Part 3: Building a 3CB Deck to Win (or just have some fun)
Ready for a new format? You may have read the last installments Introduction to 3CB: Part 1 and Building a 3CB Deck to Win: Part 2, and you might be wondering how to build your own powerhouse of a decklist. Part 3 will cover the control cards available and show some of the more popular netdecks you can use.
Since 3CB has no playskill and no luck, the only thing that determines whether you win or lose is your decklist. The lists are only three cards long, but you've got an awful lot to pack in there. Even with only three slots, there are approximately 421,875,000,000 (7,500 ^ 3) different ways to build a deck. You want to make sure that yours is one of the good ways, and this article can help you do just that.
Part 1 (First Time):
- What is 3CB?
- 3CB History
- Reevaluating Cards
- Evaluating the Ban List
- Building a 3CB Deck
- 101) Mana
- 102) Win Conditions
If you don't know how to play 3CB but don't want to read the first article, I suggest you read the 3CB Rules Page.
3) Disruption and Control
While every 3CB deck must include a way to cast its spells, and every 3CB deck must include a way to win (except for "mise" decks, which intend to draw every game), not every deck must include a way to control its opponent. Some decks, like Black Lotus/Illusionary Mask/Phyrexian Dreadnought and Mishra's Workshop/Steel Golem/Wheel of Torture are perfectly content with nothing but threats and trying to race the opponent. Other decks, like Black Lotus/Black Lotus/Visara the Dreadful and Mox Jet/Mishra's Factory/Ravenous Rats pack their control elements onto a win condition in order to save space at the expense of efficient mana costs.
While these methods are respectable ways of winning the game, there is a certain efficiency of cost and flexibility of partner cards which can be gained by using dedicated control cards. That is not even to mention that some methods of control cannot be found in the form of a win condition, or at least not a playable one.
I will not be looking at control cards by mana cost like I did for the win conditions. Why? Because more important than the mana cost of control cards in 3CB is their function. The way that 3CB works allows different styles of control cards to exist, each style controlling a different part of the game.
As I did with win conditions, I will be ignoring those control cards which only fit in one or two extremely specific decks, like Black Lotus/Last Rites/Nether Spirit. There aren't too many other decks that can use Last Rites.
Nyah, Nyah, Nyah; I Get to Go First
The mechanics of 3CB place a great deal of importance on the first turn. Racing matters. Building storage counters matters. Most importantly, disruption matters. Almost every 3CB deck is prepared to dump its hand on turn one. A great percentage of decks simply lose if you mess with that expectation at all. Being able to throw a wrench in the mechanisms of the other deck is quite easy, as long as you go first.
This group of cards may be addressed as Daze-style cards for easy reference, and they are immensely powerful. Often, their being cast simply keeps your opponent out of the game entirely and your choice of win condition is irrelevant. Few decks are prepared to deal with the more powerful Daze-style cards such as Trinisphere. The majority of the banned list is made up of cards from this category: Blackmail, Meddling Mage, Mesmeric Fiend, Coercion, the list goes on. The only drawback to these cards is that they are rather lackluster when going second. Even then, there are a number of decks which cannot dump their hand on turn one. Treetop Village decks, storage land and depletion land decks, and even most Mishra's Workshop decks fall into this category. Against these, Daze-style control is useful going both first and second.
Daze: Naturally, this has to come first. While it is not the most powerful of this group, it has its advantages. It has the distinction of being both nonsymmetrical and allowing you to cast your win condition on turn one without deactivating it. It has deck design constraints; obviously, you need an island or a blue dual land in your deck. As a result, the win conditions that can be played with Daze are likely worse than can be played with the rest of this group. You are limited to one mana threats, and you can't use Rogue Elephant. Because Daze's support is weak enough that it needs its own support, Daze is probably the weakest of these cards when going second.
Trinisphere: This is the Daze card which is effective versus the largest number of decks. While it does decidedly less against Mishra's Workshop decks, that also means that its symmetry does not affect you. Every deck that does not use Mishra's Workshop or a storage land tends to become useless very quickly when a Trinisphere drops on the table. Trinisphere is playable with a number of useful backup cards: Steel Golem for beef, Ferropede to deal with the storage land weakness Trinisphere has, or even Treasure Hunter and Black Lotus if you want to play Trinisphere as well as dump your hand turn one.
