Monday, August 17, 2009

Grim Tidings #10: Fifty More Cards

(Contributed by John Kozlowski)

I’ve purposefully skipped a week in writing Grim Tidings since I revolted playing 5-Color Magic and started playing Calvinball. I have to say, it has actually been a pretty good two weeks. I managed to play my revamped First Reminder deck on four separate occasions, and I think I worked out the major kinks. I don’t think I’m done, but I think I will ultimately switch to the new 300 card version of the format as my preference.

What?!? Say that again?
Despite all of my vocal criticism of both sides (i.e., bitching), I discovered I actually like the Reborn 300-card version of the format. Even with my aversion to ante, my distaste for proxies, and my refusal to accept that Contract from Below is a fair card when the real cost is errataed out of it, I’ve discovered that the expanded deck requirements and new B&R is actually pretty fair and fun… at least how we play it in North Carolina. I admit I have not played in any 5C tournaments in the last two week (um, let’s make that three years) but for the Calvinball style our group has adopted, it’s just fine.

Yes, I know, my 5C playgroup is a non-ante, non-proxy, mostly highlander variant. thats probably why I'm not seeing many problems with the Reborn rules so far. We all participate in a friendly balanced environment for everyone to enjoy. This may change in a few weeks once I transform my second non-highlander 5C Enchantress deck into the Reborn format, but for now, casting Yawgmoth’s Will just to recur a land and Wheel of Fortune doesn’t really appear to be too broken in our private La-la Land.

First Reminder Transformation
In the meantime, I thought it may be interesting to those who follow the format to see the mathematics I used to convert from the old 250 to new 5C. (I promise to just stick to the highlights.) Per the new rules, I needed to add a total of new 50 cards to the deck, and meet a new minimum of 25 cards of each color.

First off, we’ll need to review my decklist. It has changed slightly since I last posted it in June, but it can be found here. As you can see, I had already minimized red and blue, so of my 50 new cards, 10 of them would have to be dedicated to meeting those color requirements. Since minimization is an important element of good 5C deck building, I started here to get this requirement out of the way. More importantly though, the manabase needed to be accounted for first.

22 New Mana Sources
Upon analyzing my land/mana ratio of the current build, I found that I run approximately 43% sustained mana sources. That was comprised of 90 lands, 6, creature sources, and 11 artifact sources. Since the 250-card version worked so seamlessly, I thought it might be a good idea to maintain that ratio, so I added 20 new lands and 3 creature/artifact sources. This actually exceeds the 43% goal, but with an expanded deck size, this is a good idea.

The real challenge was to determine what the next best cycle(s) of dual lands were that weren’t already included in my highlander manabase. I learned quickly that for my deck, the 5 M-10 Dual Lands released in the 2010 Core Set really aren’t as bad as I thought. I run plenty of basic lands to begin with, combined with the 10 original duals and 10 Ravnica Shocklands, I do not have any trouble hitting the correct land type to bring these in untapped every time. That said, there are plenty of decks in my playgroup that scarcely use ANY basic lands, so for them they might not be the best choice, but for me, no problem.

I also included the 5 Odyssey Filter Lands. I really had to debate these over using the Dual Storage Lands from Time Spiral or the complete cycle of Painlands from Ice Age/Apocalypse. In the end, I decided a tempo-oriented, pain-free solution was better.

Other Land Choices: 3 Vivid Lands (Meadow, Marsh, Forest), 3 Basic Lands (Plains, Swamp, Forest), Academy Ruins, Dustbowl, Riftstone Portal, Rupture Spire.

Other Creature/Artifact Mana Sources: Wood Elves, Mind Stone, Grim Monolith.

5 New Red Cards
Now on to the color requirements. As a general rule Red stinks in 5-Color. The color pie defines it very capriciously, so it is difficult to find selections that generate the card advantage that I so covet. That said, I do keep track of cards that I’ve experimented with in the past but have rotated out due to boredom of replaced by a new card with functional superiority.

Seige Gang Commander has always been on the cusp of making it into my First Reminder. It has great card advantage (4 for 1), control elements, and direct damage. Unfortunately the double RR in its casting cost has always kept it on the outside looking in. Well, no more. SGC is in.

Avalanche Riders is another 187 creature that I’ve always like but not included to avoid the DBAD rule. With the plethora of lands out there that always clog up the game (See: Maze of Ith, Kor Haven, Academy Ruins, etc.) I think a responsibly judicious use of Mr. Darwin Kastle is acceptable.

