Building_on_a_Budget

Ben takes the pain readers dished out and tries to build a winning deck around Sky Swallower.

I Heart Sky Swallower

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Great Googley Moogley! There sure are a lot of swell rares that haven't seen a lot of love in Guildpact! Which one should Ben build a deck around?
Sky Swallower, and if you choose this one Ben will weep openly 4640 32.4%
Djinn Illuminatus, the big guy in the sky who will double your trouble 3850 26.9%
Earth Surge, the lord of making you animate your lands 3224 22.5%
Killer Instinct, and please print Street Fighter to go with Mortal Combat 2607 18.2%
Total 14321 100.0%

The letter I!'ve spent the last week running through all the tissues in tissueville. Seriously folks, if you wanted to fill canal Bleiweiss with my moist, salty tears, you could have just taken a crowbar to my kneecap instead.

Sky Swallower?

*Cries*

Well, a deal's a deal, and so here is my Sky Swallower deck.

Sky Swallower

Main Deck

232 cards

116  Island
100  Swamp

216 lands

Sky Swallower

4 creatures

Battle of Wits
Brainspoil
Diabolic Tutor

12 other spells


My oh my, what a mighty fine Sky Swallower deck. You see, here's how it plays….

Ben, that's cheating. You can't do that.

Boab, is that you?

No Ben, this is your conscience. The people voted, and they want an honest-to-goodness Sky Swallower deck. You can't fudge your win condition.

*Cries*

All right, so there's this great new card in Dissension, Simic Sky Swallower. It's a 6/6 flying, untargetable trampler for only seven mana…...

AHEM.

*Cries*

All right, all right – here's my Sky Swallower deck. Please don't be too harsh.

Sky Swallower 1.0

I was looking through all of the cards available in Standard (and don't worry, I'll be playing other formats eventually!), and I wanted to find as many cards as possible that didn't care if they changed owner. After a long search, I finally hit upon Zur's Weirding. I say a long search, because alphabetically speaking it's dead last, give or take Zybleiweiss's Intuition (coming in Coldsnap!).

You see, there are three huge problems with building a deck around Sky Swallower:

  1. Once you cast Sky Swallower, you have virtually no way of protecting it from being killed/bounced/neutralized. The last thing I wanted to do was to cast Sky Swallower, only to have it hit by Pillory of the Sleepless.
  2. Once you cast Sky Swallower, you've probably doubled your opponent's mana. This means they can pull off all sorts of nasty things such as, say, Blaze for 20.
  3. Once you cast Sky Swallower, your opponent gets everything on your side of the board - so if you've got creatures you were beating down with, suddenly you're being beat down.

Zur's Weirding solved all two of these problems at once. With a Weirding on the board, I could see when it was safe to drop a Swallower, and make sure that it stayed safe. It didn't matter that my opponent gets the Weirding once the Swallower comes into play – it works equally well on either side of the board. An active Weirding also prevents my opponent for drawing any action spells for the rest of the game (or until I run out of life, but with a Sky Swallower on the board, I tend to win that race).

Once I decided that the deck would be built around Sky Swallower/Zur's Weirding, it was time to find support cards. Zur's Weirding works both ways, so your opponent can prevent you from drawing action spells. However, Zur's Weirding does not strictly stop you from getting new cards into your hand through alternate means – an important fact to keep in mind. There were three cards that went into the initial build above that abuse this. They are Dimir House Guard, Brainspoil, and Stinkweed Imp. Brainspoil allows me to tutor up a Sky Swallower under a Weirding, and Stinkweed Imp can dredge back to my hand in lieu of a Weirding-draw step. Dimir House Guard served two purposes – it would let me tutor up one of several spells, or it would serve as an outlet to sacrifice all of my creatures right before I cast a Swallower – which solves problem #3 above.

I also added Time Ebb and Vedalken Dismisser due to their interaction with Zur's Weirding. Both set my opponent back a draw, buying me time to get the pieces of my deck in place. With a Weirding on the table, both of those cards double as removal – Time Ebbing a Loxodon Hierarch with Zur's favorite enchantment in play is akin to paying 2 ManaBlue Mana and two life to deny your opponent board position and their next draw.

