Thursday, July 5, 2012

Casually Competitive - The Lorwyn/Shadowmoor No-Rares Project

Hello ladies and gentlemen; hopefully you're all having a fine Canada Day/Independence Day holiday and welcome back to another edition of The Cardboard Witch. As regular readers of this blog may remember in my last article I talked about my lifelong obsession with "Watchwolves", and in doing so accidentally revealed that I do in fact play casual Magic from time to time. In my mind this wasn't really much of a "confession"; after all most people start out playing Magic casually before they move on to tournament play and technically every practice match and non-sanctioned draft I've ever played in counts as casual Magic. Despite this I met with some good-natured skepticism from my friends, teammates and fellow "Twit-ites" on the internet after I wrote about my "casual" decks. Some of my compatriots joked about ostracizing me while others simply refused to believe I ever played Magic just for the fun of it. To be fair, I can't really blame them; I'm a hardcore "Spike" when it comes to Magic and I really don't spend a lot of time talking about my casual decks while playing cards in a competitive setting.

Well, today that's going to change folks; thanks to an email by a longtime reader and a number of discussions in both real life and on Twitter I've been convinced to write about a few of the casual decks I loved enough to keep after all of these years. In particular, I'd like to focus on 4 mono-colored Lorwyn-Shadowmoor era decks I built as a way to both stay involved in Magic and help new players at my store break into the game. Naturally I realize that this may only be interesting to a small segment of this blog's usual audience; I promise to get back to writing about competitive Magic as soon as I get a chance to play in tournaments again. As of this very moment my foot is actually feeling much better and I think there's at least a reasonable chance that I'll be able to go to FNM this Friday and the M13 Pre-Release event on Saturday at the Hairy T North. Until then I thought it might be fun to go back down the rabbit hole and share what are quite truthfully some of the coolest decks I've ever built in all my years playing Magic.

With those caveats out of the way, let's talk a little bit about the "Lorywn-Shadowmoor No Rares Project" itself. I originally started the project back in the summer of 2008 as a way of promoting constructed Magic at the game store I manage here in Toronto (The Hairy Tarantula). At the time our resident "Magic guy" had recently moved on to one of those real life jobs that pay 10 times more than working in a game store ever could. I personally was drafting 2-3 times a week but other responsibilities in my life made playing constructed Magic difficult and this created a noticeable void at the shop before too long. While our draft scene remained healthy and vibrant it became difficult to promote constructed events and single card sales were beginning to lag a bit as a result. What's more I wasn't having much luck talking new players into trying Magic; despite my general opinion that the absolute best way to learn Magic is through Limited play, the $15 it takes to draft proved a very daunting barrier for beginners. Eventually I got tired of banging my head against a wall of apathy and I realized that if I wanted people to be excited about constructed Magic I was going to have to show them why constructed Magic was exciting. I immediately resolved to build a couple of "demo" decks out of my leftover draft cards as both a way of promoting Magic at the shop and to provide an excuse for playing Magic at work. Clever, yes?