Manamorphose is the real hidden gem of my Reborn decklist. It’s not great because what it does; rather because it is invisible! Not only does it replace its mana cost in its effect, it cantrips to replace the lost card too! Plus since its hybrid, I essentially only have 24 red cards in my deck. Yay!

Other new Red cards: Firespout, Wild Research.

I made another slight adjustment too, as I slid Fire/Ice over to blue to make room for Wheel of Fortune ion Red. I didn’t really have a good excuse for not using WoF in First Reminder, other than I netted -1 in card advantage upon its resolution.

5 New Blue Cards

Blue is a much better color for 5C, and the loosening of the B&R really made my five new choices very easy. The three most obvious cards are Time Walk, Tinker, and Mystical Tutor. They contain sheer power and are good in almost every situation for a good-stuff control deck like First Reminder.

Meanwhile Gifts Ungiven and Inutition were unbanned too. I chose not to include them at this time, due to their high degree of broken power, and I needed to maintain my creature percentage. Instead I opted for Trinket Mage, which compliments a few of my new artifact choices later on.

9 Other New Creatures
Now that I met my color requirements, and had my mana ratio smoothed out, you would think I could just pick whatever the hell I wanted and the deck would still work perfectly, right?

Wrong. I think the actually biggest problem with doing massive a deck retrofit like this into a different format. If you ignore the ratio of actual threats to enabling cards, your deck will tend to stall out when you are in topdeck mode. In the 250-card format, I thought I had the ratio optimized at 30% creature equivalents(30% gross = 50% net, not counting mana sources). Of course some of those creatures are measly 1/1s, but even a 1/1 can chump block or swing for that lethal last point of damage in a pinch.

With 50 new cards, if I maintain 30% creatures, I should be adding 15 new critters to First Reminder. I already mentioned four creatures in my mana, red & blue choices, but due to the allure of the new B&R list, I didn’t find the remaining 11. I’m trying to justify it with a higher concentration of tutors and card drawing, but in the end, my 30% goal was simply not met. I did choose nine though.

Baneslayer Angel was a really easy choice. If I could revise my M-10 rankings I published a month ago, I would move Baneslayer up to #1. Its fairly obvious that a 5/5 for 5 with five abilities is incredible.

Acidic Slime and Cemetery Reaper are two other M-10 winners that I hyped, but didn’t find a spot for until now. I’ve already extolled their value, so I won’t bore you with rehashing them. They’re good.

Although she’s a Planeswalker, I count Elspeth, Knight Errant as a creature-equivalent. She provides a fantastic board control element that makes Soldiers the first turn it comes into play. The other two abilities are gravy. Plus when people attack her and not me, its like having 5 extra life.

Other New Creatures: Gravedigger, Stillmoon Cavalier, Dauntless Escort, Quasali Pridemage, Razormane Masticore,

I’m a little scared that because I didn’t meet my 30% ratio my deck is somewhat weaker. What used to be a concentrated library of threat after threat is slightly diluted now with enabling cards that search for the threats. It may seem innocuous, but that little in-between step of versatility could be difference in winning and losing. I will monitor this closely, and add more creatures as soon as it makes sense to do so.

8 Other Powerful Spells
This leaves me with nine remaining slots of the 300 for my 5C Reborn deck. The revisions to the Banned & Restricted list left me some juicy choices to round this out.

The most apparent card is Yawgmoth’s Will. This card is so fantastic, most people call it Yawgmoth’s Win. It should go in every 5C deck, no questions asked. By far, this is the best card that was brought back in the Reborn format, (excluding the errataed Contract from Below of course. Blegh!)

I’ve been drooling over Survival of the Fittest since I built my first 5C deck. I’m so happy.

I added a trio of equipment to First Reminder: Behemoth Sledge, Skullclamp, Loxodon Warhammer. I always prefer equipment rather than Auras to boost up my creatures. When the creature in inevitably killed off, the equipment will remain to be used by my next minion. Plus the Clamp is searchable by Trinket Mage.

Other Powerful Spells: Return to Dust, Vampiric Tutor, Sensei’s Divining Top.

What I didn’t analyze is what effect all of these additions have on my Curve. It looks like I only added three spells that cost 5 or more, so I think I’m probably on track.

No Wrath Effects
I’m unsettled that I didn’t include any new wrath effects to my 50. Perhaps Zendikar will have a decent new wrath alternate for my use, but for now Planar Cleansing is still too “w-w-white” for my liking.

So there’s my revisions. I’m working through my Enchantress additions in the next week, so after I playtest it a bit, I may share the new deck list at that time.

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