Building_on_a_Budget

The results are in, and the deckbuilding is on!

Followed Footsteps: Dimir’s Pitter-Patter

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The letter T!he Message Boards from last week's article were diverse enough that I honestly didn't know which card would get picked in the poll. I readied myself to play Bloodletter Quill in a Black/Blue life-drain deck. I dreamed of using Polymorph on a Genju for Mindleech Mass. I thought of Cerulean Sphinx in a dedicated Blue/Black control deck with (gasp!) counterspells. Spawnbroker readied his Dizzy Spell and Imaginary Pet. All offbeat ideas, and all ideas I was prepared to make work.

Instead, you all let me off easy...

Poll: Which card will be the centerpiece of Jay's next deck evolution?
Followed Footsteps 2778 34.0%
Mindleech Mass 2070 25.4%
Spawnbroker 1305 16.0%
Bloodletter Quill 1243 15.2%
Cerulean Sphinx 766 9.4%
Total 8162 100.0%

I begin my exploration of House Dimir with Followed Footsteps, a card just begging to be used in sick and twisted ways. Followed Footsteps was the one card on the list that triggered multiple deck ideas for me (thank goodness Relentless Rats is no longer in Standard or there would be no controlling me), so I suppose it was inevitable that it would attract would-be deckbuilders to its cause.

For those of you new to the column, my goal is to slowly tinker my way through a deckbuilding exercise over the next three weeks. Usually when I engage in these deck evolutions, I begin with a preconstructed deck as a base and slowly change it until it's a fun, respectable budget deck. Sometimes I try different starting points, however, such as the time I began with the “cheap” rare Blood Clock. Today is a lot like the Blood Clock experiment in that I'm starting from a single card as a foundation.

Specifically, here are my guidelines over the next three weeks:

  • Start with a “cheap rare” (as defined by prices online) and brainstorm a first-draft, Standard, Blue/Black deck around that card.
  • Don't make changes until playing the deck in at least five games.
  • Change no more than five cards at a time.
  • Keep four copies of the rare in the deck at all times.
  • Build a respectable deck that's fun to play.
  • Build an affordable deck.

As I've said before, these guidelines are meant to be broken from time to time (especially the “five cards at a time” one, which I seem to violate at least once per series). Mostly they're around to help ensure that I go slow, pay attention to the changes I'm making to my deck and understand why I'm making those changes. As I've also said, you should expect to disagree with me at several points along the way--It's my deck, and my goal isn't so much to give you a decklist to copy as much as it is to inspire you to build your own deck. What's important here is that we all enjoy the ride and that I end up with a budget deck that's fun to play and wins its fair share of games in the Casual Decks room of Magic Online.

With introductions out of the way, let's get to know my new features card...

Followed Footsteps: An Overview

Here is how Followed Footsteps looks straight out of the booster pack.

Matt Cavotta described Followed Footsteps as the elusive “home run,” a card where the mechanic, art, card name, and flavor text all align perfectly into a tasty package of, um, tastiness. Let's look beyond the flavor, though, and head straight to its deckbuilding potential.

What do we have here? First thing to notice is that it's an Aura generally and an Enchant Creature specifically. This almost always means that there is a possibility of losing two cards (the Footsteps and my enchanted creature) for only one card from my opponent (like, say, Dark Banishing). A lot of Auras these days pack a bunch of side benefits to make this drawback less drawback-ish, such as Genju of the Fields (comes back to your hand), Fists of Ironwood (gives you creatures), Indomitable Will (played at instant speed), and Clinging Darkness (effectively a creature removal spell). Followed Footsteps has none of these benefits. It's simply an interesting effect that has just as many two-for-one dangers as a Blanchwood Armor or Spirit Link.

The other thing to note about Followed Footsteps being an Aura, I suppose, is that I happen to be making a deck outside of the “typical” Aura colors. That is, White is into Auras all over the place via cards like Auratouched Mage and Tallowisp. Green is into Auras via Enchantresses and really beefy Auras. Green/White is thus usually considered the “typical” Aura color combination. Neither Blue nor Black tend to have any card specifically geared towards making Auras more beneficial than normal. That's two strikes so far against my new feature card.