Fortunately for me Lorwyn-Shadowmoor was a very special block; sitting down to look through my cards I quickly realized that these sets had an unprecedented level of power and synergy in the common and uncommon slots. This was primarily due to the numerous tribal interactions that drove limited decks in this format but a surprising number of these cards were actually quite playable in a constructed setting. While I doubted their ability to compete effectively in Time Spiral-era constructed tournaments, I felt that you could easily build an almost unlimited number of simple, powerful, effective and most importantly interesting tribal aggro decks entirely out of cards from this block. Naturally, I had neither unlimited funds or cardstock so I decided to maintain a few simple rules during the deck construction process:
  1. No rares. This one was simple enough; since I wasn't playing constructed Magic back then, I'd been selling back most of my rares to the shop to fund more drafts. I didn't have very many rares left anyway.
  2. The decks had to be mono-color and use only basic lands. Since I intended to use the decks primarily to help demo Magic to new customers I wanted to keep them as simple as possible without sacrificing overall playability and power. One of my major gripes with the majority of the demo products used to teach Magic is that they're mostly just a random pile of cards that do little to help a new player understand the sheer joy that comes from building your own Magic decks. I wanted synergistic, powerful and most importantly fun decks that would help me sell players on the Magic experience while simultaneously teaching basic rules and mechanics.
  3. The decks had to be balanced in terms of power, function and form. At the time I started the project my initial intention was to build one deck in each of the 5 colors and let my opponent choose his favorite color at the start of the demo. If my opponent enjoyed the first game I would then offer to let him try some of the other colors out and rotate decks myself as appropriate. Of course, since I never knew which deck my opponent would choose in advance it became very important to ensure that all 5 decks were both easy to pilot and could function together in a reasonable game of Magic.
  4. Each deck would built using the same design theory. In order to keep the decks more or less homogeneous I built each of them around fast creatures, cantrips and an extremely tight mana curve typically ending at 3. This allowed me to cheat a little bit in terms of mana sources to ensure the decks would always be "live" during game play. In my experience nothing can turn a new player off of Magic quicker than a rash of mana-flooding/mana-screw and so these decks were designed to minimize the chances of either phenomena before the match even started.   
  5. Ideally each deck should be Lorwyn/Shadowmoor Block Constructed.  Though ultimately I would be forced to break this rule a couple of times one of my primary goals during deck-building was to keep each design as accessible as possible. My hope was that new players might enjoy the deck and be persuaded to build their own versions, so it was extremely important to me that the decks be built with readily available cards they could easily purchase/trade for.
  6. Ideally each deck should be built around a single tribe and simple themes. One of the hardest parts of demoing a game is convincing people to actually participate in the demo. I wanted each deck to be easy to explain in a single, dynamic sentence that actively encouraged people to try the game. By focusing on tribal traits and simple themes I felt it would be much easier to advertise the demo to my target demographic; namely people who'd never played Magic before. To be fair this wasn't a hard and fast rule so much as a guideline and I cheated it a couple of times in the name of producing a better overall deck by the time the project was complete.
Naturally, savy readers will notice that while I promised to talk about 4 decks I clearly mention attempting to build 5 decks here in the rules section. Unfortunately during the entire length of the project I was never quite able to make a functioning mono-Blue deck that could compete on even footing with the other 4 decks I'd built. Many of the best Blue cards in the block were rare and the color was plagued by a general lack of relevant 1 drops; a fatal flaw as it turned out in the made up "Nina-demo" format. Over time I tried Fae, Merfolk and "the Evasion tribe", to no avail. Eventually I simply chose the Blue deck for myself during demos while explaining that it was "not as good as the other 4 so it will help keep the match even until you learn how the game works". For the most part this suited new players just fine and when I retired the decks later I just never bothered to keep the Blue one together, so I can't include a list here. Just trust me, all of them were bad. Let's take a look at the decks I did keep over the years:

"Ghostface Kithkin"

Creatures: 24

4x Goldmeadow Harrier
4x Goldmeadow Stalwart
4x Mosquito Guard
4x Knight of the Meadowgrain
4x Somnomancer
4x Wizened Cenn

Spells: 16

4x Niveous Wisps
4x Surge of Thoughtweft
4x Oblivion Ring
4x Spectral Procession

Lands: 20

20x Plains

Analysis: From a design perspective this deck was by far the easiest to build under my project guidelines. The Kithkin tribe naturally lent itself to building aggressive "White Weenies" decks and I was never forced to stray out of block during deck construction. Thematically, the deck focuses on tapping down opposing creatures, mass pump effects and swarming your opponent under a never-ending rain of pesky white monsters. Knight of the Meadowgain and Spectral Procession do most of the heavy lifting here while Oblivion Ring provides a catch all answer for when tapping enemy monsters simply will not do. Overall I'd have to say this deck was a smashing success; it was an extremely popular choice during demos amongst female players in particular and by comparing Kithkin to "Hobbits" I was frequently able to interest fantasy fans in taking it for a test drive at the counter. The simple nature of the deck typically made it very easy to grasp for new players and the only really tricky interaction I recall involved Surge of Thoughtweft and Spectral Procession. For some reason nobody ever seemed to realize that Surge would give +1+1 bonuses to the Spirt Tokens as well and that only the cantrip effect was tied to the "Kithin" trait whatsoever.

