Alternate title: how to find joy in the things that restrict you (and how restriction isn’t limiting at all)
For years now, Rick is my best friend. We met through a mutual Magic-playing friend who we both knew independently. While he faded away from Magic, Rick stuck around in my local playing ground, and therefore in my circle of friends. He’s been there ever since. He can be a bit stubborn at times, however. That is why I’m dedicating this next deck to him. And just by those words, he will know enough. For those that don’t know (which is everyone but him and me), I give you four words: Peasant Squirrel Nest abuse.
What is Peasant?
Before Pauper became a hit on Magic Online, me and my friends devised a format to play that required a smaller financial investment than regular ‘anything goes Casual’ Magic. We remembered the old-time paper format called Peasant. In it, you can play with any cards, as long as they are common or uncommon somewhere. But there’s a catch that differs Peasant from Lite (which is ‘no rares and mythics’): you can use a maximum of five uncommons.
To further trim down the costs, we said that anything before Urza’s Saga-block and Sixth Edition was off-limits. Furthermore, we embedded the Choose Your Own Standard-rule: you pick two blocks and a Core Set for each deck, and build accordingly. However, this last measure was a bit too harsh, so we did away with it. It did encourage some creative deckbuilding, though, but for players who aren’t as invested in Magic as me (which is about everyone in our group), it was more of a hurdle than a budget-preserving measure.
Sadly, the format didn’t really catch on in the group. I played it quite a lot last year with Jeroen and Rick, but the others did not jump on the bus. Which is weird, since neither Jeroen nor Rick was present when me and other friends devised our form of Peasant. I didn’t even come up with the idea in the first place!
The pros outweigh the cons
We chose Peasant when we could’ve chosen Pauper, but we didn’t do that because we liked our own metagame. Even before Pauper caught on on MTGO, it was a paper format that had more followers than Peasant, and therefore more of a metagame. This was perhaps our version’s biggest plus: we could make whatever we wanted and not have it be smothered by a metagame of Better Decks.
Second, you usually had to look a bit harder for cards than you were used to. This pro is the natural result of using Peasant over Pauper, and using a restricted format. Not all the cards are here, so you need to look a little harder. The result is more satisfying this way, since you can be proud if your own creation works, even moreso if you discovered some cool new cards by yourself. To give you an example, I built a pretty good UR/g Wall deck -yes, a Wall deck – that is able to abuse Vent Sentinel and Stinging Barrier.
Go on, click those links. I’ll wait.
Now, do you see how cool it is to make a working deck using those cards?
Let’s continue, shall we? Another nice catch of our format was that sometimes a strong deck appears, and because the cost of deckbuilding is incredibly low, you can either change your deck a bit to shore up your defenses against said deck, or you can just build a different deck. This metagaming is something we rarely do in regular Casual Magic, and by rarely, I mean ‘just me and no-one else’. I wrote a whole piece a while ago about this subject, and I encourage you to read it. It is called About Answers and in it, I explain why I think metagaming is beneficial to anyone, even Casual players.
The last mayor beneficial point I’d like to mention is that Peasant has made me a better player. I don’t know how this works, but whenever I’m playing Peasant, I feel that I play tighter. When we play Peasant, the games tend to be much more closer than in regular Casual Magic. You have to play on your toes and take each opportunity you get presented, or you’ll get on the back foot. Therefore, I feel Peasant has made me a better player. I can more accurately predict what is happening and what could happen. I must admit, knowing the decks I play against has helped this, too, but I know my Casual opponents’ decks too, so that’s not the sole reason. I love bashing the same decks into one another for a whole session, since that is a great way to do threat analysis and work on how to handle a specific type of deck. In Peasant, Rick and Jeroen don’t have a lot of decks, so when you have one great game, you are more likely to want to play another game. I have had many a night where I packed a whole bag full of decks to play at Jeroen’s, but in the end, I played the whole evening with the one Peasant deck I had brought.
To me, more than anything, Peasant has a more leveled playing field, and that is why a) obscure cards can shine, b) you need to look for cards a little harder, but c) the games are more equal, and therefore d) you have to play tight in order to seize each opportunity (and why card advantage is so imporant).
The history of Rick and Peasant
At first, Rick was excited about Peasant, but he misunderstood the format pretty severely. He thought he could only use the first set in each block and one Core Set (back when the CYOS-rule was active). He built a Unearth (Shards of Alara) – Dredge (Ravnica) concoction that was pretty horrendous, because he had unwillingly limited himself more than he had to.
