Dan's Deckshop: Kamigawa Strikes Back
By Dan Felder on October 19th, 2011 · Filed in Casual · Comments not available just now
Hello folks and welcome back to another installment of Dan's Deckshop! After the warm reception to A New Beginning I couldn't wait to get cracking on this week's deck. So let's dig through last time's requests and see what's turned up!
Browsing through the comments (and I do read all of them) I found several recurring themes that just might be able to spin together into one tasty creation.
Originally Posted by Macius
i want to see him make a deck that can abuse an underrated rare from kamigawa. Anyone that didn't see much play, but would appeal to JTS all the same.
Originally Posted by Kabouch
I second this. Also, time spiral is full of really cool cards.
Originally Posted by Frezon
Great read, maybe try out building some multiplayer deck next, preferably something with black in it
Originally Posted by BbearZ
Very amazing article. I am scared of this deck now. haha. Could you make a deck more budgeted oriented next time?
These requests are all great - but will they blend? I've got a hunch they can. I love junk rare builds, and Kamigawa is full of kooky cards that are tons of fun to play with. Plus, junk rare decks tend to be very, very budget. If one man's trash is your treasure it follows that you can get treasure very cheaply.
So, let's get started!
First, in line with the previous request - this will be a multiplayer deck. Though it wasn't specifically requested, I'm going to focus on the most common multiplayer format: free-for-all. When you can attack anyone and they can attack you, no special teams or constraints applying, several rules of deckbuilding change. Let's review some of the factors we want to take into account while building for free-for-all multiplayer.
We are Outnumbered
In duels we just have one opponent to deal with. In free-for-all we have many more. For every card you draw, each of your opponents draws one as well - and any power, no matter how mighty, will collapse under the weight of numbers. You can't just break out the machine guns and jump Rambo-like into the heat of battle screaming, "Bring it on!" A united front of enemies will swallow you under their sheer weight. A stealthier approach is needed.
A War of Attrition
Multiplayer games go long by design. If your deck is designed to take down multiple opponents without leaving yourself too exposed, it needs to have a fantastic late game. Just going all-in with Goblin Piledrivers might knock out one or two players but you'll usually run out of gas before you finish the rest. To compete in multiplayer, unless you're running a degenerate combo deck that can somehow fight through the disruption of multiple opponents, you need to be able to win a war of attrition - recurring your resources and piling up card advantage until your enemies are exhausted and you stand triumphant over their crumpled bodies.
Please Don't Paint a Target on your Forehead
The person slamming down a Blightsteel Colossus rarely survives long. The other players will either kill him on sight or cast Oblivion Ring on the metal monstrosity and then kill the guy who cast it before he can drop another. Just as knights spend their time trying to slay the biggest dragon, players at a table are out to destroy the biggest "threat": the enemy who seems the most dangerous to them. Thus that enemy usually collapses under the collective force of the knights in armor. On the other hand, if you're just casting a few spells that put you ahead in subtle ways without looking too threatening, no one is going to want to waste their powerful spells dealing with you. Interestingly, this makes multiplayer formats almost ideal for budget deckbuilders. Having a Progenitus on your side of the field paints a target so huge that Helen Keller could hit it from fifty yards. But if you're casting Feudkiller's Verdict you get your 10 life and a 5/5 without scaring anybody's pants off.
Play with Rattlesnakes
No, I'm not suggesting you should try to break Jackie Bibby's record for holding the most live rattlesnakes in your mouth at once. Think about what characterizes a Rattlesnake. Hint: it's the rattle. Rattlesnakes warn you before you approach by shaking their rattle, cocking a menacing eye at you. The message is clear: "If you mess with me bub, you're going to regret it". In free-for-all, rattlesnake cards are anything that makes your opponent not want to attack you. They can be something huge and terrifying, like Dread, or they can be something subtler like Ghostly Prison. In a duel, there's no real option but to attack your opponent. However, if there are three other players at the table, why would you want to attack the guy with a Dread when you can attack the guy who... doesn't have a Dread? You wouldn't. Thus, rattlesnake cards make your opponents want to fight each other instead of you. And the more time and resources your opponents spend killing each other the less they have to try to take you down. Plus, as they're now at lower life due to all their fighting amongst each other you now have less work to do in finishing them off.