"Common Theives"

Creatures: 24

4x Nightshade Stinger
4x Prickly Boggart
4x Inkfathom Infiltrator
4x Oona's Blackguard
4x Squeaking Pie Sneak
4x Stinkdrinker Bandit

Spells: 16

4x Peppersmoke
4x Nameless Inversion
4x Warren Weirding
4x Morsel Theft

Lands: 20

20x Swamp

Analysis: If Ghostface Kithin is the easiest of the demo decks to play there is little doubt that Common Thieves is the hardest. Rather than being focused on a single racial trait this deck revolves around the Rogue class and features numerous forms of evasive creatures to take maximum advantage of the Prowl mechanic. Additionally since both of the "Lords" (Oona's Blackguard, Stinkdrinker Bandit) work very differently than those in other tribes, playing this deck requires slightly better math skills than it takes to pilot the others. Finally I should mention that because the deck frequently references both Fairies and Goblins, players would sometimes struggle with proper play-sequencing at first and end up trapping key cards in their hand as the game progressed. Despite these issues, Common Thieves was extremely rewarding for a player prepared to put in the necessary time and thought to squeeze maximum value out of the design. This build has by and large the most "play" I've ever seen in a commons/demo deck and beginners who enjoyed it would usually turn out to be "Spikes" once they moved on to regular Magic.

"Hillbilly BBQ"

Creatures: 24

4x Spark Elemental
4x Tattermunge Maniac
4x Adder-Staf Boggart
4x Keldon Marauders
4x Ashenmoor Gouger
4x Boggart Ram-Gang

Spells: 16

4x Shock
4x Incinerate
4x Lash Out
4x Flame Javelin

Lands: 20

20x Mountain

Analysis: Of the four decks in this article, Hillybilly BBQ is the one I'm least proud of overall. To be fair it's certainly a very good deck; the combination of hyper-efficient burn spells and a bunch of undercosted hasty beaters will pretty much always produce a viable deck in Magic. Additionally despite Red's general lack of cantrips at the time, this build makes tremendous use of the Clash mechanic to move either towards it's 3rd land or away from it's 4th. This "mana-smoothing" effect is actually more important than winning the Clash itself and allows Hillybilly BBQ to find a constant stream of monsters and burn as the game progresses. Unfortunately it's also the deck where I broke the most of my own self-imposed rules; 16 cards in the build are from outside of the Lowryn-Shadowmoor block, there's no consistent tribe throughout the deck and finally it's not all that much fun to play against. I almost never found myself playing this deck simply because I was afraid it would do more to scare off potential players than attract them. On the plus side, it was very popular with kids and it almost always destroyed whatever mono Blue pile I was rocking at the time so it ultimately served it's function as a demo deck perfectly.

"Elvish Eugenics"

Creatures: 26

4x Llanowar Elves
4x Nettle Sentinel
4x Bramblewood Paragon
4x Elvish Warrior
4x Wren's Run Vanquisher
4x Imperious Perfect
2x  Civic Wayfinder

Spells: 13

4x Giant Growth
3x Obsidian Battle-Axe
3x Snakeform
3x Tower Above

Lands: 21

21x Forest

Analysis:  I know that a mother isn't supposed to play favorites but I have to admit that I like this deck just a little bit better than the others in this article. For starters it makes effective use of two of my favorite elf cards in the history of Magic; Imperious Perfect and Wren's Run Vanquisher. It's also the only deck on the list built around both a tribe (Elves) and a class (Warriors). Finally it's the only deck on the list with a real sense of inevitability and is therefore just different enough from the others to function as a teaching tool for new players. Of course for inevitability to matter you still have to get to the end game; this deck is a little slower than the other 3 and slightly more prone to mana-flooding because it runs 21 land and only 3 "cantrip" spells (Snakeform). Like most elf builds however it's riotously fun to play and the vast majority of beginners who chose Elvish Eugenics for their first demo stuck around for more than one game as I recall. Unfortunately I did have to venture outside the Lorwyn-Shadowmoor block to finish the deck but somehow it felt right to include iconic cards like Llanowar Elves and Giant Growth in a demo deck, so I didn't mind.

