Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The making of BetaMax: A deck making challenge

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 "I have the perfect name for this, this pile of nostalgia and hot mess, Betamax"
 --A Jund Player, after beating me third game of the finals of a Modern FNM

    When Modern was announced as a format almost a decade ago, someone told me I should put my old cards to use and build a Modern deck utilizing cards from Beta. It was largely said in jest due to my pension and passion for playing with old cards, but it intrigued me. Could I pull it off, was it even possible?

     By memory I knew a few cards were modern legal, Terror, Juggernaut, Mahamoti, and a few less then amazing creatures like Giant Spider and Hill Giant, but I didn't think it was possible. The idea festered in the back of my brain a few days, until I decided to look up on Gatherer. 111 cards were legal in the format as of the time (Spell Blast, Merfolk of the Pearl Trident, and Blessing would make the total a whooping 114 as of me typing this). I was first, amazed, a little over a third of the set had managed to be reprinted over time, some being exclusive to 8th or 9th edition, while others where core set staples, being reprinted almost constantly.

   For instance, Evil Presence was legal, which I hadn't realized, along with Wall of Stone, one of the early games best blockers. I had to naturally however, pick which colors to use.

Naturally some draw backs exist, no rocks, no cantrips, no counterspells (remember Spell Blast didn't exist), little to no life gain. Creatures also are below the modern power curve, and while I may have nostalgia for Grizzly Bears, it isn't going to win me much games.  The advantages though were the casualness of deck, and how easy the removal was, it also contained something you don't see much anymore, Tempo cards, like Icy and Twiddle.

                                                               Choosing a Deck

       Naturally choosing a color is the most difficult but important part of deck building. I had to study them, come with a win condition, and move with it. Going mono-colored was sadly out of the question (which the exception of black), and gold card literally don't exist. Thus, I had to evaluate the Strengths and Weaknesses of each color combination.

Red/White: Red/White offered the best in terms of speed and control. With Lightning Bolt at the helm, it offered an amazing amount of offensive and defensive power. In addition, I had access to Earthquake and Wrath of God, making removal not that difficult. Throw in some Stone Rain for disruption, main deck CoP: Red for it (and Orcish Artillery), Wall of Stone/Fire as blockers.  Disintegrate/ Fireball provides you with both burn and defensive possibilities. You even had access to Serra Angel as a beater. Plus you can juggle trolls in the format, for some old school goodness. Not to mention Jade Statue which can easily be played around the two sweepers in the main deck, Disenchant/Shatter for the issue with Tron/Affinity. The draw back to the deck was it's strengths, it has control, but only against creature heavy decks. Though lantern control didn't exist at the time, I wouldn't want to play this against it, and other aggro decks can burn you out on the aggression front. However, Further more, without mana flare, I'm unsure how well this deck's X spells would actually turn out. Still, I'd be interested in trying this sometime. 

Red/Green: The deck that died when I realized that Wild Growth wasn't in the format. While red gets everything it had, you add green to it, for the ramp. Instead you're running a ramp/burn deck. After all, Green still has Elves and Birds, not to mention access to Hurricane, Fog and Giant Growth. A few large beaters make the deck interesting, including the infamous Force of Nature, Cockatrice, and Juggernaut, since in theory you can play Juggernaut as soon as turn three. Add this to the realistic possibility of playing a turn two Stone Rain and a The disadvantage was that it seemed to be too easy to disrupt with removal, the first 'ramp spell' wasn't printed until Legends, and I was stuck with relying on creatures for my ramp, which was easy picking for the creature centric early days of modern. I was also worried about being outplayed by burn and storm. When I realized that Wild Growth didn't exist, I put this deck idea back in the note book, both because it seemed bad, and it seemed it would be boring to run. 

