Breaking Point: Modifying the "Critical Mass" Precon
By Sam Williams on August 31st, 2005 · Filed in Limited · Comments not available just now
Breaking Point: Modifying the "Critical Mass" Precon
Hello, and welcome to what I hope is the first of many "Constructing Preconstructed" articles (for my first "test run," see my article here). In these articles, I intend to modify a preconstructed deck into a fun block constructed deck that can win its fair share of games against rogue and competitive decks. This time I'll be taking a look at the "Critical Mass" deck from Saviors of Kamigawa.
First, I suppose I'll explain a few things about this project. The first issue I'll explain, and perhaps the most important, is who this sort of article is intended for. I am writing this for the benefit of two groups: Those new to Magic, and those with limited cashflow. This target audience will will have a large effect on the project, and many of the rules in it are for their benefit.
Because of this target audience I will be trying to keep the deck's budget as low as possible. I feel that, aside from keeping the project helpful to my target demographic, having a low rare count keeps the themes of the deck closer to what they originally were. For example, I COULD take out all the cards in the deck, and make a weird B/R "wisdom" control deck. While I have no doubt that it would be a fun deck to build and play, it would also have several valuable rares, only one of which is found in the original deck. No one would win but Johnnies- the deck would likely suck, and the budget would be far too large for your standard new MTG player, or the guy just trying to pay for college. So, I'm keeping the budget as low as possible.
Second, I am keeping the decks in block constructed format, for two reasons. One, it is my favorite format aside from Peasant. Two, if a newer player is following the project, most of their cards are likely from the newest block. The same goes for budget players: They will likely want to keep the cards they need to get confined to a single block in order to make pack purchasing more affordable.
Enough explanation of the rules. Let's get the ball rolling! When I opened my precon, I found this lovely decklist staring back at me.
A few things strike me about this deck. First of all, for a precon, it's remarkably consistent, with several two ofs and three three ofs(!). Second, and far more negatively, the deck seems to want to go in two entirely different directions: A discard deck, starring the Misers, Kemuri-Onna, and Sink into Takenuma; or an aggro deck, focussed on applying early pressure with cheap beaters like Akki Underling, Deathmask Nezumi, and Hand of Cruelty, then pulling a large Barrel Down Sokenzan or Sink into Takenuma to get your hand to seven cards and swing for the surprise win. I think that it is important to note that these two functions seem to balance each other, but in fact, they don't. I will explain later. But first, let's play some games.
Match 1: Critical Mass Vs. Samurai WW
My first match, against a pretty finely tuned tournament deck (based off of an earlier "constructed" preconstructed from JMS on MTGNews). I got beaten silly, right? Well, kind of. Game one saw a turn two Akki Underling, but nothing else, while my foe got off to a super cheap start with Isamaru, Hound of Konda, Samurai of the Pale Curtain, and Hand of Honor. I got my face smashed in before I could effectively cast something.
However, game two was a different story. My foe had a nice early start with Isamaru, Kitsune Blademaster, and Lantern Kami, only to run headlong into a turn two Hand of Cruelty, turn three Honden of Infinite Rage. He stalled for a while after that, which gave me time to plop down Death-Mask Nezumis and Akki Underlings. I drew into a Barrel Down Sokenzan, and my army swung for a massive amount of damage, and the win!
Game three, unfortunately, was almost exactly the same as game one. I got out an early Akki Underling and got him flipped, but Eight-and-a-Half Tails decided to pee in my cornflakes and show up, making my Akki white and allowing my foe an unhindered victory.
Match 2: Critical Mass Vs. B/R Dragons (from Onslaught/Odyssey type 2)
My opponent really wanted to play his fun deck from Onslaught/Oddysey Standard, and I felt the deck was fun and cool enough to warrant a match. That, and it really isn't that good. Game one, I smashed face. Turn one Goblin Cohort. Turn two Cruel Deceiver. Turn three Deathmask Nezumi. I applied steady pressure, then Barrel Down Sokenzaned his Rorix Bladewing for the win.