Overall I would have to say that the Lorwyn-Shadowmoor No-Rares Project was mostly successful. On one hand I never did find a viable mono-Blue deck to complete the set and only 2 of the 4 decks I managed to build actually turned out to be entirely from the Lorwyn-Shadowmoor block. On the other hand the 4 decks I did build allowed me to introduce a whole new generation of players to Magic the Gathering over the next couple of years. While I haven't exactly kept meticulous records I would say I've easily played hundreds of games with each of these decks and even to this day I still find them exciting/interesting to play overall. More importantly they helped dozens of new players break into Magic and thus in some small way helped both my shop and the game I love to grow. Perhaps I'm biased but I genuinely feel that these decks are beautifully designed and in many ways I credit the success I had building them with eventually bringing me back to constructed Magic in 2010.  These days I'm a little too busy for demos at work but I've still kept all 4 of these decks in my office for years now; just in case the need to teach someone else the beauty of Magic should ever arise. I've also spent the time and money to "foil" them out over the years and I'm proud to say I'm down to only 11 cards in total that don't shine:
  • 2x Imperious Perfect
  • 2x Warren Weirding
  • 2x Wizened Cenn
  • 2x Shock
  • 2x Incinerate
  • 1x Tatermunge Maniac
I've even gone to the trouble to ensure that every single foil basic land in each deck has a different picture; it's not OCD when you're in love folks. As for the missing foils, to be honest I'm in no rush. I've spent the past 4 years slowly collecting shiny cards for these decks as they came along and the price was right; this isn't an investment so much as a labor of love. Actually, I'm no longer even sure if finding the last foil is going to be a happy moment; after all as long as I'm still trading for foils I still have an excuse to mess around with my casual decks right?

Well gang, that's unfortunately about all the time we have at the moment. My boyfriend wants his computer back and as previously mentioned, I have some tournaments to prepare for this upcoming weekend. I'm also hoping to finish a freelance article I've been working on for the past couple of weeks soon and as a result it may be a little while before I make it back here to The Cardboard Witch. Don't worry, I'll probably be back in a week or so and in the meantime I've devised an ingenious contest to keep you all busy in the comments. I'm prepared to offer up two of my favorite cards in Avacyn Restored (Tamiyo the Moon Sage and Entreat the Angels) in exchange for a mono-Blue deck list to complete my set of Demo decks. The rules are simple:

  • The deck has to be mono-Blue and can use only basic lands.
  • The deck can contain only common and uncommon cards from non-promotional sets; no rares and no Planechase/Archenemy/Commander only cards.
  • The deck has to be composed primarily of cards from a single block with any outliers coming from base sets that were legal at the same time.  Two cards from different blocks that were legal together in the same Standard can be used but doing so will cost you some consideration with the judge.
  • Ideally the deck should be tribal or at least built around a similar theme/concept for the purposes of teaching Magic.
  • Ideally the deck should be well balanced against the other decks listed in this article.
The contest will be open until August 1st, 2012 and entrants are expected to post both their decks and a brief explanation of how their build works/meets the criteria in the comments section. Originality will be a strong factor in choosing an ultimate winner; the comments are timestamped so there's no point in copying someone else's deck and hoping to get lucky in some sort of raffle. Just to ensure a fair playing field I've asked my boyfriend (Leon) to judge the contest and I'll be providing him the lists with no names attached, thereby making it impossible for subjective considerations to affect the outcome. Once a winner is chosen I'll announce it here on the blog and ship both cards free of charge as soon as you email me your contact info. It doesn't get much easier than that does it folks?

Until next time, thanks for reading my blog; this is the Cardboard Witch signing off and reminding you to always keep it weird guys.


  1. Gah! it was HARD making a list with so many 4-ofs. However, using LWR-shad block, made a fishy deck. Hope you like it! Haven't tested for balance yet, but if it's true strong, it *does* teach new players The Truth.

    4 tideshaper mystic
    4 whirpool whelm
    3 ringskipper
    4 silvergill douser
    3 glimmerdust nap
    4 merrow reejery
    3 sage of fables
    4 streambed aquitechs
    3 waterspout weavers
    3 æthersnipe
    25 banned cards (island)

    I *may* copy these and build them for myself for the same purpose at some point... ;)


  2. Just to be clear guys the deck doesn't have to be from Lorwyn-Shadowmoor block; any block in the history of Magic is acceptable here.

    Zack, thanks for the list; if this changes the deck you'd like to submit please feel free to post a new one and I'll count that one instead.