Duress: Not all Daze cards have to increase costs like Daze! Duress works as the best one mana targeted discard in the format. Going first, it can stymie Black Lotus decks with the best of them. If a deck does not use Lotus, then it is still useful for taking out control cards to protect your win condition. On occasion, it can even take out their win condition if they use something like Words of Wilding or Scalding Tongs. Duress, like Daze, suffers from a lack of good win conditions to pair it with. It is often worse than Daze when paired with a one drop and a dual land, and if played with Black Lotus, the painful lack of good 3CB black two-drops becomes apparent. If one plays with Black Lotus and a one drop, Distress is much better. Still, Duress is a strong card despite these disadvantages.
Distress: Duress' bigger, nastier, more expensive brother, Distress has only one advantage in trade for the extra in the casting cost: it can make the opponent discard a creature. This may seem like a superficial distinction, as many creature decks can be shut down by Duress targeting the mana base anyway. However, upon inspection it is found that in most cases, Distress is the better choice. Because Daze is better than Duress when paired with a dual land and a one drop, Duress is restricted to Mox Jet/Mishra's Factory decks and Black Lotus decks. However, black has a lack of good two drops in 3CB. The two drops are hardly better than the one drops. As such, when playing a targeted discard-based deck with a Black Lotus, Distress is generally better.
Sphere of Resistance: An odd card. This is the only one of the playable Daze cards which is symmetrical. This means that if you plan to play the card first turn (which you obviously would) you must prepare your own deck to handle it. The three common ways to handle it is to play this with Black Lotus and a one-drop (likely Thallid), City of Traitors and a one-drop (likely Soldevi Sentry or Straw Golem), or Mishra's Workshop and a two-drop (likely Scalding Tongs). Now, it seems as if the abilities of Sphere would be dwarfed by Trinisphere. While Trinisphere is much better at shutting down Mishra's Factory decks and Black Lotus+land decks, it is unable to affect Mishra's Workshop or storage lands. Sphere of Resistance handles Mishra's Workshop very well, and at least slows down storage land decks by a turn. Sometimes, that's all you need.
Aura of Silence: This is a surprisingly good card. It shuts down Black Lotus decks, obviously, and it stops Mishra's Workshop decks much better than Sphere of Resistance does. It even shuts down Eladamri's Vineyard. However, that's often where the Daze part stops being useful. What makes Aura of Silence such a powerhouse is its second Seal of Cleansing ability. As has been discussed, versatility is incredibly important in 3CB. Aura has it. Whether capping a Platinum Angel or an Ensnaring Brige, Aura of Silence is not likely to be useless. The only major drawback of the Aura is its casting cost. The three mana almost requires that the deck it is put in be Black Lotus/Treasure Hunter/Aura of Silence.
Chalice of the Void: Chalice is the most narrow of the cards on this list. Except in very specific situations, Chalice of the Void is only good when going first versus Black Lotus decks. That said, that isn't necessarily a bad thing. The Chalice is free, and allows your other two cards to be pretty much anything you want, allowing for some pretty powerful decklists to be created.
As in any format where the majority of win conditions are creatures, creature control is a good thing to have access to in 3CB. There are different styles which deal with different types of creatures. I'll go through some of the more popular, powerful, and cheap options.
Swords to Plowshares: This is the ultimate in spot removal, both in real Magic and 3CB. Costed at an extremely versatile and affordable , StP can get rid of nearly every creature your opponent can lay on the table. Sure, it has troubles with Jetting Glasskite, but the limitations stop there. Its mana cost allows it to fit into nearly every deck. There really aren't many negative things I can say about Swords to Plowshares except that it tends to fall short when there are two beaters staring you down.
The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale: While there are a larger subset of decks which can shrug off a Tabernacle than a Swords to Plowshares, The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale comes with one major advantage: it's completely, totally free. is a nice price to pay to entirely shut down the opponent's deck. Of course, with that economy comes the card's symmetry. If you intend to play Tabernacle along with a creature win condition, you have to become vulnerable to land destruction. If you play a storage land, a Tabernacle, and a creature, you are forced to wait and store up one counter for each turn you want your creature to stay alive. This can make for some long waits to bring out your beater. Despite this, The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale is a great bargain for the price and is effective versus the majority of creature-based decks.
