D.I.Y.: Don't Try This at Home
By happybounce on March 21st, 2007 · Filed in General Magic · Comments not available just now
D.I.Y.: Don't Try This at Home
The room was silent except for the sharp slap of cards being shuffled. John #1 shifted in his wooden seat, popped open a beer, and sat it on the black table. My eyes drifted up from the pile of randomized cardboard and lingered on the offending can.
"You know the rules," I growled. "No drinks out while we're playing."
He smirked at me, disdain in his eyes. "Is that how we're doing it, then? By the rules?"
I kept shuffling. "I always play by the rules. Now get your crappy beer off the table."
We cut, rolled, and drew; I was up first, dropping a mountain and a War Torch Goblin. John #1 glanced at the card, then shot me a dirty grin. "Trying something new again, man? Why not just stick with one deck?"
I shrugged with confidence as I sorted the cards in my hand. "A deck builder like me doesn't need one deck to win. I can make a different deck every week that will beat your punk decks."
Then I lost.
Hey, it happens - no big deal, right? The first game is a trial run anyways. Ignoring John #1's jibes, I shuffled, cut, rolled and drew.
And lost again. And again.
After the fifth game, the terrible realization of what had happened dawned upon me:
I had made a Sucky Deck.
If you make your own decks on anything resembling a regular basis, many of them are probably going to just plain suck. If you're lucky, you catch these in pre-production (you know, when you're playing against yourself) but that isn't always the case. Sometimes the clever, original, lovingly crafted neato-deck that you spent all day putting together is just plain terrible.
Even if you make wacky decks all the time (because you are obsessive compulsive, have nothing better to do with your time, or just really need a girlfriend) you still wind up making sucky decks. It happens to me more often than I want to admit, and from time to time, what looks like a promising pile of cards turns into The Suck.
There's currently no known cure for a Sucky Deck... but there is prevention.
Don't Try This at Home
Like I said, I've made more than my share of sucky decks, and after a while a pattern starts to emerge. Not every deck sucks the same way, and knowing beforehand what sucks and what doesn't suck is integral in lessening the outbreaks of sucky decks.
For instance, the first and most obvious type of sucky deck is the "Random Pile of Crap." This is where you grab a bunch of cards, throw them together, and - surprise - you have a deck that sucks. Another one I'm great at is the "This Draft Deck Rocked, It'll Make a Great Constructed Deck Too!" Well, it won't. This is how people wind up buying 3 Curse of the Cabal and 4 Watery Graves, and then have to play B/U all the time because those are the only dual lands they bought.
Stupid Watery Graves.
What I am covering are much more specific and sneaky types of suck - the kinds of suck that creep up on you, not revealing how sucky they really, truly are until halfway through Friday Night Magic.
I'm going to give three deck lists, explain what I did wrong with the deck, and then describe the specific type of suckiness the deck represents. In doing so, I can educate others about the dangers of sucky decks while getting some use out of the time I wasted by making these piles of garbage. Along the way, I'll be dropping some quick lessons. Think of it as a "Don't Do It Yourself" column, or D.D.I.Y. for short - it'll be fun, trust me!
For the record, none of these decks are as sucky as the two decks that are so bad I won't write about them.
That's why I know so much about suckiness - because these aren't even the worst decks I've made in the last 6 months.
Confused? You should be. Confusion is about the only thing I had going.
I decided that I really liked the convoke mechanic - it turns all your creatures into mana bugs, and what's not cool about that? There were also some neat convoke cards that really seemed to fit together, like Scatter the Seeds and Chord of Calling. With a couple of early creatures, I could drop a Scatter the Seeds on turn 3 and instantly have a board full of monsters! I hate using pennies or dice as token creatures, so I used an uncased Sprout to represent each Saproling token. Not only did it look cool, it also made my side of the board look huge.
Since I'd built a pretty cool Chord/convoke engine, I needed something to summon with it. I'm a fan of theme decks, so anything other than green or white creatures was out of the question. I'd been itching to use my two Akromas in a deck, but hard casting her is physically painful and "everyone" was doing the whole reanimator Akroma thing, so I couldn't do it, right?
