Part 2: Building a 3CB Deck to Win (or just have some fun)
Ready for a new format? You may have read the last installment Introduction to 3CB: Part 1, and might be wondering how you can build you own powerhouse of a decklist.
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.
Mishra's Workshop: The Workshop is another extremely powerful and quick method of getting mana. For the first 25 3CBs, Black Lotus was banned. During that time, Mishra's Workshop was the reigning king of mana. This card has many advantages. Because of its reusability, you are often able to get 6 worth of artifacts onto the table. The artifacts you can choose from include hard hitters like Trinisphere, Steel Golem, Wheel of Torture, Ensnaring Bridge, and the Serrated Biskelion/Ferropede duo. The Workshop, expectedly, has its own drawbacks as well. Firstly, the list of cards you can choose from to play is short. Most good Mishra's Workshop lists have already been played numerous times and will be expected (and often prepared for) by the metagame. Second, Mishra's Workshop is unable to do anything but pay the casting costs of artifacts. Besides not being able to cast colored cards, any deck with this card will not be able to run any artifacts that require mana for an activation cost, nor can you pay for Daze or The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale.
The Storage Lands: Printed in Fallen Empires and Mercadian Masques (the versions are slightly different, but the differences mean nothing in 3CB), cards like Subterranean Hangar, Sand Silos, and Fountain of Cho are generally pretty bad in regular Magic. However, in 3CB you are sure to have a few turns of breathing room to build up counters. These lands hold a special place in 3CB. They are one of the only ways to play a card that costs more than three mana. There are other ways (Black Lotus or Mishra's Workshop plus a land or another Black Lotus or Mishra's Workshop) but every alternative method requires two deck slots to function. The storage lands are the only ones that allow both expensive spells and two free deck slots. They also get around Dazes, Spheres of Resistance, and Trinispheres. A very popular archetype is Storage Land/Huge Fatty/Maze of Ith, Energy Field, Island Sanctuary, etc.. A good rule of thumb when using the Storage Lands is to never play them with anything that costs more than 8 mana without strong backup. To play a spell with these lands, you need one turn for each mana you need, one turn to drop the land (they come into play tapped), and one turn to tap the land for mana. If you had a 9 mana spell, you could not play it until turn 11. By turn 11, you have lost to a turn 1 2/2, which is a common clock to encounter.
The Depletion Lands: Printed only in Mercadian Masques, cards like Hickory Woodlot and Saprazzan Skerry hold an interesting niche in 3CB. They are a one-card method of getting two colored mana in 3CB but several turns faster than the Storage Lands. However, the Depletion lands cannot get around Daze like Storage Lands can, nor can they continually pump mana into a card. However, there are several spells which are nicely costed at two mana which just beg for a deck. For those spells, the Depletion Lands are there.
Manlands: There are only three oft-playable manlands in 3CB: Mishra's Factory, Treetop Village, and Blinkmoth Nexus, with the Nexus being far inferior to the other two. Why is Blinkmoth bad? To start with, it is only a 20-turn clock. That is far too slow in most cases. It also loses one important trait that Mishra's Factory has: The ability to block and kill a 2/2 or 3/3. Technically, Blinkmoth Nexuscould block and pump itself, but it often requires more mana than is available in a 3CB deck. Treetop Village is the largest of the three, but has three drawbacks: First, it comes into play tapped. There is incredible importance in 3CB of first turn plays. Having a CIP Tapped land allows your opponent to Duress/Disrupt anything else you have fairly easily. Second, it is almost required that it be placed alongside Eladamri's Vineyard. This isn't horrible, really. Vineyard is a fine card that acts as both mana source and win condition (via manaburn). However, these cards' buddy status limits the creativity one can have with a Village deck. Third, because it is often activated with Eladamri's Vinyard, it is unable to activate on the opponent's turn, and thus cannot block. Blocking may be "non-macho" in regular Magic, but the ability to block will win you many points in 3CB. The praises of Mishra's Factory were sung extensively in part one of this article, so I will restrain myself this time. I will repeat, however, that it is the most versatile card in the format.
The One-Mana-Lands: This is a broad group that will be covered all at once, because most of them serve a similar purpose: be played alongside two 1-CC spells and cast them both.
