Building_on_a_Budget

Jay breaks fresh ground on a new deck

Drafting Golgari: Staring At Insects

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The letter E!ven though only two of my last five deckbuilding series have involved taking a single preconstructed deck as a base and evolving it, I've seen some criticism of this column recently as too precon-focused. Some folks are starting to think of BOAB as a “one trick pony” and I've heard a few wistful sighs about Nate Heiss' approach of throwing out one deck per week.

Part of me can't help but react a bit defensively to the criticism. After all, I have been varying the precon focus in my experiments quite a bit since the first Smackdown!, and my Interludes - like the recent Budget Dimir one - routinely throw multiple decklists your way to make up for the one-deck-in-three-weeks thing. I still think that preconstructed decks are many players' first dip into Constructed Magic, and that using them as a base speaks to the widest possible audience. Besides, the decklists themselves aren't the point of the column. This column tries to use these experiments to expose the thinking behind deckbuilding, not to simply provide you with ready-made budget decks. Teaching fishermen versus catching fish, and all that.

Still, I concede that watching an entire set of precons evolve in succession can be a bit... predictable. For this reason, my plan for the foreseeable future is to only evolve one precon per set release. After that I'll use different approaches for my deckbuilding experiments (and yes, I'm sticking to the three-week experiment, one-week Interlude format for a variety of reasons I'll explain in a future column).

What sort of different approaches? I'm glad you asked.

I've already used the “cheap rare base,” first with Blood Clock, and most recently with Followed Footsteps. I'll come back to this approach repeatedly, but there are certainly other ways that budget deckbuilders can begin to build their decks.

An approach I've run into occasionally in the Casual Decks room of Magic Online is to begin with a booster draft or, sometimes, multiple drafts as a starting point. “This is mostly a draft deck,” my opponent will say mid-game, or “I'm using cards I just drafted.” The idea is that, after one or more booster drafts, you have a focused enough theme to start adding cards from your collection, eventually fleshing out a Constructed deck. Sometimes a two-card combo, mechanic, or interaction you played during the draft will get you excited about building a Constructed deck. Today, in ode to the recently deceased Limited Information, I'm going to follow this approach and draft myself a deck as a Constructed starting point.

Note that today is an “ode” to Limited Information. I'm not trying to fill a strategic gap left by that column's departure. I'm not a hardcore drafter, nor is my intention to give you any drafting advice whatsoever. To prove my point, I'm going to enter my particular draft with a specific two-color combination in mind. Witness last week's poll results:

Which deck next?
The Golgari 5218 56.5%
Boros Legion 4021 43.5%
Total 9239 100.0%

That's right: I'm hauling my butt into the Draft room, forcing myself a Golgari deck, then slowly building the deck up over time until it's a respectable, fun, budget deck. Specifically, here are my guidelines for this particular deck experiment:

  • Start with a Black/Green draft deck and add cards until it's a sixty-card deck.
  • Don't make changes until playing the deck in at least five games.
  • Change no more than five cards at a time.
  • Build a respectable deck that's fun to play.
  • Build an affordable deck.

If this experiment turns out to be interesting, I'll certainly return to this approach in the future. If, on the other hand, it's a big train wreck of a flop, well... Thanks in advance for indulging me. Whatever the case, keep up the feedback on the Message Boards so I can adjust next time.

Speaking of the Boards, now is as good a time as any to remind you that it's very unlikely that you will agree with all of my card-swap choices over the next three weeks. You may even disagree with the fundamental ways in which I'm building the deck. Disagreeing with me here is a-okay. Healthy, even. As I said earlier, my hope is to inspire you to build your own decks and to let you know one deckbuilder's thought process when assembling sixty cards. You should feel free to use this energy to argue why I'm wrong, build your own decks, and post these decks on the Message Boards.

Forcing colors in a booster draft has never been a strength of mine, nor am I much of a drafter. As I embark on this adventure, my Limited rating online is a mere 1707. Oh jeez... Maybe I should be starting with a preconstructed deck base, after all. Is it too late to change my mind?