There are lots more factors that impact free-for-all, but these are the ones that most distinguish it from duels. So let's get to work. Scanning the rares of Kamigawa that sell online for under a dollar, I hit upon two gems I'd love to work with.
Iname, Death Aspect and Seshiro the Anointed.
I can haz decklist?
Both are super-cheap rares and both promise to be incredible card-advantage engines. Seshiro can turn an army of snakes into card-drawing machines while Iname can dump dozens of Spirits from your deck into your grave - enabling recursive engines like soulshift or game-enders like Mortal Combat. Furthermore, both cards support tribes that are extremely underrated and don't strike fear into the hearts of opponents. Spirits in Kamigawa are often overcosted for their bodies in exchange of providing some great card advantage when they die. For five mana in multiplayer the table gets used to expecting things like Morphling and Baneslayer Angel. Forked-Branch Garami isn't going to make anyone quiver in their boots. This is exactly what you want in multiplayer - you can drop a guy that doesn't seem too dangerous and, even better, one your opponents wont want to trade with. Why would they spend a removal spell or attack with their 4/4 when your guy will trade with their card and get you two more of your own back? A 3-for-1 (casting the Garami should give you the 4/4 itself as well as two more cards when it dies) that's a reasonable body and doesn't draw enemy fire is pure gold in free-for-all multiplayer and exactly what we're looking for.
Seshiro has a great deal of promise with a Snake token generation strategy (like recurring Patagia Viper and Sosuke's Summons) to rack up an army that Seshiro can pump and draw a million cards off of. It's pretty impressive to combine a mass-pump effect of +2/+2 for everyone to kill an opponent with drawing a ton of cards to get you ready to take down the next guy. Snakes also tend to be rather frightening in multiplayer and are full of nice goodies. However, as such a deck would likely be , it doesn't fill the black multiplayer deck request. For that reason the scales are tipped more towards the Spirit side of things.
Iname, Death Aspect - you are our winner!
Yay! I haz decklist!
Now that we have our junk rare the question becomes "What to do with it?" First off, we're going to want three copies. Why only three? Because once one Iname dies we're going to be dumping pretty much every creature in our deck into our grave. A second copy at that point is redundant. Remember, when you really like a card but don't want to see more than a single copy in a game, three is the amount you want in your deck rather than four.
+3 Iname, Death Aspect
Now, we've gone over the incredible Forked-Branch Garami already and nothing has changed since a few paragraphs ago. He's still the golden standard of multiplayer cards across several categories, not to mention absurdly budget. I'd run eight if I could, but we'll have to be satisfied with four.
+4 Forked-Branch Garami
With a playset of Forked-Branch Garamis, we're going to want reliable targets for him to soulshift up. The last thing we want is for him to hit the grave with only a single Spirit to bring back. A quick search of Spirit cards with converted mana cost 4 or less turned up this gem.
Ye gods! This is another of those critters that seems innocuous at first but is exactly what we're looking for. For one thing it's a subtle rattlesnake, discouraging early attacks. After all, why would an opponent attack you with a creature that has 4 power or less when they could just attack someone who doesn't have an awesome blocker? For another, it generates crisp, clean card advantage. Bringing back two of these from your grave off a Garami and then casting them will chain into a 5-for-1 off that single Forked-Branch Spirit! Finally, it doesn't scare anyone. Who's afraid of a 2/5 defender? There's no way planting this tree is going to label you as the threat. To put it in perspective, Wall of Blossoms is a multiplayer classic and in a Spirit deck the Caryatid is infinitely better. Four please!
+4 Carven Caryatid.
But that's not enough. We also need some more cheap Spirits, preferably ones that are guaranteed to fill the grave. I went looking for something with a decent sacrifice outlet and quickly landed upon this gorgeous specimen.