    Goodnight! :)

  3. Went with Zen block, theme is squishy monsters from the deep/Landfall.

    4 Hedron Crab
    4 Kraken Hatchling
    2 Guard Gomazoa
    4 Calcite Snapper
    2 Living Tsunami
    2 Shoal Serpent
    3 Windrider Eel

    3 See Beyond
    2 Narcolepsy
    3 Cancel
    3 Aether Tradwinds
    2 Deprive
    2 Domestication

    24 Islands

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. Resubmit is

    4 Champion's Drake
    4 Enclave Cryptologist
    4 Halimar Wavewatch
    4 Sea Gate Oracle
    4 Skywatcher Adept
    3 Venerated Teacher

    3 Into the Roil
    3 Deprive
    2 Counterspell
    4 Mana Leak
    3 Spreading Seas

    24 Island

    Theme is Level-Up based around Rise of the Eldrazi's Level up Mechanic with a splash of control.

  6. Great article :) I really like the decks you put together, they seem really good to use as intro decks to the game whilst venturing outside of the usual Core-set examples you normally see.
    I'm not really one for mono-blue decks, but one (casual) deck I do have is based around Kamigawa's Ninjas! I think Ninjutsu is a fantastic ability (although perhaps a little difficut to describe to a new player, so perhaps this deck will not be the best example?) But it IS tribal, and given the aggressive nature of your other decks, I think (without testing at least) it would have a chance at standing up to them. Here is a list suggestion based on my own deck (obviously with rares cut and replaced)

    4 Ninja of the Deep Hours
    4 Mistblade Shinobi
    3 Walker of Secret Ways

    4 Kaijin of the Vanishing Touch
    3 Callous Deceiver
    2 Student of Elements

    1 Blinding Powder
    1 No-Dachi
    1 Ronin Warclub
    2 Shuko
    2 Shuriken

    3 Counsel of the Soratami
    3 Eye of Nowhere
    3 Phantom Wings
    2 Mystic Restraints

    22 Island

    The Ninja creatures (the only Blue, non-rare ones available from Kamigawa block) are supported by a few other creatures. The Kaijin makes a reat blocker and deterrant for attackers, the Deceiver shows off a bit of Blue's "looking at cards" ability, whilst the Student, when enchented with Phantom Wings, can turn the weenie army into a deadly evasive swarm.

    Ive included a splash of Ninja-themed equipment too for the player to have some fun with :)

    Finally, the spells are again there to reflect a range of the kind of things Blue can do, rawing cards, bouncing and locking down larger threats.

    Rounding out with the required 22 basics, and there you have it! Hope you like :)

    1. Granted, I did write the above decklist in about 5 minutes, but in hindsight it occurred to me that the Ninjas could perhaps use a way to trigger Ninjutsu a little faster, most probably by using low cost creature with evasion.
      My personal creatures of choice for this purpose are Augury Owl (great to re-cast) and Thalakos Seer (fantastic with any Ninja). However since the point here is to stick to a block deck, the best option available within Kamigawa would be Floodbringer. It fills a similar role as the Deceiver, but is just a turn or two faster.
      Therefore in terms of optimising the deck to be more competitive with the others (although I think id prefer the above build, since Spirits seem to fit the theme better than a random Moonfolk) I would remove 1 Deceiver, 1 Shuriken (nice but can be a bit slow) and 1 Phantom Wings in order to make room for 3 Floodbringers.

  7. 4 Cloud Of Faeries
    4 Winged Sliver
    4 Metallic Sliver
    2 Merfolk Looter
    3 Cloud Spirit
    2 Sea Sprite
    2 Mnemonic Sliver

    23 Island

    1 Binding Grasp
    3 Boomerang
    3 Brainstorm
    1 Capsize
    2 Counterspell
    3 Curiosity
    2 Snap
    2 Unstable Mutation

  8. I went with Mercadian Masques. There are a lot of tricksy things blue can do with spellshapers and free spells. Since it's not a "modern" set, it also gets to play with powerful spells like Counterspell and Brainstorm.

    4 Brainstorm
    4 Withdraw
    4 Counterspell
    4 Accumulated Knowledge
    2 Daze
    3 Gush
    2 Dominate
    2 Foil

    3 Cloud Sprite
    3 Waterfront Bouncer
    3 Spiketail Hatchling
    4 Rishadan Cutpurse
    2 Rishadan Footpad
    2 Spiketail Drake

    18 Island

    There are a few synergies that you would have to utilize to get the most "play" out of this deck. Gush and Daze can help fuel both Foil and Waterfront Bouncer with additional cards in your hand. Withdraw not only keeps your opponent's board clear, but can also allow you to re-use your Rishadan creatures for additional value.