Drafting For Fun And Budget

(time passes)

Whew.

I'll cut to the chase and say that this was my first-ever Ravnica draft and, well, I won. My first pick was Vigor Mortis, second pick Last Gasp, and things fell nicely into place after that. For example, my second pack gave me Helldozer and Golgari Rotwurm in succession. I won the first match 2-0 against a Blue/Black deck splashing Red for Galvanic Arcs, I won the second match 2-0 against an 1800+ player sporting a White/Green/Black deck with lots of good stuff, and I finished the draft winning my final match 2-1 against, fittingly enough, a White/Red Boros deck.

Of course, how the booster draft itself went is irrelevant. The point is that I, like many of you, have just spent an evening drafting and now find myself with a pile of cards. I liked playing the deck over seven games and it started to trigger some interesting deckbuilding thoughts, so it's time to start modifying my Limited deck into something Constructed.

Below is my draft deck. There's a lot to like about the deck, including dredge galore, Thoughtpicker Witch and Golgari Rotwurm plus token generators, the beefy goodness of Hunted Horror and Helldozer, Mortipede plus Gaze of the Gorgon, and Bramble Elemental and Stinkweed Imp plus Strands of Undeath. Of these themes, the one that makes me smile the most is the Mortipede-Gaze combo. Here is where I'll focus my initial attention.

Now clearly that's a forty-card deck, so I need to add twenty cards to start playing games in the Casual Decks room. Let's assume that I'll be starting with twenty-four land, which means I have roughly thirteen non-land cards to my deck. I've said that I like the Mortipede-Gaze of the Gorgon interaction, so a lot of the cards I'll add are meant to beef up this theme. For this first round of additions, I'll only add copies of cards already in the deck.

IN: 2 Mortipede

I don't know what it is about Lure effects that continue to intrigue me, but remember when I made that deck with Shinen of Life's Roar and Elvish Bard awhile back? That deck used Red as a secondary color because of Mannichi, the Fevered Dream. Here comes Ravnica, though, with it's own Black/Green Lure creature. I loved playing Mortipede in the draft, and now I'm really liking the idea of making a Golgari deck that relies heavily on him. Maybe three weeks of Mortipede will finally satisfy my Lure addiction.

IN: 2 Gaze of the Gorgon

If there's one thing that makes Lure cooler, it's Thicket Basilisk. Back when I made that Lure deck and Ravnica wasn't yet online, I hypothesized that Gaze of the Gorgon might make its way into an updated decklist for Switcharoo. Right now I'm thinking that if I truly want to make a Mortipede-ish deck, then I am probably leaning on Gaze as well. Interestingly, I never drew my single copy of Gaze of the Gorgon through seven games, but my second opponent used it against me twice to great effect.

I kid you not: I just finished writing this paragraph at 9:30pm Pacific last Monday night (little known fact: the polls almost always show a clear winner by noon on Monday). I stretched, popped over to magicthegathering.com to look over the new articles and read Chris Millar's Green/Black Gaze of the Gorgon deck. Grrrr. Still, I am undaunted. His deck doesn't use Mortipede, am I right?

IN: 2 Strands of Undeath

Continuing my focus on Mortipede, the other card that feels like it has natural synergy with my new favorite Insect is Strands of Undeath. Strands actually feels a little expensive to me given what it does, but I can't deny that a regenerating 'Pede and making an opponent discard two cards sounds juicy. I'll try it here, but I'm guessing that I'll like Gaze's surprise value more than Strands' discard, despite the fact that they cost the same mana-wise.

IN: 1 Stinkweed Imp

Wow, did I love Stinkweed Imp in my draft. Twice I enchanted it with Strands of Undeath and loved it even more. I'm not sure that my deck can take full advantage of its steep dredge cost, but I'm willing to try it out and see what's what.