Before I continue, I have to talk a bit more about Rick. When he was told his über-Peasant Golgari deck could actually be expanded upon by a whopping four sets, he didn’t actually do this. Why? I haven’t a clue. I think his first experience with the Peasant format was a bitter one, and while incorrect, influenced him nonetheless. Rick can be a bit stubborn like this at times, a bit reluctant to change. If you read my article About Answers that I already linked to above, you’ll see what I been by stubborn. Don’t get me wrong, Rick is a great guy and a formidable player, but he could be a little more open-minded.
Luckily, Rick did build a new deck. It was a very good one, too: it had a madness-shell of Wild Mongrel, Basking Rootwalla and Fiery Temper on top of a gating-subtheme with Horned Kavu and ETB-creatures like Civic Wayfinder. His uncommons where 2 Violent Eruptions and 3 Ceta Sanctuary. The deck was good, and it was precisely made for Rick. Fast and aggressive, but with enough options to keep things interested. His deck’s speed sure was a good test for my decks to see if they were good enough, and coming up with ways to make matchups against him even or in my favor was good fun.
Rick’s cons (and love of conflict)
Sadly, Rick’s enthusiasm and fun faded. He tried his hand at the combo of Ashnod’s Altar and Myr Retriever, but it was very straightforward and probably too powerful to really enjoy it thoroughly. You still want to win in Casual Magic, but unlike in tournaments, the overall experience of both you and your opponent is even more important. So that deck slowly faded from out metagame, and Rick diverted back to his RG/u deck, which also slowly started to wear down his enthusiasm. He needed a new deck.
Rick voiced his concerns for the format a few times, but I showed him they were contradictory to other traits of his Magic personality. For example, he claimed he hates the fact that he can’t use cool rares. He hates being restricted, he said. But on the other hand, he insists on building Standard decks! While true that the Standard format allows for rares and mythics, you are still very well working in the realm of restriction.
Rick claims these restrictions are smothering his creativity, but as we all know (from Mark Rosewater’s mantra), restrictions breed creativity. For each rare you can’t use, there’s two underappreciated commons that you can make shine. Having to search just a little bit harder makes the result that much more gratifying, even more if the deck also works. For example, Rick’s Madness-deck builds upon the well-known interaction of Wild Mongrel and Basking Rootwalla, he expanded upon it with a free madness outlet in Ceta Sanctuary, which in turn encouraged him to play Horned Kavu, which then made him look for ETB-creatures like Civic Wayfinder. I appreciate that deck for the cool synergies, and how each card is good on itself but way better with others. Civic Wayfinder, for example, is a crucial manafixer, but in the lategame, he represents a 2/2 dude with a free Wild Mongrel-pump. Lastly, Flame Burst and Pardic Firecat are nothing if not cleverly discovered and put to good use.
That was the first contradiction. The second one is the Squirrel Nest Contradiction, which sounds like a The Big Bang Theory-episode but isn’t (I think). One day, Rick came up with how he ordered three foil Squirrel Nests and four foil Vigean Hydropon. He liked both cards, especially Hydropon, and wanted to build upon that interaction. I said to him, why don’t you make it a Peasant deck? Later that day, I even proxies up a whole deck for him, but he never used it. Never! Oh, the humanity.
A few weeks ago, Rick went through his chaotic Magic bag (this is something he does once in a while, since it’s pretty unsorted and messy in there, having skeletons of various deck in deckboxes here and there and everywhere) and found my proxies. He unearthed his hatred for peasant and placed his arguments on the table. Peasant is too restricted. I hate playing with no rares. My decks all suck. For the last time, I tried to tell him how perfect the Squirrel Nest peasant deck was. He got to use a weird common (Vigean Hydropon) with a strong card (Squirrel Nest) and a wacky one (Lignify). He got to play with a new deck, which solved both his problems of a) not having a cool peasant deck and b) not having built a deck with Squirrel Nest and Vigean Hydropon. So today, I’m building the deck for him again, in my final effort.
The Vigean Tree of Squirrels
Rick, this is for you, so you’d better pay attention. And you, other readers, this deck is for you too. Don’t worry. Instead of my normal approach, which is giving you a deck that is ready-to-go, today I want to make a couple of decks that highlight the possibilities. My decks aren’t always decks Rick likes, so I thought I’d give him a few with a lot of opportunities to customize. So I probably don’t recommend directly playing it, but I hope you will get some cool ideas out of it. Also keep in mind that I didn’t really pay attention to mana curves either, because today, I value ideas and inspiration above playability.
