Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Grim Tidings #27: Deck Diagnostic Part I

5C Proliferate, Part I- Defense

In Grim Tidings #26, I revealed some serious problems with my 300 card 5-Color Proliferate deck. I’m dedicating the next few weeks to perform diagnostic checks on the concept to see if I can make it work.

Lets dive right in with my first task at hand: Staying alive long enough to even attempt a proliferate strategy.

Most theme decks run the risk that a player might spend too much time “setting up” if the strategy is non-linear. Proliferate falls into this category, in my opinion. In order for the proliferate mechanic to work, it relies on having other permanents already in play with counters on them. By itself, proliferate doesn’t do anything. It requires permanents on either side with counters already on them. Otherwise there is no incentive to activate the mechanic.

This puts the player at a disadvantage right off the bat, as there is a time-delay between getting the counters started before the engine starts manufacturing more. This could be a turn or two, or even more, considering that the marquee proliferate cards have cmc of 5 or 6.

An Ugly Starting Point
When I first assembled my deck, I didn’t really take this cold hard truth into account. I simply assumed if I packed as many proliferate cards into the decklist as possible, accompanied with as many cards with counters on them, it was inevitable that I would be ready to go as soon as Contagion Engine (or whatever) hit the table. After the first few games, I realized my folly.

From my memory, I think I included:
1x Swords to Plowshares
1x Path to Exile
1x Austere Command
1x Wrath of God
1x Serra’s Liturgy
1x Vile Requiem
1x Royal Assassin
1x Damnation
1x Puncture Blast
1x Puncture Bolt
1x Jund Charm
1x Pure//Simple
1x Shattering Pulse
1x Virdian Shaman

…And not much else. There were (and still are) an assortment of creatures with come-into-play removal effects, but they were generally too hard to cast in a timely manner to make a difference.

That’s only 14 cards, out of 300 (4.6%). In an average game, you’re opening hand will have 7 cards. Assuming the game lasts 10-15 turns, you may likely see 8.0% of your entire deck (barring tutors or additional card draw). That’s a pretty narrow window to align to have the proper removal when needed.

Modification On-the-Fly
After a few defeats, I quickly started realizing my problem. I scurried back to my card boxes and started pulling more support to aid my cause. I added 1x Unmake, 1x Condemn, 1x Oblivion Ring among others to help plug the leaks in my dam.

Sidenote: You’ll notice that I kept pulling 1-ofs. Why? Well at the time, I opted to keep the deck highlander, with the exception of the core Proliferate cards. In my arrogance, I was confident my list could support itself, and there was no reason to concede that I may need multiples of the most basic cards. Not until the next day did I decide that in order for this to work, I was going to have to abandon this highlander notion.

Plows to the Rescue!
So after much consternation, I began rebuilding in my defense earnest. Knowing that some of the best removal spell are featured in White, Black, and Red, I started there, pretty much from scratch. (This decision was two fold, as I was finding the best spells with counters (for proliferate) seem to be Blue and Green. This way, I’m not cluttering up the UG” theme” spots with boring utility.) So what were my choices?

4x Swords to Plowshares
3x Wrath of God
1x Balance
1x Serra’s Liturgy
3x Damnation
1x Vile Requiem
4x Lightning Bolt
3x Krosan Grip
1x Jund Charm
1x Naya Charm
1x Pure//Simple
1x Maze of Ith
1x Kor Haven
1x Forcefield

I opted out of the -1/-1 slow-kill strategy in order for efficient streamline removal. In most cases, I picked the spell that only cost 1 colored mana, or was the most aggressively costed mass removal, without condition.

Next, for some conventional defense, I looked at the creature base, and how many blockers I could drop early. All-time great defenders like Wall of Blossoms/Omens were already in my list to help draw a few extra cards. My choice was to expand the wall base, and add 4x Wall of Roots, which doubles as mana acceleration as well. These changes brought my defensive quota up to around 30 cards, doubling my previous count.

There are still some outliers in the defense category sprinkled amongst the creature base (Skinrender, Carnifex Demon, Guul Draz Assassin) but because ethey are conditional or high-costed, I’ll pass on discussing them until I get the ratios down. For now they will just add conditional versatility.

I am starting to feel a little more comfortable with this, especially since I simultaneously upped the card drawing aspect in the deck. I am hoping that by seeing cards each game I will have access to the proper removal when needed.

On to Monday Night playtesting….

Week 2 Results
Overall, I felt the deck had a significantly better performance. There are still definitely places for improvement, but I certainly was executing my proliferating agenda.

Tonight’s format was multiplayer free-for-all, which is more favorable than the one-on-one duels I faced off with last week. The added presence of other player’s threats diverts attention away from my permanents, while also pooling removal amongst all players to address a problem collectively.

It seemed my availability of spot removal was sufficient. I managed to deal with a turn three Baneslayer with a Swords to Plowshares, as well as regrowing it a few turns later to exile a fully-leveled Figure of Destiny. I was also pleased with the timeliness of my Krosan Grips, which prevented an activation of Contagion Engine against me in a clutch late game moment.

My density of mass-removal was adequate as well. I became the target of an early Skithiryx, but I only suffered 4 points of poison before I “Wrathed” it and the rest of the table away.

I was a little disappointed in my flying defense though. On one occasion, I was pinched between two Angels of Despairs vs. another Angel of Despair and Reya Dawnbringer. There was little I could do to stabilize both sides, and I ended up losing that match. I’m happy with the Walls of Roots, but I need to shore up the air a little better to steer my enemies elsewhere. I’ll look into Wall of Reverence or Denial perhaps if I can fit them in.

Next Step
My mail-order should arrive this week with more reinforcements on the card drawing front. I think the draw aspect allows for more synergy between counters/proliferate than removal, so hopefully the deck will continue to flesh out with these additions. More next week as I explore this area in depth.

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