Pendelhaven: Unlike Karakas, Pendelhaven isn't an auto-include. You aren't going to pump your opponent's 1/1s with Pendelhaven while you might bounce their Legends with Karakas. Still, if you are playing with 1/1s, the advantage that Pendelhaven brings is huge. You are suddenly able to kill 2/2s and survive both while attacking and blocking. Adding Pendelhaven to a deck that can support it can sometimes double the points the deck gets.
Quicksand, Sheltered Valley, and Rishadan Port: These three are the best "friend" lands. They are never played alone, since a deck made entirely of 1 artifacts would be awful. Obviously, each has their own purpose. Valley can help win a race, Port can lock down the opposition, and Quicksand can off a 2/2 attacker.
The Moxen: These are generally inferior to Dual Lands in 3CB, since they are vulnerable to Glowrider, Daze, etc. However, if you have two mana sources and want to play a two-mana spell on turn 1, a Mox might be just what you're looking for.
2) Win Conditions
Naturally, anything that deals damage repeatedly could potentially be a 3CB win condition. As with any format, of course, some are notably more efficient and successful than others. I will be covering those (and several others for warning-away purposes). These will be divided by mana cost for the purpose of simplicity.
Note that I will be avoiding spells that are only win conditions in a specific deck. These cards, like Phyrexian Dreadnought when coupled with Illusionary Mask, are less win condition and more product of a combo. Since these cards are of no use outside their designated decks it is impossible to build a new deck for them, and thus they are not worth writing about until the "Netdecking It" section.
0 Mana Mishra's Factory: The virtues of this card have been extolled several times in this article, but there is still more to say. One thing to note when using this as your only win condition is that you cannot simply assume it will get through. I have seen multiple Mox Sapphire/Mishra's Factory/Energy Field decks in which one wonders how the Mishra's Factory intends to get past the blockers that are sure to be present. In this case, Blinkmoth Nexus would probably be better.
Thallid: Thallid is a special card. This is because given enough time, our one-mana Thallid can overcome the mightiest of armies. Token producing is quite good in 3CB, and Thallid is the cheapest available. Thallid outraces any non-flying 2/2 and wins when going first against a flying 2/2. He also gets around Maze of Ith. Overall, our little Father of Millions is quite the 3CB powerhouse. If you're using a dual land (and thus not Karakas) then it is usually advisable to play Thallid over Isamaru, Hound of Konda.
Soldevi Sentry: Soldevi Sentry is an artifact that's better than many of the colored creatures on this list. Able to eternally block any non-flying, non-trampling beastie as well as be cast off of a City of Traitors, Soldevi Sentry is a small bundle of strictly-3CB love. However, don't play this guy without major backup if you expect to win. Having no special abilities that help with ending the game, Soldevi Sentry is a very weak win condition.
Roc Hatchling: Roc Hatchling is an interesting card. It's a 3/3 that gets outraced by a 2/2 when going second unless the Roc blocks it. However, its size and flying still make it a fine choice. If you're going to lose a race to a small creature, you have the option of holding back the Roc, threatening to block, which forces them to hold back and draw the game. Lots of one-mana creatures don't have this option, and that's what makes Roc Hatchling powerful.
Imaginary Pet: This is the beefiest creature that you will find in 3CB without going up to four mana. There are some creatures that equal Imaginary Pet in terms of size, but none in terms of cost (with one exception, see below!). Imaginary Pet is a very good card for any deck that can handle the small stuff while the Pet cleans up. A 5-turn clock is nothing to laugh at, and one that gives so much variety in the cards it can be played with is very important.
Tempting Wurm: This is the same cost as Imaginary Pet with a +1/+1 and a relevant drawback added on. So the real question is: which to use? The only real advantage that Tempting Wurm has is that it can deal with 4/4s. However, 4/4s are rare in 3CB (limited mainly to the occasional Arrogant Wurm and the Pet itself). Much more common are the storage land fatties, which don't mind playing against Tempting Wurm at all. Unless you're playing Hickory Woodlot, I'd recommend staying with the Imaginary Pet. However, Tempting Wurm is still a very fine card.
Ravenous Rats:Ravenous Rats is one of the best discard spells still legal in the format. Often, playing this when going first on the first turn will make the game unwinnable for the opponent. Ravenous Rats is one of the few 1/1s with which it is safe to make it your only win condition.