This little Kami does everything we want and more. It doesn't scare anyone, it can sacrifice itself easily for value to get a second Spirit in the grave for the Garami and can even chump-block like a champ, blocking something and then sacrificing itself before damage to bring an Arcane card back from your grave. It provides card advantage, decent defense, enables our Garami and doesn't draw fire. What's not to love?
However, we won't want more than a few copies of our Hana Kami unless we can find a really strong arcane card to pair with it. I browsed through the arcane spells available... and my jaw promptly hit the floor.
A song broke into my head.
Hana Kami, "Love, love me do!"
Death Denied, "You know, I love you!"
Hana Kami, "I'll always be true!"
Both, "So pleeeeaaaase.... Love me do."
Beautiful. Death Denied would be incredible in this kind of deck if it were a sorcery, let alone an instant. Once we use Iname to flip all the critters from our deck into our grave we'll want a way to bring them back. Death Denied does an incredible job of this on its own. Combine it with Hana Kami, though, and you end up with an engine of truly ridiculous power. Casting Death Denied at the end of the turn before yours for will bring back any four creatures from your grave to your hand. One of them will be Hana Kami. You can do your other things then cast and sacrifice Hana Kami to get Death Denied back and do it again. An endless stream of creatures and card advantage is utterly at your disposal, all wrapped up in two cards we already want for the deck. That's a home run and that means full playsets of both.
+4 Hana Kami
+4 Death Denied
Hana Kami's inclusion makes us ask what other neat arcane spells can we play off of. After paging through the search results, Rend Flesh seemed an obvious choice. It's a powerful removal spell that takes care of most things no questions asked. Being able to turn Hana Kami into another copy of Rend Flesh is a great added bit of utility on an already-powerful spell.
+4 Rend Flesh
I wanted some extra creatures for Forked-Branch Garami to bring back, too, so I settled on Windborn Muse. It's a great rattlesnake card and you can get the Commander version of the card for under a dollar at quite a few websites. A Ghostly Prison on wings, Windborn Muse will both offer you protection from large armies of creatures (not many people want to pay to attack with five 1/1 tokens) and redirecting the attacks of your opponents to other players. This causes your opponents to further fight each other, leaving your own resources intact as you start building up your card advantage to mop up at the end of it all. SinceWindborn Muse is a third color and Iname, Death Aspect will make it easy to find reliably, I think running two copies will be enough to provide the benefit we want without being redundant or straining our manabase too much.
+2 Windborn Muse
That makes ten cheap targets for Forked-Branch Garami, which is nice... but I'd rather have a bit more. We'll keep that in mind while we fill out the rest of our deck. Besides, with the big black Spirit dumping our whole deck into our grave it's not like the Garami is going to often be hurting for targets.
Now that we've got the core of our deck, it's time to start looking at win conditions. We've got lots of ways to grind out card advantage and direct attention elsewhere but we still need solid ways to actually win. Since we're going to be casting so many Spirit and Arcane spells, let's turn to a card that really, really likes it when you do that.
Oyobi, Who Split the Heavens
That's right, folks, whenever you cast just about any spell in your deck you get a 3/3 flier absolutely free! That's a fun way to build an army, and since we're already splashing white it's easy to include a copy. We only need one since Iname, Death Aspect will find it and Death Denied will bring it back from the grave for us.
+1 Oyobi, Who Split the Heavens
Oyobi represents a great way to win a war of attrition and turn all the Spirits coming back off Death Denied into an army of fliers. Now we also want something a bit more solid - something that on its own can deal with just about anything the opponent points our way.
Keiga, the Tide Star, please report for duty.
Keiga offers one of the most wicked rattlesnake effects around. It's a 5/5 flier - definitely a considerably body - but if you kill it there's a good chance your best guy is going to be stolen in revenge. If there's ever a Spirit you want to be able to happily cast over and over again as it's returned off Death Denied, this is it. Okay, maybe Kokusho the Evening Star can beat out Keiga - but Keiga is much less expensive and has a tangible effect on the board state. Plus, people hate Kokusho. A person recurring Kokusho is going to draw all the fire in the world. Recurring Keiga is going to paint less of a target on your head and often be equally powerful.