Quick lesson #1: Refusing to do something just because it's popular is as dumb as doing something just because it's popular. I used to refuse to enter name brand clothing stores because "everyone does it," and it took me years to realize that's just stupid. If I want to stay out, then I should do it because I hate the music or the shallow employees, not because I'm some wanna-be social iconoclast. Unless you dress in monk robes or a burlap sack, you are not a teen fashion rebel. Have I already gone over this once before? It feels like familiar territory. Nevertheless, it's a lesson that bears repeating (probably because it's one that I tend to forget a lot).
Anyways, I had the bright idea of using Chord of Calling to grab Akroma, Angel of Wrath. I'd need a mighty eleven lands or creatures on the board, three of which would have to be white or make white mana; that breaks down to only needing five lands, three creatures, and one Scatter the Seeds. Brilliant! That idea is so great, I can't believe that no one else thought of it!
Quick lesson #2: If you can't believe no one else thought of your great idea, it's probably because it's not actually that great of an idea. That doesn't mean you should give it up right away; innovation is the lifeblood of magic, and hey, maybe you stumbled onto something new and cool. But if it blows up in your face, try not to be disappointed, because a lot of the time the great idea is not quite as good in execution.
The rest of the deck was painstakingly crafted. No, seriously. The other creatures might look totally random, but every one of them had a totally specific purpose: Pendelhaven Elder stopped Pyroclasm from wiping out my board, Gemhide Sliver helped when I just couldn't find a white mana source and went great with the two Harmonic Slivers in the sideboard, Conclave Phalanx was good life gain, Selesnya Guildmage and Centaur Safeguard helped with using Chord for Akroma, and so on.
Unfortunately, my creature base was just too spread out and wound up being wildly inefficient, and the non-creature cards were no different. Call of the Herd was good defense against beatdown, and had a nice synergy with Hour of Reckoning. Avoid Fate protected my Akroma, Angel of Wrath when I got her on the board. Strength in Numbers helped out when I just couldn't get the big beefy I needed but had a bunch of small guys.
I was sure I had all my bases covered; there was no threat that my deck couldn't deal with!
I was wrong.
Quick lesson #3: The whole "silver bullet" thing doesn't work very often. That's why God made sideboards; trying to deal with every single threat in your main deck just waters it down.
As you might guess, there were numerous other problems with the deck. First of all, actually getting out eleven creatures and lands in a timely fashion against another player is hard as hell. Then I had to have the Chord of Calling, and had to not have drawn both my Akromas. When I did manage to cast her she normally got shown a Condemn (I didn't draw my Avoid Fate, oh crap!) or met up with a Wrath of God. Most of the games I did win (there were a few) were because my opponent didn't have mass removal and I ran him over with Saproling tokens.
The Big Lesson: You can't do everything. I wanted to use a cool mechanic, have a flavorful deck, cast a big creature in an original way, be able to protect my big creature, be able to deal with any threat, and have a backup plan for winning. I managed to fit it all into a deck, but man alive did it suck! If I had realized what I was doing early on, I could have trimmed it down and maybe had something that didn't suck so hard.
You know, the whole Saproling attack thing was pretty cool. Hmmm...
This deck was actually a couple different types of suck, the first one being the "This Draft Deck Rocked, It'll Make a Great Constructed Deck!" type. I won my first draft ever with a deck that looked suspiciously like this one. The draft deck did so well, in fact, that I felt obligated to turn it into a constructed deck. Let's just say that it did better in draft.
Quick Lesson #1: Draft and Constructed are two very different worlds. Cards and decks that do amazing in Draft often don't translate well into other formats. I know, it's a surprise, right? Still, it's hard to resist when you have a great deck that looks like a gift from God; I have done this precisely three times, and ended up with a weird blue-black suspend deck that didn't work, a boring and ineffective White-Weenie-Rebel deck, and this pile of junk.