The other two cards of note in the deck are Eradicate and Voyager Staff. The Staff was there so that I could remove my own creatures from the game before dropping Sky Swallower, allowing me to have more than one permanent post-Swallower. If I used Staff on Vedalken Dismisser and then played Sky Swallower, I could return a second creature to my opponent's top-of-deck, and have both the 8/8 flyer and the 2/2 wizard in play at once. Eradicate served both removal and a peek at my opponent's hand – I wanted to make sure that it was safe to drop a Weirding before going for the kill!

Mana Leak and Last Gasp are self-explanatory.

Mana Leak: I leak the mana!

Last Gasp: Horrrrrk….I can't breathe. Where is Urza's Inhaler? Vitamins!

Never mind – that's the last time I let them speak for themselves. I'll just say that the two of them serve as early-to-mid-game removal.

Coming into the Sky Swallower exercise, I expected only pain and suffering… on my part. After building the deck, I saw a lot of promise and a light of hope at the end of the tunnel. It was quite a tricksy deck, and was quite a bargain at only eight tickets to build.

Game #1: Full_Collapse (R/G)

His opening plays include Birds of Paradise, followed by Scion of the Wild and Sosuke, Son of Seshiro. I play Stinkweed Imp, transmute Dimir House Guard into my one Night of Souls' Betrayal, and then Last Gasp his Sosuke. This kills both his Birds and his Scion (his Birds die, turning his Scion into a 1/1, which dies to my enchantment).

When Full_Collapse spends two turns doing nothing threatening, I cast Zur's Weirding. This reveals his hand of triple Rally the Horde, Doubling Season, and Wild Cantor. It seems like my Night pretty much shut down his deck. I cast Sky Swallower, and the rest of the game is elementary.

Record: 1-0

That's about one more win than I expected to get with a Sky Swallower deck, coming into this exercise. In practice, I felt like I was in control the entire game, had a plan, and ran with it.

Game #2: OriginalScreenName (Biorhythm)

The beginning game goes relatively uneventfully, with OriginalScreenName (or OSN) ramping up his mana with Wood Elves, and doing little else. I cast Zur's Weirding, and his hand is double Biorhythm, triple Ornithopter, Repeal, and Time Ebb.

I cast Eradicate on his Wood Elves, but he Repeals it. The second play of the Wood Elves bring OSN to seven mana, but that's all I'm going to let him get – if he gets to number eight, I'm going to die to Biorhythm. He Time Ebbs his Caryatid, hoping to draw more cards. This finally gives me the chance to win – I transmute the Brainspoil I'd been holding all game for a Sky Swallower, and go for the kill.

I then make a huge mistake – I let OSN draw Reclaim. I figured that whatever he put on top of his deck, I would just deny him the draw via Weirding since I had plenty of life left. The problem was that he could simply cast Biorhythm – and while that would leave him at a scant four life, it would leave me at one – even though he couldn't kill me that turn, I would not be able to deny any further Weirding draws. This was his plan – he cast his first Biorhythm, chumped my Swallower with an Ornithopter, and then Reclaimed Time Ebb for the second Biorhythm-assisted win.

Record: 1-1

I absolutely do not mean to take anything away from OriginalScreenName's win, but I should have won that game if I had played correctly. This definitely bolstered my confidence in the deck!

Game#3: NoOz (R/G)

Neither of us has a play until the fourth turn. He casts Anaconda, and I Eradicate it. His hand? Another Anaconda, three lands, Kodama's Reach, and Scab-Clan Mauler. I have Vedalken Dismisser, Mana Leak, Last Gasp, Time Ebb, Dimir House Guard, and Zur's Weirding. This gives me three removal spells to his one creature, allowing me to safely drop Weirding the next turn. He drew Streetbreaker Wurm during the one turn gap between the Eradicate and the Weirding, but I use Vedalken Dismisser to put it out of play, and then attack with my two guys for the win, denying him every threat left that he'd otherwise draw.

Record: 2-1

Game #4 Martialstudy (Spirits/Arcane)

I get down an early Night of Souls' Betrayal, which kills multiple X/1 Kamis. Unfortunately, I'm down to twelve due to taking a couple of hits. I cast Zur's Weirding, with Sky Swallower ready to go, and his hand ends up being five burn spells, including Glacial Ray with plenty of splice targets. Frown! I get burned to death long before I get to attack three times.