The first deck is a pretty straightforward one. It is green-blue, with the blue coming in the form of countermagic and a few ways to get more mileage out of your Squirrel Nest. This deck looks a bit like the deck I made for Rick.
Other spells (19)
2 Frantic Search
1 Fuel for the Cause
1 Mana Leak
1 Peel from Reality
1 Scatter the Seeds
1 Spell Pierce
1 Sprout Swarm
4 Squirrel Nest
1 Steady Progress
1 Think Twice
This deck has a few spells that untap lands, mostly Urza-block free spells. A few of those prompted me to play Spellstutter Sprite to complete a Faerie subtheme. I also added a few other different counters, like the proliferator Fuel for the Cause. There’s also another proliferator in Steady Progress, one of the many instants in the deck. I tried to play as much instant-speed stuff as I could. This way, you can either counter something, or make a Squirrel. So you see a lot of instant-speed draw spells to. For removal, this deck has Lignify, Snap, Capsize and Peel from Reality. Peel is great here: you can either bounce a token to bounce a dude, or you can recharge your Hydropon. Hydropon becomes a 5/9 attacker with Lignify, which is powerful too.
The deck could have a few problems getting through, so for the next deck I tried to make a deck that tries to tap that (Squirrel Nest) as often as possible.
1 Ambassador Oak
1 Arbor Elf
4 Cloud of Faeries
1 Cytospawn Shambler
1 Helium Squirter
1 Stone-Seeder Hierophant
1 Tidewater Minion
1 Trickster Mage
2 Ulamog’s Crusher
4 Vigean Hydropon
Whereas the first deck was more controlling, this one’s mor aggressive. It has a lot of (different) ways to untap lands and a few Ulamog’s Crushers to use this mana. That is, if you didn’t use your lands to make a bunch of Squirrels. This tends to deplete your Hydropons faster, so I included the full four Peel from Reality. They can buy Hydropons back, but don’t forget Cloud of Faeries! This deck has a lot of removal to bounce opposition (see what I did there?), but cards like Helium Squirter, Overrun and Ulamog’s Crusher should take care of that anyway.
With two pretty normal decks, it is now time to break out the weirdness.
Other spells (21)
1 Ashnod’s Altar
1 Fiery Conclusion
2 Frantic Search
2 Growth Spasm
1 Primal Growth
2 Raid Bombardment
1 Rolling Thunder
1 Shared Discovery
4 Squirrel Nest
2 Volt Charge
This one is chock-full of ideas. The main reasoning is that you generate a lot of creatures and use those to either bash or stall, and if you stall, you can win the game with big guys or burn. There’s a few ways to generate mana in here, not only geared towards making mana but also towards fixing mana. This deck could be classified as too diverse, since it has more than one gameplan. But then again, that was on purpose, so no-one really has a valid point besides me. You could go the green-red sacrifice route, in which case Vigean Hydropon probably has to go. But that’s a good approach, since Squirrel Nest without Hydropon is perfectly good, too. It’s like an Awakening Zone, really. But like the other decks, you can just smash face and grind the opponent out. This deck should be able to go a long way, and has a few cards to win out of nowhere. Ashnod’s Altar into Rolling Thunder, anyone? The Shared Discovery is in here because Rick once said this was the worst card ever. I think it works in here; another victory for peasant deckbuilding!
1 Carrion Feeder
1 Cytospawn Shambler
1 Festering Goblin
2 Golgari Rotwurm
2 Helium Squirter
1 Kozilek’s Predator
1 Myr Sire
1 Nantuko Husk
2 Nest Invader
1 Perilous Myr
1 Surveilling Sprite
1 Thoughtpicker Witch
3 Viscera Seer
The last one of my decks today swaps the red of the above deck for black, placing a stronger emphasis on the sacrifice theme. I have a few proliferators in here, but perhaps not enough cards that care about counters. Maybe a few infectors or witherers could work, but like I said, this deck can be seasoned to taste (and you can season until there is nothing left of my list, basically). I did not want to go that route, since that would probably mean leaving Squirrel Nest alone, and therefore abandoning the original idea (I had already ditched Vigean Hydropon here). Ofcourse, you can do so if you please.
A lot more options
There’s a lot more where this came from. And by that I mean that there are so many ideas waiting to be fleshed out. I had to ignore a few deck ideas in order to keep the word count down. Being an enthusiast for many-colored-decks, and there’s even the possibility of a four color deck in here. Or you could go green-red sacrifice. Maybe even Arcbound creatures? Like I said, a lot of options. I just hope I ignited Rick’s spark enough for him to see the joy of peasant. I sure had a lot of fun writing all of this.