(Editor’s Note: For those of you that have been with us, hand-in-hand, since the beginning, you might remember that so many trolls, or Travvy Trav as I prefer to think of him, armed himself with fingers and keypad prior to the desktop recorder, sultry voice and cunning wit that we enjoy in the present. At the onset of 100 Card Singleton, Travis and I spent many hours debating cards and attempting to craft magnificent machines of efficiency and purpose. Some of our most ambitious creations came right after the Naya project that framed much of the discussion in the following article- 5-Color Greed, Reanimator, and then after Exodus, RecSurDeath were just a few that reaped the rewards. Travis always had a better knack for building decks from scratch than I did; I mostly played devil’s advocate and argued for various cards in an effort to reach a well-balanced final build. This article argues why a 100 Card Singleton mage should trim the fat so to speak- unfocused decks beat themselves by having no game plan to follow or by drawing a ton of overcosted or situational spells. It is my personal favorite from all of Travis’s work detailing the 100 Card lifestyle. I have added some of my personal thoughts to update this article to the current set offerings, metagame and to again assume the role of devil’s advocate where I believe it is needed. All of my thoughts will be marked in italicized text and be set in parentheses. Enjoy! – Chris)
Albeit partitioned to the Island of Misfit Formats in the mind of many a competitive Magic player, 100 Card Singleton is far from just another casual alternative to the game. As with its 60 card predecessor, the format has a strong inherit competitive element that requires not only an understanding of how to properly navigate the variance and limitation of playing a deck with only a single copy of any given card, but also knowing just what those additional 40 cards mean. Below, I will discuss a few points to improve the construction of your current and/or future Singleton 100 decks. With its deep card pool and strong finishes in the last few Premier Events, I’d like to focus on putting together a Naya deck, specifically one that denies your opponent of mana.
(I have included a deck from Event #636443, a 100 Card Singleton Weekend Challenge all the way back from October 24, 2009, at the end of the article. This is NOT the original deck designed from this article, but it is an evolution of the design and is also arguably more focused.)
I have noticed a trend of decks lacking a focused strategy (from the beginning of 100 Card Singleton competition), decks that straddle a number of ideas without fully committing to any one of them. One deck in particular ran Contested Cliffs with only a handful of Beasts, making it most often a colorless mana source in a three-color deck. It also had a Tallowisp engine with a small number of Spirits and auras that, even when it worked, accomplished a rather marginal result.
Cards like these don’t do much, if anything, on their own. They rely entirely on other cards with specific criteria with which to interact to make them worthwhile additions to your deck. Another example of this would be including Painters Servant and Grindstone in an aggressive deck with a limited way to fetch them. Drawing only one half of the combo is effectively a mulligan, barely more than a hopeful afterthought, a pipedream that could happen, but often doesn’t.
So what’s the best way to maximize and actualize the primary function of your deck? How do you ensure it works the way it’s meant to consistently? Let’s start with redundancy. Flesh out your deck with a number of cards that have similar functions, but that are also good on their own. This will also give your deck some ability to overcome the inherit variance of the format (and is a prime example of why Elves and Goblins are format all-stars).
That said, what would be the most efficient and synergistic way to build a consistent mana denial deck? Most definitely not by playing spells that one-for-one lands when there are a number of mass land destruction spells like Armageddon, Ravages of War, Decree of Annihilation, and Boom/Bust available. Even though opting for mass land destruction can impede your own mana development, the inherit disadvantages can be offset by playing non-land mana sources, knowing when and when not to play lands, and including cards that benefit rather than suffer when you blow up the world (like Terravore, Knight of the Reliquary, or Flagstones of Trokair). This strategy ensures that you disrupt your opponent’s mana to the greatest degree a single card can offer.
Even though mass land destruction is the core of this hypothetical deck, you will also need cards that support your strategy to varying degrees. Dwarven Miner, Dwarven Blastminer, Avalanche Riders, and Fulminator Mage all adhere to the land-handling philosophy, but also attack, block, pick up equipment, and present an onboard threat that could potentially shift the game in your favor very early on. After all, you have to win the game once you have control of it.