On the positive side, Followed Footsteps has a really cool effect. Put it on any creature--mine or an opponent's--and I get a copy of that creature every turn. If I have a fattie like Moss Kami, I will eventually have an army of said fatties. If I happen to have an uber-fattie like Verdant Force, well, things are about to get silly. Same thing is true if my opponent is packing big, mean creatures, with the side benefit that if my opponent's fattie happens to be a legend then Followed Footsteps is like delayed creature removal. This makes the Footsteps not only interesting but strategically versatile.

With such a cool effect, it might be difficult to understand why Followed Footsteps is a “cheap” rare. After all, how can a flavorful home-run with break me written across its forehead be relegated to the bargain bin? Part of the answer lies in the aforementioned fragility of Auras. The other part of the answer lies in the Footsteps' casting cost. 3 ManaBlue ManaBlue Mana is hard for any Blue deck to muster reliably. Green and Red are flush with mana-acceleration, but Blue views five mana as just plain daunting. Add that to the fact that you won't see it start working until the turn after you've cast it, and Followed Footsteps starts to look slow, fragile, and otherwise pretty dicey.

Still, those are some distracting words tattooed across its forehead. And it's so cute, too. Let's proceed.

As I ponder building a deck around a single card, I often brainstorm the generic implications for using it in a deck. Here are some quick observations as I think through Followed Footsteps.

Use creatures

I know this sounds dumb, but Enchant Creature cards are a lot less effective unless you happen to have a creature on the table to enchant. As such, any deck packing Followed Footsteps needs to have a fairly high quotient of creatures. Moreover, those creatures should generally be things you would like to multiply. Verdant Force is sure cool, but copying a Llanowar Elves turn after turn is decidedly less cool. That brings me to my next observation...

Some Creatures Are Better Followed Than Others

Let's continue with my mythical Green/Blue Followed Footsteps deck. Llanowar Elves might not be great targets, but what about Wood Elves? Carven Caryatid? Viridian Shaman? Scion of the Wild? Rootrunner? Hana Kami? You get the idea. The mental experiment is to try and imagine what sorts of creature you wish you could use more than four of in your deck. Comes-into-play and leaves-play critters are always good ideas, as are cards that benefit from having multiples in play like Zuberas.

Fat = Phat

Big, mean creatures are also good targets. An opponent may be able to handle one Ancient Silverback, but what one per turn? I think a lot of people look at Followed Footsteps and think of Smashing their opponents into oblivion under a sea of fatties. Personally, I don't see anything wrong with this instinct. What you need to guard against is using Followed Footsteps as a “win more” card that you could easily drop from your deck. That's why I tend to ponder the comes-into-play and Beast of Burden-type tricks more than the BOOM! CRUNCH! WHAMMO! ones.

Legendary Fat = Not So Phat

I mentioned before that copying an opponent's legendary creature is a decent way to kill it in a pinch. The same goes for your own legendary creatures, which turns out to be a much less clever play. The possible exception to this thought is Kokusho, the Evening Star, which I could imagine as a viable target for Followed Footsteps even if it were sitting on my side of the table.

Other Creature Duplicants Are Good

One way to really hammer home the idea of Followed Footsteps as a feature card is to include other ways to mimic its effect. Creature reanimation is the obvious one, since a Zombify is almost like a one-shot, delayed Followed Footsteps for those yummy comes-into-play creatures or fatties. Try to expand beyond mere reanimation, though. Think bounce like Peel from Reality, or shapeshifters like Sakashima the Impostor. These analogues not only tighten a deck's focus, they also make a deck less anemic if it happens to not draw Followed Footsteps.

Use Blue Mana

Another obvious point? Maybe, but the problem with some feature cards is that people first start to brainstorm ideas outside of the card's color. Remember that Followed Footsteps costs 3 ManaBlue ManaBlue Mana to cast. If you don't have access to good dual lands, this means your deck should have more than a smattering of Blue mana in it. I happen to be starting off with a Blue/Black deck in mind so I may be safe here, but this paragraph should act as a word of caution for anyone tapping their lip about Auratouched Mage and Yavimaya Enchantress.

Go Crazy. Have Fun.