Even so, Keiga isn't a bulk rare. No, the great blue dragon costs about $5 on ChannelFireball. However, two things motivate me to including Keiga in this budget multiplayer deck. First, the rest of the deck is dirt cheap so far. Second, we're only going to run a single copy (using Iname to find it). Third, Keiga is not your average rare. Unlike cards such as Master Transmuter, Keiga goes in just about any deck with blue mana in it - especially in multiplayer. If you spend $5 on a Keiga, you're going to be enjoying the dragon for years to come across many different decks. Plus, Keiga is pretty easy to trade in casual circles. Anybody who plays blue probably wants one, and if they don't already they will after they've seen you use it a few times! All this adds up to Keiga being well worth a spot in your collection - and a welcome inclusion in the list. If you absolutely hate the idea of spending more than a dollar or two on a single rare though, you can always run a second Oyobi or some other big and awesome Spirit. For the rest of us, let's kick back and sail away on a giant blue Dragon!
+1 Keiga, the Tide Star
Off into the wild blue yonder!
Now we're solidly green and black, but we're splashing both white and blue. This is asking for trouble without a bit of fixing. Expensive multicolor lands could solve the problem, but there are budget solutions too. After all, I want more arcane spells to trigger Oyobi, Who Split the Heavens and Hana Kami so let's reach for the stars... or at least for some lands.
+3 Kodama's Reach
One Reach should be more than enough for a game. It'll find me both of my splashes or more of my main colors. For the rest of my mana fixing, I'll go with budget favorites like the Ravnica bounce-lands (such as Golgari Rot Farm) and a few copies of Terramorphic Expanse.
Next up, I'd like another utility Spirit who can reliably bring back Keiga, the Tide Star or Forked-Branch Garami. Ladies and gentlemen, Pus Kami!
No, I'm not kidding. Pus Kami might look terrible but it's actually a very good deal. A 3/3 for is pretty solid and Seal of Doom costs as well. That gives us two great cards all wrapped into one with soulshift 6 tacked on for just a measly extra mana. That's a whole lot of value disguised in one package. And no one, no one is going to be afraid of a Pus Kami... even if they should. After all, being able to block an opponent's creature, then sacrifice the Kami to destroy the nastiest thing on the board, soulshift back Forked-Branch Garami, cast it, have it die and get back Carven Caryatid as well as Hana Kami - soon sacrificing it for a Rend Flesh or Death Denied... That's an insane amount of value all off one dorky seven-mana guy! And getting back Keiga is often going to be even worse for them. Besides, I just like the idea of actually running Pus Kami in a deck. If anything should be the poster-boy for seemingly terrible cards, this is it.
+1 Pus Kami
But Oyobi, Keiga and a bunch of middle-sized creatures aren't enough to win the game on their own. In a deck like this when we're getting lots and lots of solid creatures with few combat abilities equipment can take us the rest of the way home. A 4/4 Garami isn't that big a deal, but give it a Loxodon Warhammer and things get much spicier - especially since lifelink is such a great ability in multiplayer, letting you play offense or defense at the same time and stretching your opponents' resources even further in the war of attrition.
+2 Loxodon Warhammer
I'd like another cool piece of Equipment in there, so I'm going to go with the wicked fun Bonehoard. If ever an Equipment loved Iname, Death Aspect, it's this guy. Bonehoard really works best on guys with evasion (flying or trample helps a lot) but it'll make our critters absolutely massive and is a ton of fun to play with in multiplayer (easily giving things +25/+25 or more). And why would we play if we didn't want to have fun?
That's a lot of cards, so let's take a look at what we have so far.