Maze of Ith: Another free form of creature control, Maze of Ith is harder for the opponent to get around than The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale. As such, it is generally the safer play. However, it also makes it harder for you to get around your opponent. Maze of Ith doesn't kill the creature; it just keeps it from attacking. Thus, if you plan to win with a creature you've still got to find a way around the blocker. Or, if the opposing creature is perfectly content using its special abilities to win (Lavaborn Muse, Stormscape Apprentice, Swamp Mosquito) then you really haven't stopped much of anything. This becomes moot if you pair the Maze of Ith with a threat/control Jackknife like Visara the Dreadful or, when it was legal, Form of the Dragon. Choosing between The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale and Maze of Ith is one of the few creature control dilemmas which depends more on the build of the deck (beyond mana sources) and less on the metagame.
Drop of Honey: The Drop is a card which is like an amalgam of the cards already mentioned on this list. It has an economical cost and hits a wide range of targets like Swords to Plowshares does. It's symmetrical, and thus requires a special deck built around it, like The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale. It gives the opponent certain options and requires you to find a way to get around them, like Maze of Ith. Drop of Honey is obviously a powerful card. It destroys a creature per turn, potentially taking out two targets if need be. The elephant in the middle of the room for Drop of Honey is the clause, "When there are no creatures in play, sacrifice Drop of Honey." This clause violates several vital 3CB rules. One, it's reactive. You can't play it on turn 1 and wait around until the opponent drops a threat. Two, it gives them options. If they have two threats, they can force you to hold yours until they drop theirs, forcing a draw. While Drop of Honey is a powerful card, you need to be sure that you're able to manipulate its drawbacks before playing it. Perhaps add a high-power untargetable like Kodama of the North Tree.
Ensnaring Bridge: The Bridge, part of the famous Bridge/Tongs deck, is one of the venerable paragons of 3CB. Essentially a Moat in artifact form, Ensnaring Bridge is the least fragile of 3CB's popular lock components. Granted, you need to find a win condition that fits cleanly with the casting method of Ensnaring Bridge (it almost has to be played with Mishra's Workshop) and win around the Bridge. Scalding Tongs is the standard choice, but there are other options. However, whatever you do, do not pair this with Wheel of Torture. A lot of new players fall into this trap. The reality of it is that Mishra's Workshop/Ensnaring Bridge/Wheel of Torture will win exactly zero games. For the Wheel to deal any damage, the opponent has to play a card. The Ensnaring Bridge does not force them to, so they will just hold everything and draw the game.
Seal of Removal: Often in 3CB, bouncing is just as good as killing a creature (if not better). Seal of Removal is only better than Swords to Plowshares if you expect to see a lot of discard or if you're playing Mishra's Factory/Mox/Removal and expect a lot of other Factories. That said, this is the cleanest, most effective Swords to Plowshares replacement if you want something different or are stuck with only blue mana.
Vendetta/Diabolic Edict/Lightning Bolt/Blood Frenzy/Pit Trap: Whoa! That's a lot of cards. These cards are all inferior, and yet they see play. Why? They're simply the best thing available in their casting cost slot. If you have access to white, Swords to Plowshares is the best spot removal to play. If you are playing green, Drop of Honey is often (though not always) the best pick. For blue, Seal of Removal and occasionally Mana Chains takes it. If you don't have access to any of those colors, however, this is generally the list you'll pick from. But don't be afraid to explore other options! While these are all readily available, all of them are outright inferior to Swords to Plowshares. The purpose of these articles is to help you build a deck, but not to confine you to a set list of cards to pick from.
If It Don't Move, Shewt It
Of course, creatures aren't the only things to be afraid of in 3CB. There are enchantments, artifacts, and occasionally lands as well. At times the cards in this section will double as creature kill (artifact kill taking out a Phyrexian Dreadnought, enchantment kill disabling a Treetop Village by killing its Vineyard), but most of the time they're just there expecting a non-creature-based metagame.