Finally, I think it's important to remember that Followed Footsteps is a weird card begging to be included in weird decks. It's not like Savannah Lions where its purpose is bludgeoningly clear. It's also not a card to take the tournament scene by storm (though it does bear that break me tattoo for would-be Spike/Johnnies). It's a fun, funny card, a card meant to make your opponent grunt “huh,” when you play it then “huh” again when it starts rolling. In this way I think Followed Footsteps is a perfect entree into House Dimir because it's a tricky card meant to keep opposing decks off balance. It is the Footsteps' unpredictability that makes it almost as potent as its freaky cloning effect.

Now I'll try and put some of these observations to the test...

From Footprints to Blueprints

When I started my Blood Clock experiment, I brainstormed five initial decklists and had you choose one of them. This time I'm only making one deck. The disadvantage of this approach is that I might choose an initial path for the deck that you hate. The advantage is that I can start playing right away and continue playing after I submit the article. With only one deck, too, I can be pretty loose in my deck construction.

In fact, my intention is to take the words “first draft deck” to heart. I'm not going to worry about packing my deck with four copies of cards so much as trying lots of one-, two- and three-copies so that I'm able to try out a bunch of different ideas. I'm not worrying about card quality overmuch. If I'm interested in trying a card out because I've never played it, it's going in my deck. The result should be a deck somewhere between a typical preconstructed deck and a solid theoretical deck ready for playtesting.

Here is how I approach the deck:

4 Followed Footsteps

It's the feature card, and I promised four copies of it. My aim will be to justifiably keep four copies of Followed Footsteps in the deck from start to finish.

3 Brainspoil

Thanks to the wickedness that is Battle of Wits, Brainspoil is the only five-cost card with transmute. Still, a creature removal spell that can tutor for Followed Footsteps using House Dimir's signature mechanic seems terrific to me. The downside is that I now have seven cards out of seven that cost five mana. Help!

4 Dimir Signet

Ahhh... That's better. Again, the emphasis is on House Dimir, which I like. It's also some of the only mana-acceleration available to Blue/Black decks in Standard right now. As a side benefit, I can see an opponent using an early Naturalize on my Signet and not having it in hand when I finally cast Followed Footsteps.

3 Mark of Eviction

I swear, I'm listing these cards in the order that they occurred to me. I realized that I needed mana, so I added Dimir Signet and then scanned the lower cost cards available to Blue and Black. Lo and behold, there was Mark of Eviction, a card that acts as a sort of analogue to Followed Footsteps and can even help me reassign my Footsteps to another creature if needed. The defensive ability of Mark of Eviction is nice, too.

2 Bottle Gnomes

Speaking of defense, I realized at this point that I needed to start loading up on creatures. Bottle Gnomes doesn't have any useful comes-into-play abilities, but it is a creature I can imagine wanting to duplicate turn after turn. Again, too, it's meant to attract Naturalize-like effects away from Followed Footsteps.

2 Drake Familiar

I may be getting too cute here, but I figured that since I had seven Auras this might work out. Again, it's a way of reassigning Followed Footsteps later in the game and can help slow down an opponent using enchantments.

2 Gravedigger
3 Ravenous Rats

I'm committed to not having this deck degenerate into a tried and true reanimator deck. That said, Gravedigger is too cool of a Followed Footsteps target in Blue/Black to pass up and Ravenous Rats is an all-around good early creature in a deck like mine. I'm interested to know whether the Rats' effect is worthy of me wanting to enchant it, so that's part of the reason for including it as well.

2 Nekrataal
2 Keening Banshee

I like both and can't decide which I like better. I figure trying two of each will help me solve this mental quandry. With Gravedigger and these, my manacurve is again creeping skyward so I need to reign it in a bit.

3 Ninja of the Deep Hours
1 Throat Slitter

As much as this deck could become a straight reanimator deck, it could just as easily become a Ninja deck. That said, it's hard not to include at least a token Ninja pack since they interact so well with the other parts of the deck. I put a single Throat Slitter in there understanding that, I suppose, I could tutor for it via Brainspoil if needed.

2 Clone

Does Clone enchanted with Followed Footsteps make a new Clone each turn or the creature it Cloned? I don't know off the top of my head, but I aim to find out. Like Mark of Eviction, Gravedigger, and the Ninja, it's also a way to really focus on the key theme in the deck. I'm sort of maxed out on rares with the addition of Clone, but I think it's still worth including in my deck for the chaos factor alone.

