After last week’s comic was done, I just couldn’t stop goldfishing the deck. After not having played the deck for ages, you remember the deck but forget about the little intricacies you built into it. So I knew what the deck was trying to do, I just didn’t really remember how. Many cards I drew gave me an aha-erlebnis (you could call it déjà-vu, but I like the German term) of when I was putting it all together. The other positive aspect is that you have an unspoiled view of the deck and are much more capable to detect malfunctioning then when it was your precious project. Also, two years worth of new sets are bound to have something in store.Here’s a good piece of advice for ya: if you want to do some deckbuilding but haven’t an idea or resources, just grab an old deck and see if there’s anything in there you don’t like. You’d be amazed how easy it is to detect flaws in decks you haven’t laid a hand on in some time. For me, this happened last week with Wort. After I was done writing (and shooting, and editing, and pasting) the comic from last week, I couldn’t stop playing the deck. I got back in the mindset of the deck, which is of the utmost importance when playing a combo deck. You can’t just play a combo deck; you need to get familiar with the deck, and what rules it has.
Wort, you could use a makeover
The first thing I noticed was the unstability of Devoted Druid, and how the deck sometimes ran out of gas. I wanted to try and change the deck bit by bit, so I started by removing the Druids. In would come some form of card advantage (not the Staggershock kind, but the physical-cards-in-hand kind). Sadly, there was a problem. One, red doesn’t have a lot of these and two, if I were to add more green spells, I needed more green guys to conspire. I decided that cascade might be a good try.
The deck you saw last week was a bit too much dependent on Wort. You could get along without her, but you’d be significantly slower. One way to counteract this is to move some eggs from your Wort-basket to the Spinerock Knoll-basket. I decided that flipping Browbeat was sweet, so I settled on Bloodbraid Elf as Devoted Druid’s replacement.
The thing was that you needed to be prepared to flip anything. For example, you could flip Rite of Flame, and if you hadn’t something like Dragon Fodder in hand, you’d be paying four mana for a 3/2 with haste. With so many situational-and-cheap spells in the deck, cascade was often disappointing, and hoping to hit Browbeat was not what I wanted. I dismissed cascade, in the end.
This was after I went for Goblin Grenade instead of Goblin War Strike and a few lands. The deck needed stability, and Goblin Grenade’s baseline of 5 damage gave me that. This also helped turning on Spinerock Knoll, potentially on turn three (attack with two Dragon Fodder tokens, then fling one). Another added bonus is that Grenade can off creatures.
But what about that Elf?
I still had to find a way to replace Bloodbraid Elf. Rick came by last sunday, and before watching the Dutch football competition start for our favorite team Ajax, we had time to play one game. His Teferi–Teachings deck desposed mine, helped a bit by how I set myself up to get devoured by Cruel Ultimatum. The deck felt like it was heading somewhere else, but it was still divided between it’s former and upcoming form. I just had to figure out what it’s new form was going to be.
Rick suggested Reverberate, which reminded me of choosing to play Sculpting Steel (and later Phyrexian Metamorph) in my Prototype Portal-deck. “Why would I need more copying?” I’d say to myself. It turns out, having an extra way to copy things was the best thing that happened to the deck. Based on this history, I gave Reverberate a shot. But first, here’s the deck I was playing against Rick.
Sadly, we only got to play one game. After Rick was gone, I started testing with Reverberate.
Bloodbraid Elf wasn’t the only card I wasn’t too sure about. Manamorphose is fun to copy, but when you don’t, it’s just a way to draw a card for free. That’s not acceleratesque! And I decided that maybe green wasn’t necessary. I thought of Pat Chapin’s list from Worlds 2007, which was a mono red storm concoction. Maybe I could try that too! Not wanting to go the whole Dragonstorm route, I also looked for a few random big dorks to cast at the end of our mana-acceleration chain.
I took a few cards I wanted to try and added them to the deck. Whenever I drew one of those cards, I noted if I liked it or if I’d rather have another card.
Here’s a few games.
I mulligan into a mana-light six card hand that results in a very disappointing game. I hide a Reverberate under Spinerock Knoll, which I wish was anything else. A second one, however, copies a Goblin Grenade. I draw a Knollspine Dragon which I am not anywhere near able to cast.
I draw the two Rift Bolts and am able to craft a pretty stormy turn, again using Reverberate proficiently. In the crucial turn, I did sixteen damage (two Bolts and a copied Grenade) and ended with fourteen Goblins thanks to Empty the Warrens. The drawn Pyretic Ritual wasn’t needed.
Thos was a nice game, where I used a bit of mana accelerants and Reverberate to ramp into Knollspine Dragon, who drew me six (both Lightning and Rift Bolt). It sucks, though, that both Bolts where useful here. I need to choose. Or do I?
Mull to five… sigh. Even then, my hand was way too expensive to ever take down a real opponent. The coolest play was Grenading and Bolting into a Chancellor of the Forge. Hard to judge if the Chancellor was better than alternatives like Knollspine Dragon and Predator Dragon.