Red/Blue: This would be your typical burn/control build, but with much more emphasis on the burn. It would include the infamous pingers of the format, including the legendary Tim himself, Orcish Artillery and even possibly Pirate Ship. The deck could include Stone Rain, Ice Manipulator, Unsummon, (and later Spell Blast) for it's control elements. The deck would also have some of the best burn spells of all time, include Psionic Blast and Lightning Bolt. Throw in Juggernaut for some beats (Invisibility is legal too!). Maybe even Twiddle as a swiss army knife. The deck could also utilize Steal Artifact for the affinity match, Clone for when I'm up against Titans, Walls (and Uthden Troll) for defense, and even X burn spells as a end gamer. However I was worried that this was too much of a one trick pony.  While it was definitely a contender, and I never forgot about it, it wasn't what I built.

Green/White: Similar to the Red/White deck, this deck utilized Circle of Protection: Green. My twin insisted on building on this, due to his love of Force of Nature. That would be the deck, utilizing Hurricane/Force of Nature with Circle of Protection Green. Enchantress for card draw, some control elements. I was luke warm to the deck to begin with, and my brother fared very poorly with it. 

Green/Blue: Easily the strangest deck of the batch. Sadly Regrowth got it's 11th hour change from being legal in the format, but it would utilize tap abilities with Twiddle and Icy Manipulator. Combine with utility artifact and dorks, and you have a strange but interesting deck. You can even combine Fungusaur and with Pingers, land disruption with Gaea's Liege, For and Giant Growth compliment the green side, with Unsummon complimenting the blue. It however didn't make it past the 'interesting' phase of designing. 

Mono-Black: The only mono colored deck I considered (though I did wonder about the viability of Red). This was due to two cards, Nightmare and Bad Moon. You have a decent curve, Will-o-the-Wisp, Black Knight, Drudge Skeleton, Hippie, Bog Wraith, and Sengir. Terror, Fear, Raise Dead, Weakness and Unholy Strength compliment the deck well amazing, and Howling Mine, Icy Manipulator, and Royal Assassin make for amazing synergy. Combine a Disrupting Scepter, Evil Presence, and Throne of Bone make for interesting option as well. This is honestly the only deck I didn't consider running Juggernaut, so everything got synergy off of Bad Moon. I was worried however about artifacts, and without Disc, it didn't allow for any real option to deal with them, and I shelved the idea. 

I ultimately went with White/Black. Removal was all top notch, with Terror, Disenchant, Wrath of God, and Royal Assassin made for a solid amount of removal what was effective and versatile. The beaters included the likes of Juggernaut, Serra Angel, and Hypnotic Specter. Icy Manipulator made for a solid tempo plays, and synergized with Royal Assassin. 

 Designing the deck

       The deck would end up being a mid-range stompy deck designed at being a 'jack of all trades'. It wouldn't be fast enough to compete the arms race against aggro, controlly enough to play the control game directly against cruel control, no where near the synergy of Fish. Instead it'd have to operate on minor advantages and disruption, playing it's strength of versatility against decks with a more focused purpose. Naturally this requires me to evaluate creatures more shrewdly. In order for it to be it's best, I'd have to ignore running cards I like for cards I needed. Each card would need to serve multiple purposes against multiple decks. Since I'm building from an extremely limited pool, it's even more so emphasized on it. 

 Juggernaut (x4): Easily the auto include in almost all decks listed here. A 5/3 for four, even though his second ability that might as well be flavor text. However, short of missing land drops, it's guaranteed a turn 4 drop, and quickly becomes a 'must deal with' creature. 

Choo Choo!

Serra Angel (x2): The queen of skies herself, Serra Angel is a limited super star to this day, demanding respect even in a time of stronger and more consistent creatures. The real key to success with her isn't the flying, but the vigilance, and few creatures in modern surpass the 4 toughness anyway. However, at 5 mana, I choose to run two, plus The Keeper only ran two and it won worlds, so that shouldn't be so bad. I considered I ran this spot with Sengir, but without Arena or Sorceress Queen, Serra edged out on top. 