IN: 1 Vigor Mortis

It was my first pick in the booster draft and when it's enhanced it's... just... so... cool. I'm thinking that Vigor Mortis also ain't too shabby with Mortipede, since after it's cleared out an opponent's side of the table it can come back as a 5/2 beatstick. Am I focusing too much on Mortipede here? Am I committing to a theme too early? I don't know. I do know that Mortipede is very Golgari (I can tell because of that spiffy insignia stamped into the text box) while staying a relatively unusual and fun focus. I'm running with it.

IN: 3 Last Gasp

Why am I making a Mortipede focused deck, yet only adding two copies of it and three copies of Last Gasp? I think partly I'm allowing myself to retreat from the Mortipede theme if it's not working out in my games. Meanwhile, I'm pretty sure that any Golgari deck I make can use four Last Gasps. The Gasp is simply terrific, instant-speed creature removal for two mana. Almost every Black deck I make these days uses a full four copies, and I don't see why this deck should be any different. I suppose Putrefy might eventually make Last Gasp redundant, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.

IN: 1 Shambling Shell

If I had an MVP in my draft, it was Shambling Shell. It's relatively low dredge and mana cost combined with its free activation all allowed Shambling Shell to take over games. People who regularly play Golgari decks already know the power of Shambling Shell, but this was my first opportunity to play it. I'm not sure if it will stick around if I'm truly making a Mortipede/Gaze of the Gorgon deck monstrosity, but at least in theory Shambling Shell can make Mortipede more... I don't know... monstrous.

IN: 1 Golgari Signet

What I notice about my fledgling deck is that Mortipede, Gaze of the Gorgon, and Strands of Undeath all cost four mana. That's not a big deal for a Limited deck, but it's killer for a Constructed deck. For that reason, it's a good thing that one of my two colors is Green, with access to all of its yummy Sakura-Tribe Elders, Kodama's Reaches, Llanowar Elves, Elves of Deep Shadow, and such. Until I can start adding these sorts of staples, I have Golgari Signet.

That leaves seven land to round out the deck. Given the rest of the cards in my deck, I'm looking at considerably more Black than Green. Still, I've got important early Green cards like Civic Wayfinder, Shambling Shell, and Golgari Germination along with Green-intensive cards like Golgari Brownscale and Trophy Hunter, so I can't overdo it on the Swamps. Here is how I'll try as a first pass:

IN: 4 Swamp
IN: 2 Forest
IN: 1 Golgari Rot Farm

That leaves me here as a draft deck on its way to the Casual Decks room...

Hey, you know, that sort of looks like a preconstructed deck. Neat. What I like about this deck as a starting point over, say, thinking up my own Golgari deck out of the blue is that there are a lot of cards I might not otherwise use but am trying because of the draft. I'm not just talking about the one-ofs that are likely to get dropped as I go along, but also the idea of using Vigor Mortis or Strands of Undeath in a Mortipede deck, or starting with Last Gasp as removal over Putrefy. I think this different starting place will end up manifesting itself in interesting ways by the time I get to a final decklist. Be prepared for the final deck to look completely different from what I have right now, though.

The Alluring Insect and The Ubiquitous Snake

Of course, with all of the preamble out of the way the real question now is: How does this thing play? To find out, I popped myself into the Casual Decks room of Magic Online. Below are the results of my first foray.

Game 1: Black/Red Hunted Horror deck

My opponent mulliganed twice, keeping a removal-heavy hand. I started out with Thoughtpicker Witch, Last Gasp to kill his Nezumi Graverobber, then Golgari Germination. He aimed Glacial Ray at my Witch, so I sacrificed it to see Strands of Undeath and Hunted Horror. I had Disembowel in hand, so I let him have the Horror. After I received my Centaur tokens, I killed his newly-cast Horror and that was pretty much game. Mortipede sped up the victory after he killed my Saproling token and a Centaur.

Game 2: Black/Red Honden control

The bad news is that I got stuck on two Forests and a Golgari Signet. The good news is that I managed to pump out Golgari Brownscale, Shambling Shell, and Trophy Hunter to his land and Honden of Night's Reach. I discarded Bramble Elemental to the Honden, drew a Swamp, attacked, then played Vigor Mortis for a 5/5 Elemental with Strands of Undeath in hand. My opponent was at six life facing a horde of attackers so he untapped, looked at his hand for awhile, then conceded.