Another dull game which showed that this deck is inbetween forms, with too much cards that are too random. I want to make the following changes, which seems fair to do after five games:
– 2 Lightning Bolt
+ 2 Rift Bolt
This was pretty obvious, but I still wanted to try the Lightning Bolts out. They did okay, but Rift Bolts where just better.
– 4 Browbeat
+ 2 Reverberate
+ 2 Pyretic Ritual
Browbeat out? Yeah. The cards I draw, I draw when I’m winning. So I want more early sources of damage, in which case I have the four Bolts. I might need more, and I might want to take out Siege-Gang Commander or Empty the Warrens. I’m not sure.
– 1 Bogardan Hellkite
– 1 Predator Dragon
+ 1 Chancellor of the Forge
+ 1 Knollspine Dragon
I’ve had the best feeling with the latter two Dragons, so I took out the ones I didn’t like (remember, I’m not a Dragonstorm deck) and added the better ones.
This is where we are right now:
Back to my goldfish
After these changes, I went back to solo testing. I kept an eye out for the cards that where recently changed, and I started having doubts about a lot of cards. Reverberate didn’t have a lot that was really worth copying. Most often I found myself wanting to copy mana spells – why not play more of those, then? I looked at Seething Song and Desperate Ritual, but went for the Goblin ritual – Brightstone Ritual. This is a ritual with more risk but much more reward. So much, in fact, that I decided to cut the Pyretic Rituals for Mogg War Marshals. They are more Goblins, which means more mana with Ritual and Skirk Prospector. A Mogg War Marshal with Skirk Prospector means three mana for two, even.
Meanwhile, the spell percentage had been dwindling. So much so that finally, even Wort ended up on the chopping block. It wasn’t the first time the card that started the whole deck kicked the bucket – Toshiro Umezawa can attest to that. Wort just had to go, and while it wasn’t easy to let go of the idea that triggered the whole deck, it was now a whole other deck that had no more use for Wort. Another sacred
cow goblin that got the axe was Siege-Gang Commander; again a remnant of the former deck’s form. Here’s what I did this time:
-3 Wort, the Raidmother
+ 2 Chancellor of the Forge
+ 1 Mountain
More lands and more big guys. Big guys are better now that Wort is gone.
– 3 Siege-Gang Commander
+ 1 Empty the Warrens
+ 2 Goblin War Strike
Siege-Gang was both a token generator and a finisher. I subbed him for cards that do both. I was missing Goblin War Strike, so back in it went.
– 4 Reverberate
+ 4 Mogg War Marshall
A new Goblin that functions as a ritual with Skirk Prospector. He is also just awesome.
– 4 Pyretic Ritual
+ 4 Brightstone Ritual
On Wednesday, I got some more testing in. By day, it was solo; later that day, Rick came by and we tested in duels. After goldfishing, I was pretty confident with the deck. It had some explosive starts, but the cards that worried me the most where the big guys. They where flashy: sometimes, Knollspine Dragon drew my nine cards; other times, he was just a big dork. The same went for Chancellor: his turn-zero Goblin was at times great, but casting him sometimes cost me too much Goblins to be profitable. Here are a few notes from the games against Rick.
Game 1 (RB/w aggro)
I win without a lot of troubles. Rick later tells me he kept a landful hand and never drew out of it. I didn’t have to combo out; Goblin attacks and Grenades where enough.
Game 2 (RB/w aggro)
I was about to win the game when Rick kills me out of nowhere with two Hellspark Elementals, one out of the ‘yard. I had a pretty combo’ish turn that got me a lot of Goblins, but attacking with all of them was my demise.
Game 3 (UR/bg Teferi Teachings)
Rick got to tempo me out with Cryptic Commands. It was a long game, and the mana from two Slagheaps was amazing. However, I only got to cast Knollspine Dragons as just guys, and that was very disappointing. A lack of a meaningful ETB-trigger meant his Cryptics could nullify both big guns and Goblin tokens and they could grind me out.
Game 4 (UR/bg Teferi Teachings)
I lost with a bad draw that just couldn’t do it. Knollspines showed up again, and disappointed again.
Game 5 (UR/bg Teferi Teachings)
I don’t know what happened this game from my notes. I know I won, but my note only says “doubts about Chancellor”.
Current state of affairs
I love Rick’s advice. After the matches, he started with perhaps his words I like most.
“D’you know what card I would play?”
Bam! There it was. A perfect solution. I wanted to change the whole big guns suite around. Six mana is a lot less than seven (yes, really), and I think a turn three Titan isn’t out of the ordinary. It also can help me with activating Spinerock Knoll, which is an important pillar of this deck.
But what to take out? That’s a big question I haven’t yet found an answer for. Building a combo deck is a time-consuming and very careful process. In a combo deck, you feel a change to the deck the most. This means you have to try over and over to achieve that perfect balance between all the pieces of the deck. For example, if I where to take out Chancellors for Titans, what would that mean for my Brightstone Ritual? In order not to rush things, I might come back to this deck next week. In the meanwhile, I hope some of you can give me good ideas like Rick with Inferno Titan. I already have a few options, but like I said, that’s for next week. See you then!