Because of Black Lotus and Mishra's Workshop being so available, there are a large number of creatures that fit well and are played often at the three-drop slot. I'll try to limit myself to only the best or most representative of their category.
Treasure Hunter/Eternal Witness/Priest of Gix: Treasure Hunter is clearly the superior of these three. These three are used with Black Lotus to basically be free creatures, allowing the third card to be cast easily and immediately. This group is certainly powerful, but by no means are they overly so. They are, after all, just 2/2s. They are powerful simply because they facilitate the third card being cast. What these do is essentially allow a Black Lotus deck to act like a Mishra's Workshop deck, but quicker and with a smaller threat.
Glowrider:Sphere of Resistance has always been a powerful 3CB spell. It shuts down Black Lotus when going first, and many of the spells that come thereafter. Glowrider operates in a similar manner. While it is not strong going second, about half the decks in the format fold to it when it goes first.
Steel Golem/Chimeric Idol: These are the Mishra's Workshop deck's beatsticks of choice when it wants one. Consider that these blend nicely with Trinisphere and you have a killer deck on your hands. Steel Golem is a 3/4 with no drawbacks for three mana. It blocks and kills, or attacks and kills, more than half the creatures in the format. Chimeric Idol drops a toughness, so its creature control capabilities are down slightly. It can't even get past a Mishra's Factory! However, at the same time it gains immunity to The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale, Drop of Honey, and all sorcery-based removal. Which one is better? They're about equal. The preferable 3 creature shifts with the metagame.
Anurid Scavenger:Anurid Scavenger is similar to Treasure Hunter in that it relies on recycling Black Lotus to be useful. However, the Scavenger is bigger, has protection from black, and can replay Black Lotus and its third card eternally. Quite useful, no? Why don't people just play Anurid Scavenger all the time and ignore Treasure Hunter? If they find a way to prevent your recursion, the Anurid Scavenger will run out of things to recur and just die. This is not a rare occurrance. It happens every time a Glowrider player goes second. Also, an Anurid Scavenger deck cannot play its third card until turn two. Often, this is not a problem, since it can be recycled if they make you discard it. Other times, it means all the difference in the world.
Preacher: When you first heard of this format, you might have thought that Bone Shredder, Faceless Butcher, or Man-O'-War might be good cards. You would be wrong. Preacher outclasses all of them. Not only does it gain control of the creature, allowing you to use it against them, or if they have two creatures, use one against the other. Most importantly, it can hit the board before you use its ability. The cards I mentioned above are reactive cards. You can't use them until your opponent has played his creature. He'll just decide not to play his creature. You'll be left with your win condition stuck in your hand, unplayable until your opponent casts his creature (Hint: He won't). Preacher breaks from the pack by hitting play first. Then, it can pick away at your opponent's life total, forcing his hand.
4, 5, and 6 Mana:
There are some very powerful cards sitting at the four-six mana slots. Why do I group all three of these together? Because unless you use a storage land (in which case you'd likely be better off with a 7+ cost card) you can cast these on turn 1. For four mana, simply add a Black Lotus and a random land. For five, a Black Lotus and a City of Traitors. For six, two Black Lotus'.
Lavaborn Muse: The Muse is extremely powerful for its casting cost. It is one of the fastest clocks in the game. If it's not stopped, it kills by itself on your opponent's upkeep after your fourth turn. That's faster than a turn 1 5/5. It gets around Maze of Ith and Ensnaring Bridge. It can defend and deal damage at the same time. Whenever it is played, a deck containing Lavaborn Muse musters a lot of points simply by its appearance. When spending four mana for a threat, you'd better have a very good reason not to make it Lavaborn Muse.
Eater of Days: Although this kills much slower than Lavaborn Muse (turn 6, counting skipped turns), it provides a much better defensive position. There are few creatures that can trample over Eater of Days. Its drawback can sometimes come in handy as a gambit play versus Smokestack decks. Probably the best reason to play this card though is Mishra's Workshop. Some metagames can just handle Black Lotus better than they can Workshop.