Game two, I lost due to foolishly keeping an opening hand of two Barrel Down Sokenzan and five land. I drew nothing but land all game, and got beat down by a bunch of Clerics. Game three was very similar to game one, and I beat him down by turn five with my wise little beaters. What have I learned? When this deck draws aggressively into its "beaters" theme, it wins.
Match 3: Critical Mass Vs. G/W Truth Seekers (edited)
For nostalgia purposes, I gave my opponent the deck I built in the first experiment. The resulting battle was not as amazing as it probably should have been, until the third game. First game, I got off to a very slow start, not even getting a board position before turn four, so my foe was able to get his Haru-Onna/Spiritcraft triggers going, and I died a horrible death. Game two, my opponent failed to draw his Elder-Pine of Jukai and I beat face with the surprisingly good Sokenzan Renegade.
Game three had both decks working at full power. My opponent was Elder-Pining like crazy and got a big Descendant of Kiyomaro, which I Barrel Down Sokenzaned. My Deathmask Nezumi had Fear, and we were in a huge stall when my opponent drew into their Kiyomaro, First to Stand. I didn't have a sufficient answer in hand, and he beat me into submission.
Gah. A 1-2 record for a precon isn't too bad... but it's not exactly good, either. Hopefully, the deck's luck will change, because I'm making my first edits.
Out: 1x Death of a Thousand Stings- Would it be fun to build a deck around this? Yes. Unfortunatly, the card is the second worst in the set, and is all around unplayable. Really, I don't even know why it's in the deck.
Out: 1x Flames of the Blood Hand- This deck needs removal more than it needs this only sporadically useful card. It's by no means bad, but it just doesn't fit into any of the deck's themes, and there are better burn spells that do.
Out: 1x Shuko- Although it's good in combo decks, it is near useless in aggro decks like this. There are simply better things to run.
In: 1x Deathmask Nezumi, Akki Underling, and Barrel Down Sokenzan-The deck needs its core to become solid. As such, I am maxing out the deck's three three-ofs, and providing a solid base for the "wisdom" side to improve.
Out: 2x Godo's Irregulars- the deck simply has no way to abuse them, and there are several cards that fill this spot in the mana curve just as well.
In: 2x Goblin Cohort- the deck needs SOME stuff in the one-drop slot. I have liked the Cohort ever since he was first printed, I've just been looking for a deck he'd be good in. I think that in an aggressive deck like this, the Cohort could really shine. Of course, I could be wrong, and I reserve my right to remove these guys.
Let's give the new and improved deck a go!
Match 4: Critical Mass Vs. Ire
Game one, I applied tons of pressure with my new beaters, and everything but Barrel had a good show. He put up a good fight, but in the end, my Honden of Night's Reach did too much damage to his hand, and I swung for the win.
Game two, I drew no Honden, and all of my Misers died to Glacial Rays and First Volleys. I got Ire of the Kaminarid to death.
Game three, they drew nothing but Islands, while I got myself a turn one Gnat Miser, turn two Cruel Deciever, turn three Deathmask Nezumi and proceeded to smash for the win.
I'm adding a quick edit before moving on...
Out: 1x Ghost Lit Stalker- The discard theme might stay alive, but not with cards like this. It is way too slow and inefficient in any deck, especially in one that wants to win quickly.
In: 1x Goblin Cohort- I love this guy, and he's already proved his worth. I might have a deck forming!
Out: 1x Locust Miser-This card has been pretty dismal. One of the top priorities of this deck is giving it an aggressive curve, and if I have a minimally effective 2/2 body for , than it is not aggressivly curved. This card is, frankly, bad.
In: 1x Sink into Takenuma- Not only does this card control hand size far more effectively than the miser, but it also fits into the deck's "Wisdom" focus. A perfect card for the deck, but the fact that it is useless in the late game minimalizes it to three copies.
Well, I think that I'll test again.
Match 5: Critical Mass Vs. Soratami's Wisdom
I think I'm taking the deck in the right direction. This was a 2-0 match, and neither game was close. First game, I dropped a turn two Hand of Cruelty that my opponent could not deal with, but I stalled out for a while, only getting some Gnat Misers into play. My opponent simply could not deal with my threats, and I ended up beating for the win with some Deathmask Nezumis.