In spite of the strange artwork for Voidmage Prodigy and Willbender, I really like the cards themselves. Plus, they're both Wizards! Cool, man. Hey, look - Sage of Epityr is a Wizard too! With the Voidmage, casting him is like getting a free Peek and a Counterspell all in one! I wonder what other cool wizards are out there. Ith, High Arcanist? He's in! Mangara of Corondor? He's in, too! With all these wizards, Voidmage Prodigy will be the best card ever!
Quick Lesson #2: Card synergy isn't always enough to make a good (or even decent, or playable, or fun) deck. If you plan on using a cool combo you need to have the support in the deck. Yeah, Voidmage Prodigy is neat, but if I cast him early, he died; if I cast him midgame, I had to devote all my mana to protecting him; and I don't know what would happen late game because I always lost before that happened. Seriously, I never won a game with this deck. If I had used stuff to protect my creatures or mana acceleration it might have been okay... but I didn't.
Some of the cards in the deck are just plain underrated. Walk the Aeons is a great spell that doesn't see nearly enough play, and I flat out love Evangelize. Viscerid Deepwalker is my favorite of the suspend creatures, and I will use him in a deck that works... just not today. However, like I said before, having cool cards isn't enough to save a deck from Sucking. You know what else doesn't save a deck from Sucking? A cool mechanic, especially one that is overused.
Quick Lesson #3: Lots of cards with the same mechanic does not make a theme deck. Sometimes it makes a funny deck, but most of the time it just makes a Sucky Deck. Certain keywords like suspend or morph are too costly or time consuming to appear in a deck in large quantities. I found that even though I had lots of low casting cost creatures, I never had quite enough mana; I was always casting morphed stuff, then trying to unmorph something else, then suspending something and waiting like four turns, then trying to pay for Homarid Warrior's pump-stats, and it was all too much. Some mechanics, like morph or suspend, need to play supporting roles in most decks.
You know what else Sucks? Realizing that your deck doesn't have a "perfect hand" or a "kill mechanism". Let me tell you, Viscerid Deepwalker is not the finisher in Constructed that he was in Draft. The Brine Elemental might have been a good way to end things, except that I put one of them in there. Why? Because I'd only had one in the draft, and that's all I'd needed!
That was the wrong answer.
The Big Lesson: I thought I'd made a neat morph/suspend/Wizard deck, but in the end all that I'd done was thrown a bunch of cards with the same mechanic together and hoped for the best. And you know what? Sometimes that works in draft - but in constructed, most people have put just a little bit more time into their decks. I still make bad suspend decks from time to time, but remembering just how bad this deck has kept me from trying to reconfigure any more draft decks for FNM.
Does this look familiar? It should. I decided that since the only time that I won with my Chord of Calling deck was with Saproling beatdown it made sense to make a deck based entirely on that. I cut out all the extra stuff (or so I thought) that was unnecessary, crafting what had previously been a Sucky Deck into a lean, mean, Saproling-making machine. When I first put it together, I realized that the deck was actually capable of a turn six or seven kill. This is how it happened: turn one Thallid, turn two Thallid Shell-Dweller, turn three Scatter the Seeds, turn four other random creature plus a Saproling token, turn five Saproling token plus Chord of Calling for eleven or twelve, bringing out Verdeloth the Ancient and paying his kicker cost for like three more guys! Yeah!
Quick Lesson #1: Learn the rules. I know this seems like a pretty obvious one, but (believe it or not) Magic is hella complicated. It wasn't until I showed up at Friday Night Magic that I discovered that kicker is not actually part of the converted mana cost and you can't pay it with Chord of Calling. If you have a deck that is centered around a card working a certain way, or some obscure rule, make sure it works the way you think it does before it makes its debut.
In spite of that, the deck still worked... sometimes. If I got the combo out, I ran 'em over with Verdeloth and at least four or five 2/2 Saprolings. Even if I didn't, a lot of the time I could still pull out a big "W" thanks mainly to Strength in Numbers. That card just plain wins games... sometimes. So long as my opponents didn't have mass removal, or targeted removal, or counterspells, or fast agro decks, or good combo decks, or cast artifacts, enchantments, or creatures that caused me problems, I did great. So pretty much the only times I won was when my opponent couldn't do anything for the first four turns of the game... and even then not all the time.