Meloku, the Clouded Mirror:Meloku, like Thallid, is quite good at making tokens. Besides its 2/4 flying self, it makes two 1/1 flying tokens on turn 2, and an additional 1/1 flying token each turn thereafter. Meloku, the Clouded Mirror has not been played often, but I am sure that its versatility, evasion, and its ability to stall will give it a place in the hall of 3CB regulars.
Exalted Angel:Exalted Angel has proven itself to be good in every sanctioned constructed format, showing up in strong decks in Standard (when legal), Extended, Legacy, and at one time Vintage. 3CB is no exception. The ability to create an 8-point life swing each turn is difficult to make up for and is undeniably game-changing. It takes away any possibility of racing from the opponent and requires him to kill it or die. Of course, Visara, the Dreadful is better at the six mana slot because Exalted Angel has no way to directly deal with problem creatures, or race large creatures. Exalted Angel's advantage is that if the opponent plays Duress, Ravenous Rats or something similar, Exalted Angel is able to be cast face-down with the remaining Black Lotus for a subpar 2/2. Still, often versus decks that play cards like Duress or Ravenous Rats, a 2/2 is often enough to tie or even win the game.
Visara, the Dreadful: Despite a savage weakness to Karakas, Visara, the Dreadful is one of the most powerful turn 1 plays in 3CB. It is able to mow down any creature that shows up and then end the game in four quick turns. Visara, the Dreadful is generally the best choice for an unsure metagame, and is generally the best six-mana creature there is.
And we come to the last section of win conditions. These are generally only playable via a storage land. Another possibility is Hollow Trees and Eureka, but none of these are strong enough on turn six to bother playing them over a Visara, the Dreadful, Lavaborn Muse, or something similar on turn two. Why then would you play these? A storage land allows you to get around all cost increases and play any spell you want, as long as both cards you play are one color. When playing a storage land, the difference between five mana and seven mana is not so great, so you might as well play the more forceful creature, right? Right.
Platinum Angel: Often, Platinum Angel is underpowered. Of course, you win any race with it out, and it rarely dies, but often you simply end up going to all the trouble to get 7 and end up drawing the game because of a flier larger than 4/4 waiting hungrily to block. In some flying-and-removal-light metagames, however, Platinum Angel is the primo choice for your storage lands. While this is slightly off-topic, it is also a wonderful choice to go with Channel + Black Lotus. The Angel's ability offsets the six life loss easily.
Darksteel Colossus: Like in any list of large creatures, Darksteel Colossus makes an appearance. Here, however, it is for different reasons. Darksteel Colossus is rarely the right choice. It doesn't come out until turn 13, allowing for all sorts of things to outrace you. Because of the lack of appearance of mass removal, untargetability is often better than indestructibility. Why, then, play Darksteel Colossus? For its "drawback." When hit with a Ravenous Rats, you can discard the Darksteel Colossus and get it right back. If you've stabilized for long enough to actually cast the thing on turn 13, you're going to be able to stabilize another 12 turns to cast it again if it dies. Of course, things change if the opponent has Swords to Plowshares or Maze of Ith.
Well, that's it for this week. If your eyeballs haven't fallen out yet, join me next time when I'll go through the various control elements available in 3CB, as well as some of the best netdecks you can take if you're too lazy to come up with your own deck
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.
Great stuff ! I spent quite a while thinking about the format after the first article in your series and still only came up with about half the stuff here. I'd never even heard of Roc Hatchling or Invisible Friend before !
Maybe we should all email Wizards and ask for a 3CB Pro Tour ?
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The reason that Visara is fine as a standalone but Glasskite is not is that it is always good to have an answer to your opponent's threats in your deck. Visara has the capability of fulfilling that function, as it is a control/threat Jackknife card. Glasskite is simply a 4/4 in the air. It may be a hard to kill 4/4 in the air, but it is still just a 4/4 in the air.
Glasskite is less of a good card and more of a "best choice to play when your other two cards are Saprazzan Cove and a good blue lock component." Visara, on the other hand, is a good card without any backup.
You did'nt include probably the most versatile 1 mana threat on the list, Stormscape Apprentice. It can go under Bridge and tap mean big guys..
Meh. I've tried Apprentice, and at best, he ties games that you should have lost. That's about all he does, really. I'm trying to find a replacement for him in the Mana Chains deck, but no dice so far.