Another way to ensure consistency is through deck manipulation. Since you’re only playing a single copy of all of your spells, any card beyond the obvious tutors, transmuters, and/or wishes that can get you the right card at the right moment are musts in every deck. Again, in decks of this size, simply hoping to draw what you need isn’t enough. Whether it be drawing additional cards, deck thinning, or manipulating what’s on top of your library, any concerted effort to reduce variance gives you a definite advantage. Most people are well aware of the staple deck manipulators, but it’s possible that there are a few cards you may have overlooked…
Godo, Bandit Warlord and Stonehewer Giant both handily slam equipment into play for an immediate, game-altering effect, yet I’ve seen very few people playing them. Think of how many times a Sword of Fire and Ice or Sword of Light and Shadow (and now even Sword of Body and Mind) is enough to turn a game entirely around. So why wouldn’t you want to find one with certainty with a sizeable threat behind it? (I know that Stoneforge Mystic is the go-to gal for equipment these days, but Godo and Stonehewer are both huge fatbacks that piggyback on the redundancy theory from above. Even though these two monsters come at a hefty mana cost, they have the bodies and abilities to make the investment worthwhile. They are also card advantage in red and white!)
Another often-ignored gem is Sunforger, which just so happens to work incredibly with both of the aforementioned creatures. Not only does it make any creature a greater threat, it gives you repeated access to in-deck answers and threats.
Imperial Recruiter can find you that Miner or Avalanche Rider to keep your opponent’s lands to the desired minimum, pull a Qasali Pridemage to smash a pesky artifact or enchantment, or usher in an Eternal Witness effectively as a second crack at a spell you’ve already played. With Enlisted Wurm and Bloodbraid Elf‘s obscene cascade mechanic, Congregation at Dawn essentially puts three creatures into play for the price of one (and can go into Imperial Recruiter or Eternal Witness for even more obscene card advantage, should game state permit).
There are a number of cards like these to consider, all of which will vastly improve the consistency of your deck. Having a sound strategy isn’t enough; you need to be able to find it. If you build your deck with a conscious plan and the proper components, it should do what it’s meant to every time you shuffle up and play.
(Here, I differ from Travis in the slightest. While I prefer for my Elves deck to create obscene amounts of mana and end my opponent in a flashy, yet acceptable way, sometimes the cookie crumbles in another fashion. A deck should be able to win a game if it fails to draw certain cards or its opponent successfully halts it. This is a prime reason why control decks traditionally struggle in 100 Card Singleton; creature-based decks can attack an opponent from 20 to 0 with ease, courtesy of a few 2/2 dorks. Remember that most games end via damage; well-tuned synergy decks can lose to 5 powered, four mana creatures supplemented with some direct damage and a single ramp spell. I like synergy but sometimes one card’s raw power is stronger than the synergy of two lesser cards.)
With the above in mind, it’s important to explore and expand upon your primary strategy so as to not make your deck too narrow. There are, after all, many paths to victory. Cards that do one thing well are great, but cards that do two or more things are even better.
Edge of Autumn is a great example of a multifunctional card that positively interacts with a number of cards in a deck that wants more lands in the graveyard than in play. It accelerates and/or fixes your mana. It draws you a card when you’re flooded, just prior to popping a ‘Geddon, if one of your man-lands eats it, or another of your nonbasics succumbs to a Wasteland. It’s effectively a cantripping pump spell with Countryside Crusher, Tarmogoyf, Terravore, and Knight of the Reliquary. It turns your Flagstones of Trokair into a fresh card in hand and a Sacred Foundry or Plateau for your Wild Nacatl. It can get your benched Weathered Wayfarer back in action, or put your Werebear or Barbarian Ring at threshold. Even as a sole Rampant Growth in your deck, it assists the overall strategy perfectly, interacting with a number of cards in a number of beneficial ways.
Ajani Vengeant strikes this same balance. It keeps a land inert until it can lay waste to the rest; it neutralizes threats or outright kills them, and can even dome your foe for those last three points.
Charms and Commands are the best example of multifunction, even if their other effects seem moreover irrelevant. Riths Charm works perfectly in this deck: nuking a land at instant-speed, providing EOT attackers and/or surprise blockers, and sparing you or one of your men from some lethal damage.
It’s simple: the more your cards do, the better they are. Your deck should be built on this principle.
In keeping with the philosophy of consistency and multifunction, it’s important to remember that just because a card is good doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily the right card for your deck. There’s a common misconception that there are cards in every colors or color combination that belong in every deck. I patently disagree with this, especially in the case of Naya. (As I mentioned before in contradiction with this, I think that raw power has a place to a point. Zimbardo and I recently discussed the merits of Tarmogoyf versus a random, “bad” elf in Elves. Zim wanted to see how the deck did without Tarmogoyf, and he took his Tarmoless abomination to a Top 4 in the Oct. 2, 2010, Challenge. I like Tarmo for how easy it is to cast post-’Geddon or in conjunction with one of the deck’s many tutors; the cost-to-stats ratio on the card allows me to get out of many sticky situations. Of course this situation is the utmost extreme, but it is probably the best illustration of when synergy’s benefits cannot be worth more than the raw power of a card.)