Game two was similar, except he actually got some threats- I just zotted them with Barrels and Spiralling Embers, although I was forced to let some threats go due to insufficient removal. I beat face with a Akki Underling most of the game.
Well, I have some more modifications...
Out: 2x Kemuri-Onna- The discard theme has got to go. It's that simple. It only slows down the deck, and there are exactly two cards in the deck that it actually helps along. However, the Gnat Misers might stay in to fill the curve and help Akuta, Born of Ash, but the deck needs to get aggressive, and an overcosted 3/3 body with a marginally useful ability isn't going to help.
Out: 1x Thoughts of Ruin- What? The plain fact of the matter is that this card fits into no aspect of the deck, and the land destruction will often hurt you more than your opponent. Also, it is one of the most expensive cards in the set, and seeing as you should almost always have multiples, Thoughts is just not the right card for the deck. Use it to get credit for the rest of the needed cards; with its absence, any future changes should be perfectly cheap.
In: 3x Hand of Cruelty- This guy has won me tons of games, and he fits perfectly into the deck's mana curve. Although he doesn't exactly fit into any of the deck's themes, he has kept me alive long enough for them to work, or to beat my opponent into submission himself. The guy rocks.
Out: Honden of Infinite Rage and Honden of Night's Reach- Have they been good once? Yes, but each instance was the only time that I was glad to see those cards. There is better removal, and better discard, available, all of it fitting the curve better and actually working with the deck's themes. Sorry, Hondens, but you're getting the boot.
Out: 1x Kagemaro's Clutch- It's just not as good as the removal I'm putting in. The deck needs to be curved, and this is just making things worse.
Out: 1x Okiba Gang Shinobi- As I said before, the discard doesn't help much. Ninjitsu just slows the deck to a crawl, there are no ways to abuse Ninjitsu, and five mana for a 3/2 with a maybe-useful ability just isn't going to cut it in a deck that can't flat out abuse it.
In: 4x Glacial Ray- As I said, the deck needs good, cheaper removal that is not expensive and does not harm my tempo, to deal with smaller threats like most Samurai. Although I know that I got out of hand with my Add-4-of-a-card-that-isn't-in-the-decks last project, I do feel that this is a necessary change that even kind of fits into the deck's themes. After all, your hand will stay at seven if you're not casting your removal!
After those massive changes, maybe I should test some more. Let's see how it's working now...
Match 6: Critical Mass Vs. Truth Seekers (edited)
For fun, a friend decided we should have a rematch between my two projects. This time, the results were far different. Game one, I basically God-drew, playing a big threat each turn. Skull Collector simply stared at me all game, but generally I was pleased with the beats, especially from Akuta, Born of Ash. My opponent played creature after creature, but a well-timed Sink into Takenuma ensured I always had the upper hand in "cards in hand," and I just beat mercilessly.
Game two, my opponent stalled at two land, and while they put up a good fight for the opening few turns. When I finally Barrelled his Loam Dweller, getting my hand up to seven, there was no stopping my beatstick. My Hands and Sokenzan Renegade showed up to help the beating, but they were unneccessary after I had the ball rolling. Another 2-0... I think I'm getting somewhere! Also, my Rays showed their worth repeatedly, killing several small blockers and making my win assured. I think I done good.
Match 7: Critical Mass Vs. MBA
It's not perfect, but I think I've got this deck off to a great start. This particular MBC deck won a PTQ, if I'm not mistaken, and I went 1-2 against it, with one VERY close loss. First game wasn't even close: I stalled with only a few Goblin Cohorts and a Barrel Down Sokenzan. My foe, meanwhile, got about every creature in his deck, and when I got out my Sokenzan Spellblade, he just shrugged it off, Sickening Shoaled it to death, and I died.
Game two was where things got interesting. We both played very aggressively, with O-Naginata giving my opponent leverage when I killed off more of his critters. Actually, I think I should have lost this game: I had him down to four, I was at nine, but he had enough power to break through a turn later. However, he ninjitsued out HIS Okiba-Gang Shinobi (God, am I glad I cut it!), and gave me a way through, and I swung for the final four. WOOOT!