That's a nice balanced look to the list. I think we'll want to play 24 lands with this creation. We'll definitely be wanting our mana later in the game even with the bounce-lands to help things along. That leaves two more slots for cards. I think we should probably stay away form spells like Mortal Combat though because in multiplayer they just draw too much heat. You have to play the enchantment during your turn and wait a full cycle until your next upkeep to win the game, giving your opponents ample time to take out the enchantment or just slaughter you outright. Of course, in duels the enchantment would combine beautifully with Iname, Death Aspect - but this is the jungle of free-for-all multiplayer, where only the cautious and card-advantage-driven survive. I feel it's best to look elsewhere for our final cards.
I decided to go with an additional answer for one of them in the form of Crib Swap. Removing creatures from the game is often much better than destroying them, due to decks exactly like ours that love to abuse the graveyard. And guess what? Since Crib Swap is a Spirit we can dump it into our grave with Iname and even soulshift it back into our hand off Forked-Branch Garami! That's way too fun to pass up.
+1 Crib Swap
Finally, I think we could really use another creature. There's lots of options, ranging from Tradewind Rider and Kodama of the South Tree to Arashi, the Sky Assunder and Patron of the Kitsune. Personally, I decided to get extra cutsey and run Kami of False Hope. Having Fog-in-a-creature is yet another card that hints players are wasting their time if they attack you, and being cheap enough to work off Forked-Branch Garmi's soulshift as well as set up options for endless recursion of Death Denied make the Kami a very real hope after all. I don't think we'll have any trouble ending the game if it goes long enough, so another layer of defense is a great way to go. The fact it's a cheap common just makes things even better.
+1 Kami of False Hope
And thus we have a deck!
Cost of deck on Channelfireball: $21.45
$21.45 is dirt cheap for a deck this compelling, and $5 of that is for Keiga. Plus you get three sweet pieces of Equipment in the bargain and the nifty Windborn Muse. Not only is the deck cheap but it'll give you several staples for your collection.
But no matter how budget, the deck still needs to perform. Let's take it out for a spin.
I went through a few practice hands and didn't have any trouble with the mana. Kodama's Reach and Terramorphic Expanse kept my colors easily within grasp and, as only a few cards in the list aren't green or black, the few times color issues did pop up it was easy to work around them. Who says you need to spend a fortune on lands to make four colors work?
With a solid deck and a working manabase it was time for some games. I sleeved it up and took it for a spin with a group of friends the first chance I got. And boy, did I have a blast!
I started with a Carven Caryatid to ward away early attacks while the rest of the table mostly played some cheap utility creatures and drew some cards. A pitying groan popped up around the table the moment I laid down my first Forked-Branch Garami. "Spirits?" One of my friends asked. "Seriously? What, did you run out of real decks?" From that moment, people had ceased to consider me a threat. They would learn better.
The game progressed at the usual pace. The rest of the table cast Akromas, gained life off Wellwishers and swept the board with Wrath of God every now and then. For my part, I spent my time making sure I had either a Forked-Branch Garami or Carven Caryatid on the ground at all times while a Windborn Muse kept crowds off me. A well-aimed Rend Flesh here and there, recycled with Death Denied and multiple Hana Kamis made people very reluctant to point their creatures my way. As for the boardsweepers, I found myself looking forward to them. After all, due to soulshift and Death Denied I could rebuild an empty board more consistently than just about anyone else.
Eventually I got a Loxodon Warhammer and dropped it on a Forked-Branch Garami to hammer home a victory. Using the Death Denied/Hana Kami combination to recycle Kami of False Hope kept me safe from counter-attacks and I eventually just overwhelmed the exhausted opposition.
Stunned the Spirit deck had won, the rest of the group laughed it off as a fluke. After all, I wasn't even playing the really scary Spirits like Kokusho. Sure, I had a card advantage engine, but the cards themselves weren't that impressive. Even after my first win, the rest of the table couldn't believe the results were real and were quickly persuaded by my many subtle rattlesnake cards to attack someone else where they could engage in combat more profitably.