1 Highway Robber

I actually wanted to include more than one since Highway Robber might be a key win condition for my deck. I don't see the room, though, until I start dropping some of the other four-cost creatures or simply culling the chaff from my deck. Eventually, maybe, this guy might make its way to center stage.

2 Surveilling Sprite

Speaking of chaff, these guys strike me as very underwhelming. They're cheap, which I like, and they give the deck another way to draw into Followed Footsteps. It's not a card I particularly want to copy, though. I originally thought of Minamo Scrollkeeper and/or Drift of Phantasms here but I worried I would never have anything to get Ninja of the Deep Hours into play (even still I have no Turn 1 creatures for my poor Ninja).

Other creatures I thought about but didn't add to the first decklist: Ashen-Skin Zubera and Floating Dream Zubera, Thief of Hope, Thieving Magpie, Daring Apprentice, Aven Fisher, Sage Aven, Golgari Thug, Bile Urchin, Infectious Host, Dimir Guildmage, Netherborn Phalanx, Phyrexian Gargantua, Gnat Miser and Locust Miser, Kiri-Onna, Mausoleum Turnkey, Vedalken Dismisser, Nezumi Bone-Reader, Thought Courier, Phantom Warrior, Shape Stealer, Teardrop Kami, and Thoughtpicker Witch. I may eventually come back to some of these ideas, but for now I found myself with thirty-six cards and a need for land.

2 Dimir Aqueduct

Again, Blue/Black is pretty sparse in the mana-acceleration department. I miss Star Compass, a card that could come in handy if I'm copying opposing creatures. For some reason the tempo lost in the new common dual lands really, really bothers me, yet I can't deny that the two mana is juicy to a deck featuring a card that costs five mana.

11 Island
11 Swamp

I was somewhat surprised to find that I had unconsciously been balancing my colors all along. As a result, I can start out with a balance between my land and hope that things stay that way through the iterations ahead of me.

That put my first (very rough) draft here:

How awful. Despite its weird choices somehow I think the changes involved in making this deck fun and respectable are going to be a lot more painful than a precon since I was the one responsible for the initial decklist.

First Footsteps

As always, I log my games in the Casual Decks room of Magic Online. My online handle is BuildingOnABudget, something I rarely think to mention yet a question that comes up weekly on e-mail. Anyway, please drop by to watch my games whenever I'm playing.

Speaking of playing, there is no better way to figure out changes to a draft decklist than playing said decklist. I assembled my Followed Footsteps deck online, sat down at the first empty table I saw, and prayed my deck would do something cool.

Game 1: Black/Green Golgari

My opponent had a Llanowar Elves, Elvish Skysweeper, and Shambling Shell. I had a bunch of Islands and no Swamps. On the fifth turn I found a Swamp to cast Ravenous Rats, which made him discard Mausoleum Turnkey and eventually killed his Shell. I then got Keening Banshee to kill one of his critters. My Banshee turned into Ninja of the Deep Hours, allowing me to off a second creature. A long game ensued and I dropped to nine life from a Loxodon Warhammer on various small opposing creatures. I used Brainspoil to transmute into Followed Footsteps on my Ninja, then did it again to put one on Highway Robber. I pumped out two creatures a turn, including the life-drain from the Robber, and my opponent conceded after a few turns of topdecking. Neat.

Game 2: White/Blue Control deck

I kept a one-land hand because it had Dimir Signet and Ravenous Rats in it and because my opponent chose to play first. I missed a land drop on the second turn, but eventually found a pocket of land in my deck. It was a good thing, too, since my opponent busted out with Rune-Tail, Kitsune Ascendant and Loxodon Warhammer. Nekrataal killed his Kitsune, then sneakily turned into Ninja of the Deep Hours, then came back to kill a Drift of Phantasms. My opponent got out Shimmering Glasskite and paid the extra mana to equip it with the Warhammer. I then put Followed Footsteps on my Nekrataal, effectively letting me cheat the Glasskite's ability and kill it with a second Nekrataal. Although my opponent found a Story Circle for Black, he eventually conceded to a mounting army of scimitar-waving madmen. I won at ten life with two Bottle Gnomes in hand.