Well, neither of those are quite what I had in mind with this deck, but I suppose I'll take the wins.

Game 3: Blue/Green Spirits

I kept a truly awful hand that included two Gaze of the Gorgon, Vigor Mortis, and Golgari Germination with no creatures. Luckily, I had Trophy Hunter on the third turn, soon enchanted with Strands of Undeath. Last Gasp killed his Briarknit Kami, then my Hunter went to work, killing Sire of the Storm, Shimmering Glasskite, and Teller of Tales to reach 5/6 status. His Wear Away destroyed my Strands, then a second destroyed Golgari Germination. I meanwhile drew Last Gasp to kill his Kodama of the Center Tree. Eventually, he had Loam Dweller, Carven Caryatid, and two Petalmane Baku to my big Trophy Hunter. I was low enough on life to not want to expose myself to an attack and my opponent was sitting on ten life. I then drew Mortipede and smiled. Down came my Insect, and on my next attack I activated it, then played one of the two Gaze of the Gorgons in my hand. All four of his creatures died, he dropped to five life, and on the next attack I won.

Game 4: Black/Green Control

I don't know how else to describe his deck except as a “drain” deck, because he used lots of land-searchers like Sakura-Tribe Elder and Kodama's Reach to stockpile land for big Joyous Respites and Black X-spells. The other reason for the lifegain was Phyrexian Arena, which my opponent managed to get quickly along with all four Elders. I, meanwhile, had Stinkweed Imp, Sewerdreg, and Shambling Shell. My recurring Shell made my Sewerdreg a 5/5 while I used Last Gasp to kill his Nezumi Graverobber. Although I was hitting him for six damage a turn plus two Arenas, my opponent cast three Joyous Respites to climb near twenty again on each of his turns. I found Helldozer the same time my opponent found Kokusho, the Evening Star and suddenly the game got interesting. I replayed my Shambling Shell and attacked with everything. My opponent took the damage down to seven, then attacked and played a second Kokusho to drop me to one life. I attacked for a lot. He played Sensei's Divining Top and spun it, played Kodama's Reach, and spun it some more. Eventually he drew his card off of the Top and played a second Graverobber. My lone card in hand was Last Gasp, so I won despite the Putrefy that killed my Sewerdreg.

Game 5: Black/Blue Reanimator

One of things I hate about the Ravnica lands like Golgari Rot Farm are those instances when I have to discard a card after playing it on turn 2. In this case, however, it actually worked to my advantage. While my opponent was busy casting two Ideas Unbound and two Compulsive Researches, putting only a Nezumi Graverobber and a bunch of non-creatures into his graveyard, I discarded Golgari Rotwurm into my graveyard. On my fourth turn I played Vigor Mortis, giving me a 6/5 fattie. After that I played Golgari Germination and Shambling Shell, whacking him down as he desperately tried to put something in his graveyard to reanimate. I never saw a fourth land, but I used Last Gasp to kill his reanimated Graverobber, then Strands of Undeath to make him discard his last two cards in hand (both Zombify). My opponent drew a card and then conceded at six life.

Well, it's always weird to start out 5-0 with such an unpolished deck. Unfortunately, a lot of the strength of my deck right now is the same thing that won me the draft - my deck can be really aggressive and pump out hard-to-deal-with creature after hard-to-deal-with creature. This isn't really where I've decided to place my emphasis as a Standard deck, though, so it's time to make some changes.

IN: 1 Mortipede

I've talked about making this a Mortipede deck for enough of this article that it seems silly not to use as many copies as is legal. I'm taking the plunge now... This will be a Mortipede deck. Hopefully with four in the deck I'll be able to play with them enough to know what works and what doesn't work about using Mortipede in today's Standard.