I’ve seen many decks playing some assortment of Boggart Ram-Gang, Soltari Priest, Stigma Lasher, Wilt-leaf Cavaliers, Spectral Procession, Serra Avenger, Flame Javelin, Figure of Destiny, Phantom Centaur, Mutavault, Mishra’s Factory, and Woolly Thoctar in a single build. These White Weenie/Mono-Red/Stompy amalgams hope to win by virtue of playing the very best of the best inexpensive cards in their respective colors, but more often than not their spells are being cast considerably off-curve due to mana being stretched way beyond the limit of reliability. Cards end up festering in hand until that second or third correctly colored mana source comes off the top so your 3/3 for two can join the fray way later than intended. Dreams like these are best left in the pipe from whence they came. Carefully consider why you’re playing each and every card in your deck. Don’t include them “just because.”
Woolly Thoctar isn’t as formidable a threat as Terravore, Knight of the Reliquary, or Countryside Crusher in a deck comprised of fetch lands and mass-land destruction. While Thoctar may have stronger initial stats, it quickly becomes outclassed as the game progresses (and when it finally enters play due to its prohibitive mana cost).
By that same logic, Shard Volley can be a far more appropriate removal spell than Firebolt. Since we are playing ‘Geddons, flashback may be irrelevant. Additionally, Shard Volley can be fetched with a Sunforger, and, again, acts as a pump spell for the trio above.
Steward of Valeron, Radha, Heir to Keld, Qasali Pridemage, and Gruul Guildmage seem far better two drops than a creature like Watchwolf that bolsters more in the way of flavor text than function. In this context, they outshine even Gaddock Teeg, a card that can impede your own strategy as much as your opponent’s.
Even Weathered Wayfarer will more often have a bigger impact on the game than Jackal Pup, Isamaru, Hound of Konda, or Tattermunge Maniac. These creatures quickly lose their luster as the board develops, potentially even becoming liabilities.
Take some time, delve a little deeper, and find the best cards for your build.
Last but not least, I’d like to discuss reach. I’m not talking about the ability to block fliers; I’m talking about your ability to end the game when your opponent throws obstacles in your way. Again, when you’re running this many cards sometimes variance prevails: you don’t curve out, or you draw all of your early game a bit later than desired. Hyper-aggressive decks are particularly susceptible to this, even though they strictly adhere to the standard of consistency more religiously than most. But if your opponent can plop down a Moat, a formidable creature, use a mass removal spell, or you falter in those first vital turns of the game, you’re more than likely going to find yourself in dire straits with a deck full of cards that aren’t up to snuff. I suppose this is the risk one takes when playing a deck of this nature, but you’ll find that including cards that give you some reach can turn any game around.
Arc-Slogger isn’t exactly greased lightning, but he’s a great versatile creature that can put you back on the offensive as soon as he hits the table. It can torch would-be blockers, vault lethal damage over a Moat, and even stall the ground if you’ve fallen behind. Siege-Gang Commander follows suit in this capacity, playing the required part at the required time.
Battlegrace Angel is another card that turns the tide with preternatural ease. The fact that any creature you have can immediately attack for a potentially game-altering life swing is huge. And the turn after, when she gets active… well, you get the idea. (Of course, Baneslayer Angel has usurped the throne as sexiest five mana Angel in 100 Card; it’s slightly different than Battlegrace, but the overall function is similar enough.)
Burn spells give you the ability to directly lower your opponent’s life total, regardless of blockers and other impediments. Demonfire and Banefire accomplish this to an even greater degree, killing and even removing creatures from the game early on and then going to the dome without fear of interference later. This makes them considerably better than spells like Volcanic Hammer that are essentially just cheap (but are strictly inferior versions to alternatives like Lightning Bolt -Chris).
Substituting just a few of your more narrow, limited spells for even a nominal amount of the aforementioned suggestions will give your deck an overall balance, reliability, and sustainability that will push you over the margin when all else fails.
You will find that implementing these deck construction philosophies and techniques will give your deck an overall competitive focus and execution it may be lacking, rather than playing a random 100 card lottery more dependent on prayer than premise. (If you take anything away from this article, let it be this. Random synergies find themselves as liabilities more often than not. If a card has a stipulation that must be met before it is useful, it better be decent on its own and interact with its buddy or buddies to a sinister degree.)
Mana Denial Naya by so many trolls, 10/24/09
Till next time,