a long way in deck construction.

So where would that leave us?  Well, lets throw something together.

Creatures (24)

Spells (12)

Lands (24)

Overall, this is a very casual deck, and doesn’t appear to do very much, but when you get the engine online your opponent is bound to pull his (or her) hair out.  It has the potential to be a very deceiving deck.

Until next time,

~ Gerald Knight

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Avatar Three Kings Loot - May 24, 2013

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