Quick Lesson #2: You can't just ignore what your opponent will do. This was the biggest mistake for my deck - I forgot that the opponent actually, you know, does stuff. Invariably, he will cast creatures that can block, have spells that deal me damage, and basically try to ruin my day. I'd made a deck that operated at maximum performance when the opponent didn't even show up. You know what other deck does that? Dragonstorm (yuck). Except that Dragonstorm, you know, works. Just because your deck goldfishes on turn 4 does not mean that it wins on turn 4.
Anyways, I didn't have a single card in the main deck for dealing with anything at all. I mean anything. Go on, look. See? No creature removal, no way of dealing with problem spells, not even any really big creatures to block their creatures with! If my opponent cast something that caused me problems, well, I had to play around it.
Every. Single. Time.
I would have fit removal in there if I could, but the whole deck was devoted to essential cards, like Chord of Calling, Scatter the Seeds, and Centaur Safeguard.
Quick Lesson #3: Always keep perspective. I'd put the Centaur Safeguards in the original deck because they helped when I needed to Chord of Calling for an Akroma, Angel of Wrath. They did their job and they did it well - when all I had was green mana in play, I could drop a Centaur, convoke for a Conclave Phalanx and boom, I was almost up to three white mana!
So why did I leave them in the deck when the Akromas left? Simple. The Centaur Safeguards worked, even though the Akromas didn't. When I rebuilt the deck I focused on what worked and what didn't, so I took out both Akromas and put in an extra Centaur, never once stopping to think about why they went in.
If something works in a deck, that's great - but it's important to know how and why it works. If you lose perspective, you could wind up with a Sucky Deck.
I knew this, but for some reason I kept trying to make the deck work. I tried my darndest, insisting that every single loss was negligible and that the deck was just about to "work." I spent hours testing it, had my best friend take it to Friday Night Magic (it did poorly), and took it to Friday Night Magic myself (it did worse), all to no avail.
The Big Lesson: Sometimes you just need to let an idea go. Even if it seems really cool, or neat, or you're sure you can make it work, some decks are just born Sucky. Now there's nothing wrong with using Sucky Decks, and there's nothing wrong with trying to make a bad deck better. But once in a while you just really, really need to let something go, even if it hurts.
I finally took apart the convoke deck, and it was almost too much - but it needed to happen.
Seriously, Don't Try Those at Home. I'm Not Even Kidding
After tearing apart my convoke deck, I was in a magic card funk. I mean, if I couldn't make a deck I'd been tooling for weeks work out, how would I make some new deck? I was out of ideas, and I didn't even really care. The passion for Magic deck building went out of me.
Despondent, I sat in my chair seeking the solace of the internet, when eventually I came to Star City Games.
I came across Tony Menzer's Oklahoma "Champs" report with his Momentary Blink deck, and I decided that I would just copy his deck, make some adjustments, and take it to the next Friday Night Magic. I mean, there's no crime in that; it's a cool idea that doesn't see much play and I think he did a great job of putting it together. Then it hit me: why use Momentary Blink just in a blue, white, and green deck? There are plenty of other 187 creatures out there. In fact, why do I need to build a deck based around Momentary Blink at all? It serves the same purpose as Avoid Fate, a card I've run in plenty of decks, plus it's really great with a few utilitarian creatures like, say, Nekrataal or Yavimaya Dryad.
In no time flat, I'd built a black and green deck with just a tiny splash of white. The deck runs lots of creatures, has some neat tricks, deals with lots of threats, has a pretty decent mana curve, and sports powerful finishers like Gleancrawler and Spectral Force that I can easily protect.
So what's the biggest lesson here?
Don't give up because your deck sucks; figure out what went wrong, figure out what you screwed up, then start fresh - and most of all, don't stop trying. Inspiration is just around the corner.
Not that corner, the other one!
By happybounce on March 21st, 2007 · Filed in General Magic · Comments not available just now