Record: 2-2

Game #5 SkylerGray (Boros)

I kill a couple of his early creatures, transmute for Zur's Weirding after he has a turn with no plays, and lock down the board. I end up racing him with Stinkweed Imp and Vedalken Dismisser, and decline to cast the Sky Swallower in my hand, since I have no way of dealing with my own Stinkweed Imp, once it turn traitor.

Record: 3-2

By this time, there's a small crowd watching my matches, and everyone can see my hand once I cast Zur's Weirding. As each new person comes to watch my game, they exclaim “Sky Swallower!?!?!”. My reply?

“You people made me do this! You have nobody to blame but yourselves!”

It's time for some changes.

I had envisioned Voyager Staff as a way to keep my creatures in play once Sky Swallower hits, but so far it hasn't really done a whole lot. On the other hand, Zur's Weirding has been my absolute MVP – I've dropped it in all five games, and I should have won four of the five because of it. The four-drop transmute spell (Dimir House Guard) has been runner-up MVP, because it has gotten me both Zur's Weirding and my single Night of Souls' Betrayal.

I decide that I want to move to a silver-bullet strategy. For those unfamiliar with the term, it refers to a style of building a deck where you have a lot of cards that are present as singletons, but with ways to tutor them to meet a specific threat/game state. My silver-bullet point is at four mana, and I want to have the other four-drop transmute card in my deck. This means that four copies of Clutch of the Undercity come in, to complement the Dimir House Guard.

With eight ways to transmute my four-cost spells, I can drop a couple of the Eradicates and Weirdings from the deck. It might seem strange to drop two Weirdings when I just said it was the best card in my deck so far, but A) drawing two Zur's Weirdings in a game is wasteful, and B) with eight ways to transmute for it, I'm running an effective ten Weirdings in this build, as opposed to eight in build 1.0.

I add in a few silver bullets, including a Gravedigger (which works well under Zur's Weirding, and gives me the potential play of transmute House Guard, get Gravedigger, bring back House Guard), a Nekrataal (as removal and a kill condition), a Seize the Soul (to act as great creature kill against Red, Green and Blue decks), a Ninja of the Deep Hours (which works well with Dimir House Guard, Nekrataal, Gravedigger, and Vedalken Dismisser), and a Hideous Laughter (as mass-removal).

Out: -3 Voyager Staff, -2 Zur's Weirding, -2 Brainspoil, -2 Eradicate, -1 Time Ebb
In: +4 Clutch of the Undercity, +1 Dimir House Guard, +1 Gravedigger, +1 Nekrataal, +1 Seize the Soul, +1 Ninja of the Deep Hours, +1 Hideous Laughter

Game #6: Remy_Lebu (B/G/W)

I kill a couple of his early creatures, and then drop a turn 5 Sky Swallower, since I have no other action. He uses my mana to cast both Gleancrawler and Bramble Elemental, and I end up losing the damage race as he drops more creatures and overruns me, before I can build up enough mana to kill his guys.

Record: 3-3

Game #7: Anonymous (G/W)

I transmute Dimir House Guard for Zur's Weirding, and cast it the following turn with Gravedigger, Sky Swallower, and Eradicate in hand. His only card of note in hand was Nightsoil Kami, and after I Eradicate it, he drops his connection. The crowd watching the game votes that this should count as a win.

Record: 4-3

You'll notice that I've edited out my opponent's name from this round. I don't want to embarrass him (or her) in public, but I have to say something about dropping link intentionally during a match on Magic Online:

Don't do it.

It's really a low-class move, because it's just as easy to concede or give a GG (good game) to your opponent, so that both of you can move onto the next match. Dropping link intentionally when you're about to lose just says to people, “I'm not mature enough to handle losing, so I'm going to try to spite you since I couldn't win.” The only purpose it serves is to try to “get back” at your opponent – but trust me, the person dropping link is the only one getting hurt. Word eventually gets around, and people will begin to refuse to play against a bad sport, just like in real life.

Game #8: One Piece (U/R)

One Piece plays double Frenzied Goblin, but gets stuck at a single Mountain. I cast a third turn Time Ebb on a Goblin to set him back significantly, and then cast Night of Souls' Betrayal. I follow it with a 1/1 Ninja of the Deep Hours, and proceed to draw quite a few cards. His only play is Halcyon Glaze, which I Clutch of the Undercity when he plays a 1/1 (now 0/0) creature to the board. Eventually I draw Zur's Weirding, Last Gasp his Glaze, drop Dimir House Guard, sacrifice my House Guard and Ninja, and drop Sky Swallower for the win.