IN: 4 Sakura-Tribe Elder

Some people will roll their eyes and mutter something along the lines of “How boring. STE... again.” These people don't understand what a superb tool Sakura-Tribe Elder is for the budget deckbuilder. I've already discussed its generic awesomeness in my Kamigawa Commons Review, but think specifically about how it helps me accomplish what I want to in this deck. As I've said, all of my key cards are four mana. The Mortipede-Gaze trick costs a whopping seven mana to pull off. My deck uses Gaze and Strands, which presupposes that my deck is full of creatures. Sakura-Tribe Elder helps me ramp up to four mana and beyond, it provides early defense, it thins lands from my deck, and it's a Strands or Gaze target in a pinch. The Elder is even a better when I have Golgari Germination on the board. As Mike Flores recently pointed out, Sakura-Tribe Elder is the best Green card in Standard these days at any rarity, so I'm not sure why I would be eschewing it in my own Black/Green deck.

Those are five easy additions. My subtractions may surprise you.

OUT: 1 Hunted Horror

The thing that is currently keeping the deck from allowing me to analyze Mortipede is the fact that I often win before I can do anything tricky. This would be great if I was on my way to making a Golgari aggro deck, but I'm not. Instead, my focus is going to be on the alluring 'Pede and ways to enhance its effectiveness. How does Hunted Horror fit into this plan? Quite simply, it doesn't. Hunted Horror is a risky enough card that it needs an entire deck built around it (and, ironically, Gaze of the Gorgon might be a card to help make it work), but that's not the deck I'm building. Twice in those last five games I've held Hunted Horror in my hand because I thought my opponent would likely take advantage of it much more than me. It stinks dropping one of my two rares right away, but my deck is better off with Hunted Horror on the sidelines.

OUT: 1 Sewerdreg

Game 4 notwithstanding, Sewerdreg is one of those terrific Limited cards that looks a lot less terrific in Constructed. Unless I'm using Blue and playing around with basic land types via something like Mind Bend, the swampwalk is a nice-to-have but unlikely to be relevant. The spot graveyard removal is more generally useful - especially with all of the dredge and reanimation in today's Standard - but not useful enough to pay five mana for a 3/3 that can only remove one card from the graveyard. In other words, Sewerdrag simply costs too much mana for what it does. By way of comparison, I can get Helldozer for one more mana, or Sengir Vampire, Seizan, Perverter of Truth, or KageMaro, First to Suffer for the same mana cost.

OUT: 1 Golgari Brownscale

Golgari Brownscale is fine for a dredge deck, and sometimes its lifegain side effect can help me climb back into a game. The problem is that I'm not making a typical Golgari dredge deck and my deck is Black enough that 1 ManaGreen ManaGreen Mana is difficult to find on the third turn. This makes the Brownscale pretty unremarkable, and I'd like to think that I have no room in my deck for unremarkable cards.

OUT: 1 Thoughtpicker Witch

If given my initial draft decklist, I think a lot of deckbuilders would tinker with Thoughtpicker Witch and its interactions with cards like Scatter the Seeds and Golgari Germination. I'll admit that such a deck intrigues me, but the problem is that, for me, this starts to bleed too much into Selesnya Conclave territory. Oh, I know that the Golgari are all about the cycle of life and death, but I already had my fun in this column with Scatter the Seeds in Empire Maker and I'd like to play around with more than just token_generator.dec this time around. I still think Thoughtpicker Witch is cool, though, and I imagine it will make its way into one of my side decks in the near future.

OUT: 1 Scatter the Seeds

As I said above, my deck isn't going to be built around the fun Golgari mages can have with tokens. Scatter the Seeds is a great card, but I don't see how it meshes with Mortipede other than as a way of giving me three points of attacker damage for five mana.

After these changes, my deck looks like this:

There are still a dizzying number of changes I'd like to make to this deck, but it's early yet. Join me next week as I continue to play and evolve my Golgari draft deck into something that Mortipede, Gorgons, and the undead can call home. As always, speak up on the Message Boards and let me know what cards you would take out, what cards you would put in, and generally what you think of the deck.

Think hard and have fun,

-jms

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