The most fearsome flier of it's day

Royal Assassin (x4): I use to call this one n00b bait. It's amazing how many times people would swing into an untapped Royal Assassin, even if it was only once. Besides this, it works well w/ Icy Manipulator, but everyone even vaguely familiar with these cards know this one. 

Fun Targets I've gotten: A goyf, numerous elfs, and once just once a fucking Emrakul!

I only ever seen revised ones, so that's what I choose.
Hypnotic Spectre (Hippy) (x2): Without any form of fast mana, the Spectre shows just how fair of a card it really is. Someone once explained how when he was reintroduced in standard, no one ran him. But without the likes of Dark Ritual, he's just a modestly good creature (try running him even for the time without rock or ritual to get the point across). With only two points in each stat, the three mana cost makes it questionable. However, after trial and error, and much consideration, I ultimately felt it was the best creature for the curve, and good early game removal bait to keep my Assassins and Serra Angel's alive.

In reality, not that amazing

Will-o'-the-Wisps (x4): In my humble opinion, Will is the best blocker in the entire game. Durable, effective, and annoying. It's been a shield for players since way back in 1993, and I see it continuing to do so well into Magic's future, even more so since 'Regeneration' has been removed from future releases. It's amazing that it can hold it's own in a time of cheap removal, bigger creatures, and more exile effects. Now, I will admit, he's not fool proof, but anytime I can get him to be Abrupt Decay'd, Path to Exile, or Incinerated over some of the more effective targets is a plus. The number of removal spells and creatures it can survive is impressive as well, sadly, in my build, there is no way to make it offensive.

It keeps going and going.

Savannah Lions (x3): I'll openly admit that I put him in as filler. I figured eventually something would be reprinted that would be more useful (it wasn't), or I'd figure something better for this spot (I didn't). Instead, Savannah Lions became a interesting early game drop. Proving a small amount of aggro pressure and becoming removal bait/chump blocker. The number of times players complained about wasting removal on a 'vanilla' is always amusing, and against certain decks, it's early pressure is more valuable then the sum of it's stats. 

It's not Kird Ape, but it gets it done.

Jade Statue (2): The last 'creature' of the deck has become the dark horse. More often then not I'm asked 'is that legal' or 'JUDGE' followed by people looking for it's most recent printing (it was 9th btw). It's unusual ability to be animated only in combat has actually served to be more useful then I will ever fully admit. It's gotten around Planeswalker, Wrath of God/Damnation, and forcing people to play around me activating the ability. The 3/6 is also healthy stats at two mana, though the initial cost of 4 is a bit high. It's most infamous however because I want to emulate the 'old school trick' with Wrath of God, to get some tech infamous in the day. I jumped between running two of them, or running three, but atm, it sits at two. 

One of four total printings, weird isn't it?

 Disenchant (x2 in the main, x2 in the board): Originally this was a 'cover your bases' card, after all, in the early days Boggles was a huge contender, along w/ the ever presence of Tron. Affinity also existed well, but wasn't common in my local meta at the time. As the format grew, Affinity became more prevelant, and required my to consider main boarding a set (but I never did). Instead, however, it would be the replacement for the Terrors. 

Does this wording interact with Megrim?

Terror: (x4): Some cards simply put, don't age well. Terror, despite being efficent, iconic, and cheap, in a time of Indestructibles, Jund, and Affinity, this card isn't the answer it once was. However, that doesn't stop me from running a set in the main. When I first designed the deck, just like Disenchant, I kept two in the main, two in the board. However, I noticed switching them into the main way to much to keep that way, and insisted on including them into the main. So naturally, when the redesign came, I had to include the other two into the main.

A few things it can still deal with in the format:
Pride Mage
Half of Elves
Walletslayer Angel
Everything in Zoo

It also doesn't effect White Knight

Weakness (x4): As mentioned in one of my very first articles, this card graced this deck as a four of, originally for the lack of better options. However as I said in that, I've been very happy with the results. There is nothing more rewarding the dropping a ..10 card to kill Bob or Nerf an early game Goblin Guide. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't used it in a pinch to weaken a Gofy, a swiftspear, and other assorted beaters, but ideally I won't do that. 