Record: 5-3

Game #9: Kreetch (B/W Control)

I end up conceding this match due to a technical problem in the game. I was in a losing position anyhow, but I made sure to enter a bug report about the details of the issue and hopefully it will be fixed sometime soon.

Record: 5-4

Game #10: Brajr2002 (U/G Spirits)

Brajr2002 casts Vinelasher Kudzu, and I answer it with Stinkweed Imp. He then drops Elder Pine of Jukai, and I Nekrataal it. His next play consists of Vinelasher Kudzu and Loam Dweller, but I Last Gasp the Kudzu before it gets out of hand.

On his turn 6, he drops Keiga, the Tide Star. I transmute for and cast Zur's Weirding, and get hit down to fifteen. I cast Vedalken Dismisser, and pay two life the following turn to deny Keiga. I then begin recurring Stinkweed Imps (which lead to more Stinkweed Imps), holding down the ground with Nekrataal and beating in the air with an army of 1/2 flying imps.

Record: 6-4

I decide it's time for a couple of more changes. I never really need to transmute for Sky Swallower, so I drop another Brainspoil from the deck. Seize the Soul has been less than optimal (you'll notice a majority of my opponents play Black and/or White), so it also gets the cut. I haven't really needed to play Mana Leak, since most of my creatures and spells can get pretty much anything off of the board if I need it gone, and I'd prefer to spend turn 3 transmuting, rather than holding back two mana for a counterspell.

In return, I add in two more silver bullets (Bottled Cloister, to help me break a stalled game, and Nightmare Void, to help me strip an opponent's hand under Zur's Weirding), plus Distress. Distress serves two purposes – it's a proactive spell to cast early in the game, and it also lets me see my opponent's hand before I drop a Weirding.

Out: 1 Seize the Soul, 3 Mana Leak, 1 Brainspoil, 1 Clutch of the Undercity
In: 1 Last Gasp, 1 Nightmare Void, 1 Bottled Cloister, 3 Distress

Game #11: Moebiwan (R/W Boros)

I get stuck at two mana, but I've got three Last Gasp in my hand. I discard Clutch of the Undercity with Swamp and Island on the board, but then draw a second Island – leaving me with an untransmutable Dimir House Guard in my hand. Oops! This further goes to show that even the smallest of mistakes can come back to bite you later in the game.

Moebiwan drops a third-turn Glorious Anthem, and follows it with a fourth-turn Skyknight Legionnaire. I Gasp the Legionnaire, draw a fourth mana, and pass the turn. He drops Serra Angel, which I Eradicate. His hand? Cage of Hands, Reciprocate, double Boros Fury-Shield, and double Faith's Fetters.

It looks like it's time for super-Nightmare Void! I use the sorcery to strip his hand out card by card, while using the Weirding to deny him any creatures. Since I'm at 20, the plan is that he will draw at least six lands before spells, and I'll be able to use the Void over and over again to take his removal out of his hand, eventually allowing me to drop Dimir House Guard for the win.

Unfortunately, the bug hits again when I dredge up a Stinkweed Imp, but Moebiwan sees that, even though the game is not yet over, I have an inevitable win on the board. He concedes the game graciously.

Record: 7-4

If you had told me that I'd be 7-4 with a budget build of a Sky Swallower deck, I'd have told you that you were crazy – but here I was, with a winning record. Not only that, but this deck was a lot of fun to play – I had a lot of options every game thanks to transmute, and I could only imagine the look on my opponent's faces each time I dropped Sky Swallower with Zur's Weirding on the board! The real MVP of this deck was definitely the Weirding – I'm going to have to revisit this card again in the future once the kinks are worked out of the system, but for now I'll say – Sky Swallower for the win!

 Did you say Battle of Wits? Can there be a budget Battle of Wits deck?  
Not only can there be, but I demand it!
I don't think you can build a budget 250-card deck, but I'd like to see it if it exists.
There's no way a 250-card deck can be budget….so don't even bother trying.
I hate Battle of Wits and will pay Ben not to build a Battle of Wits deck.
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