Crack the Earth: This is the sixth Kamigawa block card I've mentioned so far (Distress, Meloku, Kodama, Isamaru, Crack the Earth, and Jetting Glasskite). Obviously the block's strength in 3CB far outmatches its strength in regular Magic. Of the six mentioned so far, Crack the Earth might just be the most important. With the ability to handle any permanent that hits the board, Crack the Earth has versatility. Being strong against both Lotus drops and storage lands, Crack the Earth has uniqueness. Costing , Crack the Earth has efficiency and economics. The drawback, of course, is that Crack the Earth is symmetrical. You need to have your own permanent that doesn't get in the way of Crack and can win around it. The easiest and quickest way to do this is dual land/one-drop/Crack the Earth. While this can't go off until turn two, it still offers a strong method of controlling the board.
Seal of Cleansing/Naturalize: These two offer the simplest and most versatile way of dealing with enchantments and artifacts. Seal is obviously the superior of the two, but sometimes the mana source in question is Hickory Woodlot and white isn't an option. So, should you use these or dedicated artifact hate like Oxidize? Should you go one further and squeeze in Aura of Silence? It depends on the deck. If you've got the mana for it, Aura of Silence is clearly the superior card. But often that isn't an option, and then Naturalize/Seal of Cleansing becomes the better play. However, if you're playing the card off of a storage land, another dilemma enters into play. A one-mana spell like Oxidize will, off of a storage land, go 3-3 with a first-turn Phyrexian Dreadnought or Leveler while Naturalize will 0-6 it.
Energy Field: Energy Field is a card that varies greatly in terms of power. One week anything containing it is in the top 5, the next week you can't get a 6-0. This is because of the peculiarities of what affects the lock of Energy Field and what gets around it. Energy Field is strong yet fragile. Permanent destruction, hand destruction, life loss effects, and poison all destroy or bypass the Field, but decks that have none of those are simply helpless against it. Energy Field is one of the strongest lock components in the format, but be careful playing it or you might run into a helplessly hostile metagame.
Echoing Truth/Boomerang/Chain of Vapor: Wherever there's a creature cast off of a Lotus, these will be there. As good as a Vindicate when there's non-reusable mana around, these have other uses as well, such as bouncing an in-combat creature to save it and replay it. Which one to play? If you expect to encounter storage land decks and want to make them cringe as they start over right before they get enough mana, play Boomerang. If you want to take the wind out of Thallid's or Meloku's sails, play Echoing Truth. If you only want to pay one mana and don't have anything unreplayable, play Chain of Vapor.
One Last Word
Now, before I begin the "Netdecking It" section, I must issue one heavy warning to anybody who tries to make their own decks: Don't fall into the mise-deck trap. What is a Mise deck? The lingo, taken from www.TheManaDrain.com, means a deck that is incapable of winning. It just draws. There are obvious Mise decks (decks without win conditions, for example), but some are sneakier. Let's take a look at the following list:
Gods' Eye, Gate to the Reikai
Braids, Cabal Minion
Seems like a good deck, right? Braids handles all the permanents, and the Gods' Eye provides a small win condition to clean up with. However, this deck is very nearly a Mise deck. Think about it: what is this deck going to do if the opponent simply plays nothing? Can it play its Braids and start beating? No, because the Braids would kill itself soon. Can it rid the opponent of his permanents and then win with the Gods' Eye token? No, since the opponent refuses to play his cards. If you simply go ahead and make the token, it will be your 1/1 versus his full hand. Not a position from which you're likely to win.
Some of the sneakier Mise decks to watch out for (some of these can win some of the time, but their construction is still Mise-like.):
Wheel of Torture
Drop of Honey
How can you tell if your deck is a Mise deck? Simply play through a couple matches versus an invisible opponent. If you can't win against him, you've got a Mise deck.
4) Netdecking It
So now you've seen the bits and pieces. What's the best way that they fit together? I'll show you. Also, are there any combo-specific cards that haven't been mentioned due to their lack of versatility? You betcha.
Because of the inability of 3CB decks to hold a large number of cards, decks tend to be focused and singleminded. As such, they can often be classified in the same way that we classified cards all the way back in installment one of this article. You can have a deck that's all quick threat, a deck that's mostly control, or a deck that tries to overwhelm via mana production. Also like individual cards, a 3CB deck tends to get better the more it diversifies. A deck that has a good mana quotient with a fine complement of control and a good win condition would obviously be the perfect 3CB deck. Sadly (or thankfully), it's not that easy.