I wrote an article about this card and it's use in 94, which less then 50 people have even viewed, so go check it out.
It's dead Jim, it's dead.

 Wrath of God (x4): There are people out there that would say a play set of Wrath of God to be excessive. Those people complain when you cast a third Wrath of God. In reality, Wrath of God is only bad against Combo, which isn't it's own fault. It's solid against Goblins, Elves,  Mono-red, Boggles, Zoo, and if you can top deck it, Jund. It also has wonderful synergy with Jade Statue that can't be ignored. 

 Icy Manipulator (x4): Not technically removal, Icy Manipulator is deceptively the most powerful card in the deck. It clears out blockers, taps down lands, removes potential attackers, and hits utility artifacts. It's biggest tragedy is the lack of mana rocks, which make it a turn four (and usually more so a turn 5) drop. However, it's power can't be understated, and as anyone even a little familiar with the format could tell you. 

This is the version I used, it gets the treatment.

The Sideboard

 The Sideboard should have the answers that can't be found in the main deck. This has naturally evolved over the years, and outside of events sits at a healthy '19'.

Evil Presence (x4): Everything about this card that applies to my previous article applies to this as well. It hurts tron, can kill man lands, punished greedy mana bases. It's a simple but devastatingly powerful card, all for a black mana.

Disenchant (x2): (Read Entry Above) 

Black Knight (x2): Early on, he wasn't even in the deck, but as jank utilizing white started creeping around, I had to use him at least on the board. With the additional fact he can't be Helix'd or Path'd is just a bonus, and he can swing on Tribal Gideon (though that has never actually happened).

Why doesn't the battle need purpose?

White Knight (x2): Originally in the main, for reasons I don't exactly remember he got demoted to the sideboard, however, he's extremely useful when needed. He works against 8rack, vampires, but most importantly Jund realized only it's Lightning Bolts can deal with him (or a stupid large Goyf). 

Beta white knight, get it?

 Circle of Protection: Red (x2): My answer for the Goblin/mono-red match up. It's more then once game over against the right player. Sure, it's boring, but if you win with it, isn't that what matters?

The bane of red players since 93

Circle of Protection: Black (x2): Honestly, I'm not sure my thought process about this one. It's probably anti-vampire, which wasn't an uncommon deck back in the day. It's been useful before with Jund and Rakdos. I almost attempted to use this with Lord of the Pit, but common sense slapped me before that happened.

They are called cops for a reason.

Circle of Protection: Green (x1): Goyf and Elves, that's honestly it.

Fuck off Craw Daddy!

Consecrate Land: In some meta's, like my most recent group, has a land destruction guy. If I know I'm playing such an opponent, I'll swap these into my board before the event begins, thus giving me some semblance of hope.

Trivia: Jeff A Menges had to plagarize his own art for the TS version of this.

Btw this is the deck in it's final form:

 Honorable Mentions

The following cards were removed from the deck, or were never made it past the cut.

Sengir Vampire: While best for discouraging chump blockers, Sengir just dind't pack the same punch as it's white counterpart. While it's in its own right amazing (It'll get an entry one day), it just wasn't as good as Serra, and thus, never saw the light of day.

Howling Mine: Originally I wanted to abuse the potential synergy w/ Icy. However, as I continued to play with the card, I realized I typically just Icy'd their lands/creatures, and never my Mine. Add this w/ the detrimental fact it draws both players card, after a few events I took it out for good. 

Resurrection: The 4 mana reanimator spell was in the deck for a long time. It only got removed when someone asked 'Why don't you replace them with better creatures?" I took them out that night and never looked back.

Raise Dead: read above.

Sometime next week (weeks) I hope to give a break down on how it played, what I learned, and ways I attempted to make it better. Until then, feel free to leave feed back on the deck, on the article, or anything else. I'll answer any comment left on the blog, or anywhere else this winds up. 

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