Game 3: Monored Aggro

Ow. He got Hearth Kami equipped with Galvanic Arc, then Sellsword Brute, Akki Avalanchers, and another Hearth Kami. The Arc killed my Bottle Gnomes, then a Shock predictably killed my Highway Robber enchanted with Followed Footsteps (my deck is going to hate playing against Red burn). Even when I tried Ravenous Rats it spawned a Guerilla Tactics at my face. The Rats blocked his second Hearth Kami, but it was a short, brutal game.

Game 4: White/Red Boros Weenie

He threw me off with a second-turn Crossbow Infantry, but otherwise his deck had a lot of the usual suspects. I dropped Highway Robber, which turned into Ninja of the Deep Hours. He played Glorious Anthem for a beefier Infantry, but I had Brainspoil for the crossbowman. The next few turns were fun, because my Clone killed his Isamaru, Hound of Konda, then a second Clone killed a second Isamaru. All the while my Ninja kept attacking and by the time he dropped a Boros Guildmage to block, my hand was flush with creature removal. I won, and easily.

Game 5: White/Green Spirits

I experienced a small moral victory when he used an early Wear Away to kill my Dimir Signet. Thankfully it didn't slow down my mana development much, and I was able to play Ravenous Rats, Surveilling Sprite, then Highway Robber. A Child of Thorns on his side blocked my Rats, then a Nikko-Onna blocked my Robber. Another Niko-Onna showed up, but I had Throat Slitter so my Sprite killed his Spirit with some Ninja action. After that I had a sea of removal for anything he played. He killed my Sprite with a channeled Arashi, the Sky Asunder to avoid lethal damage, but the card I drew was Keening Banshee to kill the next blocker he drew. My next attack won me the game. I never saw a Followed Footsteps or Brainspoil in this game, though I did have a Mark of Eviction I was afraid to cast because of his massive enchantment removal.

The deck is working surprisingly well right now, but it still feels distant from any adjectives like “polished” or “finished.” I think I need a few more games under my belt before I can start making changes...

Game 6: White/Red/Green Weenie

His deck used a bunch of vanilla creatures to attack, attack, and then attack some more. His Glory Seeker and Grizzly Bears ate into my life while I had a Ravenous Rats, Surveilling Sprite, and eventually Ninja of the Deep Hours. I used my 1/1s as chump blockers, then Cloned my Ninja to keep drawing cards. He had a Goblin Raider, Hill Giant, and used things like Stone Rain on my Dimir Aqueduct and Naturalize on my Dimir Signet. I probably got a little too careless with my life since he had burn maindeck, but at four life I played Highway Robber with Mark of Eviction on it(woo!). I bounced my Robber three times to climb back into comfortable territory before the Robber died to Volcanic Hammer. At this point my various creatures had blocked or otherwise killed his forces, so my opponent was in topdecking mode. I played another Rats, then Keening Banshee to kill another Bears, then I starting swinging the game my way. He drew a last-gasp Serra Angel, but I had Nekrataal in hand to deal with it and won at a semi-comfortable eight life.

Game 7: Black/Green Grave Pact

I got the usual suspects of Ravenous Rats and Surveilling Sprite to face off against his Sakura-Tribe Elder and Ashen-Skin Zubera. A Rats turned into Ninja of the Deep Hours, then a Keening Banshee killed his Zubera and his Elder played chump-blocker. My opponent played two Nantuko Husks, then Hideous Laughter so that after the dust settled all that remained on the table was a lone Husk. I killed it with Brainspoil, then went on the attack with another Sprite. Grave Pact hit the table, allowing me to play Drake Familiar and keep up my offense. I then got tricky by using Throat Slitter to bounce my Drake, replaying the Drake to bounce his Pact back to hand, then playing Ravenous Rats to make him discard it. I think that pretty much won the game for me, and my opponent died despite a topdecked Putrefy. Included in my army: a Bottle Gnomes with Followed Footsteps on it that produced no less than three tokens.