Here I will provide for you some of the finest lists in the most effective categories.
I would, of course, be amiss if I didn't address possibly the most prolific deck in 3CB history: Mishra's Workhop/Ensnaring Bridge/Scalding Tongs. BridgeTongs, as it's called, won the very first MTGNews.com 3CB. Since then, it has won several more and always tends to score highly when it shows up.
Other Lock Decks:
Saprazzan Skerry/Energy Field/Scalding Tongs or
Saprazzan Cove/Energy Field/Darksteel Reactor: Both Energy Field lists are popular and successful. The first list suffers in the face of cost increasers such as Sphere of Resistance and artifact hate, but makes up for it by playing the Energy Field a turn earlier (two turns earlier if the deck needs to draw the game)
Black Lotus/Island Sanctuary/Tethered Griffin: This list is only effective versus creatures, and is vulnerable to creature kill, but offers a much faster clock than Scalding Tongs.
Sulfur Vent/Sleeper Agent/Energy Field: This quirky variation on Energy Field decks offers a faster clock than Tongs but with the superior protection of Energy Field. It suffers in the face of Glowrider like the Saprazzan Skerry variation, but it also flat-out loses to any type of creature removal. Because of this, this deck is less played.
Do It Again
Because of the lack of immediacy in 3CB, decks that have repeatable effects become quite strong.
Black Lotus/Anurid Scavenger/Misguided Rage or
Black Lotus/Anurid Scavenger/Capsize or
Black Lotus/Anurid Scavenger/Arc Lightning: The Misguided Rage version of these decks is wildly more popular than the others, as it is much stronger. However, there are several decks which show up that the non-targetedness of Rage just isn't fast enough to handle. In the face of these, Capsize is better. Against some decks, the speedy clock and removal that Arc Lightning brings will win it for you. These are intensely powerful decks, and generally only lose in the face of Lotus or creature hate.
City of Traitors/Isochron Scepter/Raise the Alarm or
City of Traitors/Isochron Scepter/Fire//Ice or
City of Traitors/Isochron Scepter/Incinerate: Ahhh, the magic of Isochron Scepter. Each of these decks is powerful, and each has its own advantages. Raise the Alarm is the fastest clock of these, winning unhindered on turn 7. Also, given enough time it can block and kill almost any attacker. Fire//Ice has the usefulness of direct damage combined with the ability to draw the game versus a single large attacker, no matter the size, as long as it's targetable. Incinerate has the "untouchability" of burn, but with a faster clock than Fire//Ice.
Forest/Eladamri's Vineyard/Words of Wilding: This deck, capable both of making a 2/2 every turn and hitting the opponent with mana burn, is one of the better token producer decks there are. Its drawback, of course, is that the Words doesn't hit play until turn two, allowing the opponent ample time for disruption.
Mercadian Bazaar/Karakas/Starke of Rath: This interesting deck is like the Anurid Scavenger/Misguided Rage deck, but slower and less reliant on Black Lotus. When the metagame is slow enough, this list sweeps up. When the metagame is quick, though, there isn't much hope. In this deck, unless the opponent is playing Legends, nothing happens until turn 4.
Eggs, Meet Basket
Often, it's best simply to pour everything you've got into one big threat and hope it rides. These are the "big threats" that are worth it.
Black Lotus/Illusionary Mask/Phyrexian Dreadnought or
Black Lotus/Academy Researchers/Mythic Proportions: These are your standard big beats deck. A 12/12 or 10/10 Trampler on turn 1, few questions asked. The Researchers deck is immune to artifact hate, and as such deserves a spot here. These both win on turn 3. That's quite a feat, since there are right now no decks that win on turn 2. Nobody can race these decks. All they can hope to do is disrupt them. If you wish, you can play City of Traitors instead of Black Lotus with Illusionary Mask in order to be immune to Tabernacle, but that usually isn't worth the turn of speed lost.
Black Lotus/Black Lotus/Visara the Dreadful: The essential "safe play" deck. This deals with nearly every creature under the sun, having only a small hole in effectiveness versus the pro-Black Anurid Scavenger and the untargetable Kodama of the North Tree (which it races going first anyway). If you have no clue at all what the metagame is going to look like, this is your deck.
