First off, here’s a quick refresher on what the 60 Card Challenge is all about. A long while back, I realized that almost all of my casual multiplayer Magic decks were hovering anywhere from 62-65 cards. That bothered me on a professional level. So I grabbed a pen, a notebook, and my massive box of decks and decided to cut them all down to 60 cards. As a baseline, I would start each deck with 22 land unless I felt it needed more or less after playing. While I was digging through the decks making cuts I also did some updating. I kept a record of all of this, and continue to do so as I make changes. I’ll explain the underlying process behind every change I make. Hopefully there will be some form of lesson to be learned from each deck’s evolution. Okay, refresher over.
A very, very long time ago I saw the Covert Operative and his unblockable brothers. And then I saw an Isochron Scepter with a pump spell on it, and a light bulb came on above my head. I built an entire deck around pump effects and unblockable guys. Looking back, it was admittedly pretty bad, especially for multiplayer. But the idea was there! Lucky for me, I realized how bad it was and went from temporary pump effects to equipment as the source of power boosting! I even wrote an article about that process for Cardshark.
But sadly, that wasn’t so good either. The deck went through several more changes over the years. I wrote another Cardshark article about that – the precursor to the 60 Card Challenge as it stands today. But this isn’t about where the deck has been in the past, this is about where the deck is going now!
Here’s the list as it stood before its time came to enter the 60CC:
4 Escape Artist
4 Covert Operative
4 Cephalid Pathmage
4 Sage of Fables
2 Forgotten Ancient
2 Fungal Behemoth
2 Vigean Hydropon
1 Deep-Sea Kraken
1 Tornado Elemental
It’s really quite simple at its most basic level. Get out some unblockable guys. Make them bigger. Smash your opponents. Life is peachy. Of course, it has layers on top of that, mainly the +1/+1 counters layer that Sage of Fables adds. Since almost all of my unblockable guys are wizards, the Sage makes them all bigger and allows for some card drawing when necessary. The Wall of Hats, Fungal Behemoth, and Mr. Babycakes keep the theme going, while the Fertilid capitalizes in a different way to get some acceleration going. Even the mana base gets into the shenanigans. Llanowar Reborn is another free source of +1/+1 counters, and the Growth Chamber and Treva’s Ruins allow me to reuse them multiple times! The Deep-Sea Kraken is huge, fast, and unblockable. The Tornado Elemental offers some air defense and is somewhat-not-really unblockable with that ability commonly referred to as the “Thorn Elemental ability”.
The noncreatures keep the +1/+1 counters thing going with the Incremental Growth and Decree of Savagery. Other than that, I’ve included some of the most terrifying equipment ever printed to pump up my guys. The Fork of Doom needs no introduction to anyone that played during Kamigawa block. It’s a fantastically useful little trinket, able to pick off opposing creatures, gain me some emergency life, or utterly destroy an opponent’s facial features, making them unrecognizable even to their own mother. The Fork of Doom demands your obedience! The Quietus Spike is also good for causing opponents to require a change of underwear, as they’ll take the combat damage from the creature and then lose half their life. Of course, the swords work best when they can connect to an opponent, so into this deck they went. And Moment’s Peace means I can pick off an opponent with an alpha strike and survive the backlash from two others.
So if my math doesn’t fail, I’m only 2 cards over 60, so this should be nice and simple, right? Well at the time, Zendikar and Worldwake had just come out, and I really wanted to fit in a couple cards to see how they work out. Beastmaster Ascension is either going to draw hate or it’s going to straight-up win me the game, so I really want to give it a spin and see what happens. Strength of the Tajuru gets better the more mana you pump into it, or I could just use it to pump one guy enough to do something cool, like commit murder on an opposing player. So now I’m 4 cards over. Better start cutting.
Let’s go ahead and stop being nostalgic. Decree of Savagery was awesome back in the day, it really was. And if I ever get up to 9 mana I’m sure it would be great. But it’s just too expensive to use that way, and it costs 6 to cycle for 4 counters and a card. With Incremental Growth for 5 mana, I can spread out 6 counters without the draw, and I think that’s a better deal given the card draw already available in the deck. Yeah, they’re coming out.
While we’re at it, let’s go ahead and lose the Tornado Elemental. Sure he’s flying defense, but he’s also massively expensive. Plus there’s just the one copy. He’s not even really unblockable! And since I’ve just lost 3 massively expensive cards from the deck, there’s a bit less need for acceleration. Let’s go ahead and knock out a Fertilid for the fourth and final cut. Here’s the entire list of changes and the deck as it stands after them.