Game 8: Blue/Black Ninja

For some reason I kept a creatureless hand. I played out land and three Dimir Signets with a Followed Footsteps waiting for a target. I figured a creature would have to make its way to me, right? Nope. In the meantime, my opponent got a Ravenous Rats, Ninja of the Deep Hours, two Ornithopters, and two Ronin Warclubs. I finally found my own Ninja, but it was way too late. A Mistblade Shinobi bounced my guy and I died beneath a pile of critters.

Game 9: Green/White Selesnya

My opponent got, in order, Birds of Paradise, Fists of Ironwood, Twilight Drover, Watchwolf, Llanowar Elves, and Umezawa's Jitte, plus two Forests and a Brushland. What did I get? Three Swamps and two Ravenous Rats. In hand I had two Keening Banshee, two Ninja of the Deep Hours, Drake Familiar, Followed Footsteps, and Surveilling Sprite. Yep... That was a frustrating and depressing game.

Game 10: White/Red Boros Control

I got out a Ravenous Rats, which turned into Ninja of the Deep Hours. My opponent responded with a Skyknight Legionnaire, which prompted me to play Keening Banshee. My Banshee also became a Ninja, and I started to have a very good feeling about this game. My opponent played a Sunhome Enforcer and gained life for two turns while I attacked with my Ninja to draw cards. Firemane Angel then hit the table, so I played Nekrataal to kill it, then Mark of Eviction on the Nekrataal. The next turn I killed Sunhome Enforcer, and that was pretty much game. I eventually played out three Ravenous Rats to empty his hand, and my next attack killed him.

It's late and this article is already long, but I feel comfortable making one round of changes before signing off...

OUT: 2 Surveilling Sprite

Having a Turn 2 creature with evasion is good, and I often appreciated the card I got when it died. Surveilling Sprite makes my deck filled with just a few too many one-toughness creatures, though, and I always felt a little silly playing it. I think its biggest indictment is that I want to enchant it with neither Followed Footsteps nor Mark of Eviction. I still think it was a good call instead of a defender like Minamo Scrollkeeper or Drift of Phantasms, but the Sprite has too little punch for this deck.

OUT: 1 Drake Familiar

It was useful in one game for interesting Ninja tricks, and I like both its stats and the ability to reassign Followed Footsteps. With two I too often found myself with a Drake Familiar stuck in hand, though. I'm keeping one in the deck (there's a method to my madness coming up, I promise), but only one.

OUT: 2 Bottle Gnomes

I like the three toughness, I like the colorless mana cost, and once I even managed to get four Bottle Gnomes into play via Followed Footsteps. Truly, though, Highway Robber is both a better lifegain option and better target for the Footsteps. If my deck was more focused on reanimation I could see Bottle Gnomes sticking around, but it's a nonsensical Ninja and Mark of Eviction target, which can't be said for Highway Robber. Oh well... it was worth a try.

IN: 1 Highway Robber

See above. Highway Robber might be my single best target for Followed Footsteps, so I need to think really carefully about potentially adding two more to the deck. The problem is that my deck is now completely log-jammed in the four-mana slot thanks to the Robber, Keening Banshee, Nekrataal, Gravedigger, Clone, and to a lesser extent Ninja of the Deep Hours. I like all of these creatures so much that I'm not quite sure what to do about a deck trying to allow them all to coexist. This is one area where I would appreciate some Message Board feedback.

IN: 4 Dimir Infiltrator

I'm not entirely sure why, when making my first decklist, I avoided Dimir Infiltrator. I probably thought it would be too hard to cast, which will still probably come up a lot. It's clear to me now, though, that the Infiltrator is a far superior Turn 2 creature compared to Surveilling Sprite and a perfect Ninja outlet. I can even--sort of--imagine enchanting this with Followed Footsteps in a slow game or Mark of Eviction to use the transmute ability for Drake Familiar or Ravenous Rats. Speaking of transmute, with four Infiltrators in the deck I need to pay close attention to two-mana cards to see if there are others I'd like to include in the deck.

That puts my deck here for the week:

Followed Footsteps v.1.1k

Speak up on the Message Boards with suggestions for cards to both add and drop from the deck. By the end of next week's article, I anticipate having a much more stable decklist and one that (hopefully) takes full advantage of Followed Footsteps.

Think hard and have fun,

-jms

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