Game three, I drew three Goblin Cohorts and a LOT of removal. As such, I was beating effectively with my Cohorts, while my foe found his creatures dead the turn they hit the board. Eventually, however, my fun ended: With an empty board, and my opponent at six life, with an Umezawa's Jitte and an O-Naginata, drew into Ink-Eyes, Servant of the Oni. I drew my card: A Sokenzan Spellblade I couldn't afford. My opponent swung for the win.
While I lost, I felt really good about that match. With this budget-minded deck, I put up two close games against a PTQ-winner, and I saw two of the next cuts. I think the deck is in its last stages... I think I could have something good.
Out: 1x Sokenzan Spellblade: In the deck's early days, this card was very useful as a finisher in a deck with a problematic late game. Now that the deck has solid game, though, this five-mana oaf is just too much of a liability without enough reward. If I could draw it, it either got killed or was just too expensive, and it only won a few games, seeing as the deck had no real way to grant it evasion. Bye, Spellblade.
Out: 1x Skull Collector: Not only does this card cost , which screws with the deck's mana curve a bit, but it is also useless most of the time. If I get to a point where returning a Black creature to my hand isn't a big drawback, I'm winning, and generally, I like having multiple blockers available. While this guy would definitely be good in other decks, he just doesn't have a place here, and doesn't really do a great job at keeping my hand at seven. This deck's future does not include this guy, I'm afraid.
Out: 2x Gnat Miser: Here, I have an issue. The deck's only one-drop is the very impressive Goblin Cohort. So, what do I do if I want a turn two Hand of Cruelty? Nothing, really. The deck needs actual answers, and the Cohort should be enough in the one drop slot to provide us with a playable mana curve. The discard theme never helped, due to the fact that most the deck's cards are based around the "seven or more" end of "wisdom." I think that my additions for these make up for the weak one-drop slot.
In: 4x Hearth Kami: This is the last random four-of addition. I don't like adding four new cards to the decklist, but check this list out: Umezawa's Jitte. Honor-Worn Shaku. Sensei's Divining Top. O-Naginata. Manriki-Gusari. All are powerful artifacts that can make our deck's job very difficult, and we need an answer. I considered putting in Yuki-Onna here, but she is far too expensive mana-wise, and the deck's four slot is getting crowded anyways. I think this guy is solid.
Out: 1x Sokenzan Renegade: Is he an efficient beater? Yes, I suppose so. There are simply more efficient beaters for this deck which get the job done quicker and more reliably than the Renegade. Also, the extra power/toughness hasn't been very useful. And no, this is NOT an anti-ogre kick I'm having: I just feel that Akuta, Born of Ash does this job better.
In: 1x Akuta, Born of Ash: Its Legendary status and land-sucking ability keep it down to only two copies, but its reliability as a recurring beater has impressed me greatly, enough to add another copy. This guy is considered a junk rare by most, so getting it with Thoughts of Ruin credit is perfectly reasonable. This guy has swung many games my way, and is always worth the four mana investment. I like this guy.
Out: 1x Cruel Deceiver: Well, it has been a long road. Here, we cut the last solo card from the deck. Really, the Deceiver ain't bad; it's just not good enough to sit with the rest of the deck, and it doesn't fit the deck's themes at all. His ability was rarely useful, and I mostly just used him as a 2/1 body. Cutting him seems reasonable to me, although it's a wierd feeling to cut the only one-of from a precon left. But it's a good feeling.
In: 1x Spiraling Embers: Ok, so I'm making the four-drop slot a bit crowded. But all the cards there are helpful, and have been repeatedly, and are thusly staying. Embers has consistently removed larger threats that Glacial Ray can't, and that Barrel Down Sokenzan would create too much tempo loss to do, so I think running Embers is a good idea. However, it is useless early, explaining the presence of only three copies, but they have earned their slots.
Out: 1x Swamp In: 1x Mountain- Gotta balance the mana to costs, and one more Mountain is needed.