Black Lotus/City of Traitors/Kodama of the North Tree: Untargetability thwarts many a foe, as does the immunity of this list to Tabernacle. Think of this as the more resilient version of Academy Researchers.
Black Lotus/City of Traitors/Meloku, the Clouded Mirror: Tokens are good. That's all they are. This can give you a 2/4 flier turn 1, two 1/1 fliers turn 2, and two more 1/1 fliers every other turn thereafter. The ability for a rush to occur while holding open a formidable blocker makes this effective.
Black Lotus/Sheltered Valley/Lavaborn Muse: Immune to Tabernacle, issuing a 7-point life swing starting as early as turn 2, and immune to Glowrider, there's not much that Lavaborn Muse can't fight his way through. Definitely a good, strong pick that can get past a lot of stuff the rest of the creatures on this list can't.
Combine Maze of Ith or some other form of creature control, the appropriate storage land, and
Platinum Angel, Jetting Glasskite, Visara, the Dreadful, Serra Avatar, Akroma, Angel of Wrath, Darksteel Colossus, Plated Slagwurm, Kodama of the North Tree, Exalted Angel, or Kamahl, Pit Fighter.
Mishra's Workshop/Steel Golem/Trinisphere
Mishra's Workshop/Sphere of Resistance/Arcbound Slith
Mishra's Workshop/Steel Golem/Wheel of Torture
Mishra's Workshop/Serrated Biskelion/Ferropede
The Staples of Many Decks
Some cards just have a lot of options involved in deckbuilding with them. Here's a list of some of the better options:
THALLID and ISAMARU, HOUND OF KONDA:
Black Lotus/Thallid/Sphere of Resistance
Black Lotus/Isamaru, Hound of Konda/Sphere of Resistance
Black Lotus/Isamaru, Hound of Konda/Seal of Cleansing
Appropriate dual land (or Pendelhaven if mono-green or Karakas if mono-white), Thallid or Isamaru, and:
Daze, Chain of Vapor, Seal of Removal, Duress, Swords to Plowshares, Elvish Scrapper, Oxidize, Chalice of the Void, or Crack the Earth.
Combine Black Lotus, Treasure Hunter, and:
Trinisphere, Dissipate, Ravenous Rats, Blood Moon, Preacher, Glowrider, Diabolic Edict, Seal of Doom, or Aura of Silence
Combine Treetop Village, Eladamri's Vineyard, and:
Nantuko Vigilante, The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale, Naturalize, Words of Wilding, or Maze of Ith
Black Lotus/Pox/Nether Spirit
Black Lotus/Last Rites/Nether Spirit
City of Traitors/Anvil of Bogardan/Nether Spirit
Lion's Eye Diamond/Arrogant Wurm/Nether Spirit
Hoo boy, this is going to be a long one.
Combine Mishra's Factory and
Rishadan Port, Sheltered Valley, or Quicksand and
Powder Keg or The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale
Combine Mishra's Factory, City of Traitors, and
Culling Scales, Powder Keg, or Steel Golem
Combine Mishra's Factory or sometimes Blinkmoth Nexus, the appropriate Mox, and
Seal of Cleansing, Swords to Plowshares, Naturalize, Seal of Removal, Spiketail Hatchling, Ravenous Rats, Duress, Powder Keg, The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale, Imaginary Pet, Tempting Wurm, Hesitation, Addle, etc. etc. etc.
I've just given you more than one hundred 3CB decks. The wonderful thing is, you could enter any one of these hundred decks and do just fine. Even then, all these decks I have listed here are but a sliver of a portion of the decks available for play in 3CB. There are thousands of competitive lists. I encourage you to try some of these, to make your own, to examine the format, and most of all, have fun with it. For such a small game, 3CB is extremely deep and still has not been fully explored. It just goes to show how deep Magic as a game is. We can't explore all of three cards; how can anyone ever hope to cope with sixty?
In the meantime, if you want to participate in 3CB, simply hop on over to Forum Games and look for the most recent 3CB thread, or click the "Come and play 3CB" link in my sig. In there will be directions on how to submit, as well as information on any special modifications that may be going on at the time.
And now I bid you adieu. This is the final episode of the 3CB introduction series, and I hope you've enjoyed it. I may write more on the format later, but from a more theoretical perspective. Hope to see you soon,