This time things were much more explosive for me. I cast an early Windborn Muse following up with Kami of False Hope and Iname, Death Aspect. Dumping most Spirits in my deck into my grave (leaving only a few Forked-Branch Garami and two copies of Hana Kami, as having just a couple in the grave would be enough) I started my next turn by slamming down a massive Bonehoard, giving my Windborn Muse +34/+34. My opponents took turns killing the flier but they couldn't stop it forever. Eventually I recurred it for the fifth time off a Forked-Branch Garami and laid waste with a now 41/42 flier.
Eat your heart out Marit Lage!
Now I'd won twice, and the second time in a rather spectacular fashion. But my opponents still couldn't seem to believe the results. It couldn't be Spirits that were doing this to them, could it? Looking for an explanation they settled on the other option. "You keep winning off those Equipment," another friend said to me. "Well what if those equipment get destroyed?" He winked at me, a self-satisfied smile making it clear he thought he'd solved the deck's riddle.
I just grinned back. After another long slog-fest my opponents once more felt content to ignore me - dissuaded by the rattlesnakes and confident in their plan. Sure enough, they destroyed both the Loxodon Warhammers I drew over the course of the game (one of which got a hit in as I waited until I had the mana to cast and equip it in the same turn giving them less time to disrupt the first swing).
Then Keiga came down. Over the course of about a dozen turns I steadily kept recurring Keiga, bashing people over the head with it. It died about six times, each one netting me the best creature on the table. Eventually I amassed an army that no one could challenge and crushed the game with Keiga still on the board.
I is in your decklist, stealing your creaturz!
"Okay how does that thing work?" demanded Jason, cinching his brow. "Why won't it just die?!" I laughed, "You can read all about it in my next article."
"Forget it, I'm killing it now."
Most of the rest of the table agreed, and after a long, drawn-out struggle the Spirit deck eventually succumbed to weight of numbers. However, it was not the first one to fall. Even with the table agreeing that I could not be allowed to win, people still couldn't seem to take my board seriously - and no one wanted to trade their creatures or removal for my card-advantage-powerhouses. Eventually, though, I was the third of five to fall and scooped up my cards with a grin.
"That deck is just weirdly good," Robert said, eying my cards suspiciously as though suspecting they had somehow deceived him. "I never thought I'd say this, but Kamigawa Spirits aren't as bad as I thought."
"I never thought they were that bad," piped up Jason. "I just never thought they could be that good!"
We laughed and I changed up decks - patting it affectionately as I slipped it back into its box. Spirited Away isn't just powerful and fun, it makes you feel like you're in the driver seat of your deck, controlling every play as you pull things back from the grave as easily as you order a side of fries. You can focus on recurring a big Spirit like Keiga, grinding out tokens off Oyobi, locking out the combat phase with Kami of Lost Hope, or building up your value off a chain of Carven Caryatids and Forked-Branch Garamis. Best of all though was powering through the low expectations, nearly pity, of the other players at the table and trouncing them with supposedly clunky Spirits over and over again. The deck not only let me cast huge plays, it also had a tiny taste of combo off the many synergies and even consistently churned a card advantage engine - a little something for Timmy, Johnny and Spike all in a nice budget package. And there are lots of other Spirits where those came from - especially since Innistrad seems to be whipping up brand new Spirit synergies (Angel of Flight Alabaster could be fun). I can't wait to experiment with the all the options!
Well, that's it for Dan's Deckshop this time around! I hope you enjoyed yourselves as much as I did. Please, if you like what's going on here let me know by leaving a comment down below. I really do read them, and I'm always looking for new deck requests to take to the Shop.
By Dan Felder on October 19th, 2011 · Filed in Casual · Comments not available just now
About Dan Felder
Dan Felder has been playing Magic ever since his friend tricked him into sitting down for a game in fifth grade. He loves Magic far more than he should and has a special affection for budget deck-building and casual play. He hopes to one day pick up the legacy of his favorite Magic authors and write the Building on a Budget or Serious Fun column for Magicthegathering.com.
Dan's currently a game design student at Oregon State University as well as its Senior Game-Research Lab technician and analyst. If you want to talk game design, deck design or anything else - feel free to send him a PM.