Time for the final tests... against competitive, tier 1-tier 2 decks!
Match 8: Critical Mass Vs. RDW
Here it goes. Game one, I started with a turn one Cohort, followed by a turn two Akki Underling, while my Cohort was blocked by a lonely Hearth Kami. My Underling was answered by a Glacial Ray, but my foe ran out of creatures. I applyed steady pressure with some late Deathmask Nezumis and Hand of Crueltys. When my foe found a Zo-Zu, the Punisher, and equipped it with Umezawa's Jitte and Manriki-Gusari, I Barrelled it, getting me up to seven and allowing a beating.
Game two, I got off to a slow start, with Cohort serving as a wall. My opponent got a turn two Umezawa's Jitte, turn three Ronin Houndmaster, and I got beat down by the Samurai for a while. By the time he died, I was too far behind to put up a fight, and we moved to game three.
Game three was similar to game 1, only this time, I drew one of my Akutas. This allowed quicker, more senseless beatings. My opponent got out a Jitte, but I Hearth Kami'd it to death and swung with my Akuta/Cohort army for the win. I win, 2-1!
Match 9: Critical Mass Vs. MBA
Uggh. Damn luck. I lost 0-2, but in all fairness, number two broke down to luck. Game one, I came out swinging, only to find Hearthy killed by a Kiku's Shadow each turn, and while I killed off many critters, the Jitte my dead Hearth Kami couldn't kill smacked me in the face in the end. Game two, I had it all sewn up, with two Deathmask Nezumi and an Akki Underling. My foe got down the game-breaker, a Patron of the Nezumi which I had no real answer to. It turns out, it was the only one in the deck, and I didn't see a single Barrel Down Sokenzan which would have saved the game. GAHH! In any case, I found a solid sideboard card or two.
Match 10: Critical Mass Vs. WW
This is the final matchup that I will officially record. Here it went: Game one, I drew nothing but land when I needed answers, and my opponent's Eight-and-a-Half Tails kept me pinned down, despite my Hand of Cruelty. Game two, we both mana-stalled, but I drew a remarkable 4 Hand of Cruelty, and it came down to a race between his two Lantern Kami and my samurai. My samurai won. Game three, I got an early Hand of Cruelty, but he was quickly outnumbered my foe's dorks. I got up to seven and got my foe to two with a few of my wise minions, but it wasn't enough, and I died next turn. Bah.
OK. The deck does not fare well against especially good aggro. In better news, it did win against a good RDW build, and in a few pick-up matches, it beat down every random deck that I played. It is also fun-yet simple-to play, making it perfect for at least one of my target audiences. I think that, if you can sink a little more money into it, the deck can be good. If I were asked to give a sideboard, it would probably consist of 4x Yuki-Onna as an additional answer to artifact-heavy decks, 4x Psychic Spear, as a quick discard spell against wierd control decks, 4x Gnat Miser to counteract random "Wisdom" decks, and 3x Distress, to deal with tricky enchantments or possibly 8.5 Tails.
Were I to add money to the deck, I would add some Jittes in place of the Spiralling Embers as a cheaper, reusable removal knife. Also, one Shinka, the Bloodsoaked Keep and one Shizo, Death's Storehouse probably wouldn't hurt, in terms of giving Akuta fear and first strike. It is important to take note that these take away from sweep potential, though... hmm. Past that, though, few rares really help the deck, making it a solid deck for your beginning or poor friends. Also, if you have the money to play around, a B/R control deck with Kagemaro, First to Suffer, Thoughts of Ruin, and the like could be fun, though very expensive.
Here is the decklist as I am leaving it. Critique it, praise it, but, in any case, state your thoughts.
It has been a fun process fixing this deck to a possibly playable state, and I hope to do it again. I hope that you all enjoyed yourself! Until next time...
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Editors: Goblinboy & Binary
By Sam Williams on August 31st, 2005 · Filed in Limited · Comments not available just now
About Sam Williams
A samurai enthusiast with a soft spot for Star Wars, I greatly enjoy thinking of magic as a budget-minded Johnny/Vorthos.