    With 11 draw spells and so many spells with alternate casting costs, you can skirt the land count to a low number.

    This deck does what blue always likes to do: counter spells, draw cards, mess with your opponent's ability to attack, and in the meantime poke at them until they're dead.

  9. Being a competitive pauper player myself, I would love to help you out!

    The key goals here are to teach new players about patience, showing off fantastic art in the game, and creating a deck that's accessible both price and availability wise.

    I've decided to go with a Faeries build since it's very appealing to casual gamers and some of the cards themselves are flat-out amazing when combined together.
    So here's a Lorwyn-Shadowmoor Block build with a slight splash of Tenth Edition to round out the deck against the others you've made.

    4 Briarberry Cohort
    4 Cloud Sprite
    3 Latchkey Faerie
    3 Mulldrifter
    3 Pestermite
    4 Spellstutter Sprite

    2 Cloak and Dagger
    4 Curse of Chains
    2 Familiar's Ruse
    4 Ponder
    4 Remove Soul
    3 Unsummon

    20 Island

    There's a few neat little tricks in the deck, specifically the interactions with Familiar's Ruse. You'll be able to bounce back and reuse some of your creature's abilities, which includes:

    - A reusable counter spell effect from Spellstutter Sprite
    - Draw effects from Mulldrifter & Latchkey Faeries
    - Tapping/Untapping permanents

    Additionally, unsummons can also be used on your own guys for additional value.

    Cloak and Dagger provides an answer in stalemates and provides protection against the burn match ups. Suddenly the deck can start racing with a 4/2 or 5/1 Shrouded Flyer out of nowhere.

    Finally, the deck quite affordable. It clocks in around less than an average pre-con at a local Target ($13~$15 after tax).

    Enjoy the list & don't forget the smiles!

  10. Old School Blue (ABU-the dark)
    I don't want to say that the theme to this deck is to be as annoying as possible, but it really is. Thematically it will teach a new player playing it that blue is about making your opponents hesitant to do whatever it is they could do.

    Lands: 22
    18 Islands
    4 Maze of Ith

    Creatures: 11
    2 Air Elemental
    3 Clone
    4 Merfolk of the pearl Trident
    2 prodigal sorcerer

    Artifacts: 10
    4 Black Vise
    4 Icy Manipulator
    2 Sol ring

    Enchantments: 3
    3 Control Magic

    Intants: 13
    4 Counterspell
    4 Force Spike
    2 Power sink
    3 Psionic Blast

    Sorcery: 1
    1 Amnesia

    Most of this deck is actually rather quite cheap, with the exception of the maze of iths.

  11. I love building decks for new players to try out. I tend to try and make it customized to them (finding out what they enjoy and things. For example, I built my friend a Cat deck because she loves cats). I tend to go singleton whenever I do that though, using a variety of different mechanics so they can get a flavor of each. Since this is block however, I can't really do that. Also, since this is monoblue, I HAD to go with my favorite tribe: Moonfolk. Might not have been the best choice, but I love them too much to not try. Here's what I came up with...

    Creatures (24):
    4x Soratami Cloudskater
    4x Floodbringer
    4x Oboro Breezecaller
    4x Moonbow Illusionist
    4x Soratami Rainshaper
    2x Oboro Envoy
    2x Soratami Savant

    Sorcery/Instant (15):
    4x Psychic Puppetry
    3x Peer Through the Depth
    4x Consuming Vortex
    2x Hinder
    2x Counsel of the Soratami

    Lands (21):
    21x Island

    So I went with a Splice theme. It might not be the best theme for a beginner deck, but in hopes of keeping it in block, it was the best way complimenting the Soratami since their curve is a little higher than the other decks. Splicing "Psychic Puppetry" onto almost any of the non-creature spells will slow down the opponent's biggest creature(s), while "Peer through the Depths" keeps the Arcane spells coming. What would blue be without a counterspell as well? "Hinder" fit this, along with "Soratami Savant".

    I also really like the Soratmi for their mana abilities. It gives the player something to do if they run out of cards in hand. They won't sit there and think that mana/land is useless later in the game.