+1 Strength of the Tajuru
+1 Beastmaster Ascension
-1 Tornado Elemental
-2 Decree of Savagery
And that was going to be it. Then a little thing called Scars of Mirrodin happened, and things took a turn. I’ve always been a little disappointed by the lack of removal of any sort in the deck, but I mean it is blue and green. It’s not like I’m missing out on just a whole lot of removal by sticking to the theme, but having my opponents run roughshod over the battlefield and not having any say in the matter just sucks. Then Scars came out, and they printed two cards that jumped out at me. Contagion Clasp could knock out a little guy, or eventually weaken a not-little guy just enough. And there was the Clasp’s roided-up older brother, Contagion Engine, showing up to do terrible, terrible things to whoever happened to be looking at him funny. I dug through my collection and found 3 Engines. That’s a bit much, let’s just try one for now. I know I’ve got at least one Clasp, because Mike let me have one way back when I couldn’t freaking find one to save my soul. So I looked…and I found one. That same one, in fact. I have no idea how I have 3 copies of the rare and 1 of the uncommon, considering most of this came from packs. That’s okay, I picked some up, crisis averted. Back to the story at hand. Where was I?
Oh, and proliferate! Do you see all the counters this deck uses? Holy crap, dude! It’s a match made in some kind of heaven! I just wish I had another source of -1/-1 counters. You know, one I could use more than once, in my colors, and preferably on-theme if at all possible. What’s that, Mirrodin Besieged? You printed a wizard who hands out -1/-1 counters just for me? And it taps the creature too? Let me see this! Vedalken Anatomist, huh? I don’t know, it’s not unblockable. Maybe I should just skip it for now…what?
*a few days later, from the hospital*
So now that I’ve got the Anatomists in the deck, I should be good, right? Oh wait, there are new equipments to use too. Let’s see what we’ve got. Blade of the Bloodchief is really cheap. It puts +1/+1 counters on the equipped creature. Really now, why didn’t I think of this before? Oh, and there’s Bonehoard! Exoskeletal Armor was one of those cards that multiplayer groups lived in mortal terror of back in the day, and this is an improved version of it. And the Blade and the Bonehoard sort of mirror each other too. When stuff dies now, the Blade gets a use out of it once, and the Bonehoard enjoys it forevermore. Sure the deck isn’t set up to capitalize on either one, but I’ll see if I can’t make them fit. And let’s throw in some kind of vicious, insane, highly expensive, finisher-type equipment, just because it’s my deck and it’s multiplayer casual. How about…Argentum Armor! Yeah, now we’re talking! Nuke something with every attack…AND swing for damage plus six? Sign me up!
So that’s the deck! I’ve managed to get it down to…68 cards. I should probably take some stuff out to counteract all the new cards. I have an idea. How about I take out the extra copies of all this equipment. That way, each game will have a bit of a different feel to it. Since I’m not able to tutor anything up, I’ll be relying on whatever I draw. Yeah, that works. So out come the second copies of the Jitte and the Spike.
As much as the +1/+1 counter theme works for the deck, I think I might have overdone it a bit. Fungal Behemoth? I don’t think I’ve ever managed to play one of these things in such a way that I enjoyed. They’re just way too clunky. You can’t suspend them early without creatures out, and you can’t suspend them late because…it’s late. Plus if I’m missing counters for some reason, they’re just dead draws. Ah, screw it, let’s take them out. And while I’m at it, the Wall of Hats is a nifty little thing, but that’s really all it is. I think the cards I’m adding in, especially those things with proliferate, are enough to counteract losing that little dose of nifty. If I find myself missing those free counters, I’ll see what I can do about stuffing them back in.
I have to admit, I love Deep-Sea Kraken. But he’s a big unblockable dude that can go in absolutely any blue deck, and this deck is more specific. So let’s get rid of him. That still leaves me with one extra card though. After thinking about it long and hard, I realized it had to be either the Blade of the Bloodchief or the Bonehoard that got the axe. And since there Blade needs to be out in order to get the benefit of things dying and the Bonehoard gets the benefit indefinitely, I cut out the Blade.
+2 Contagion Clasp
+1 Contagion Engine
+2 Vedalken Anatomist
+1 Argentum Armor
-1 Umezawa’s Jitte
-1 Quietus Spike
-2 Fungal Behemoth
-2 Vigean Hydropon
-1 Deep-Sea Kraken
2 Incremental Growth
2 Moment’s Peace
2 Contagion Clasp
1 Contagion Engine
1 Umezawa’s Jitte
1 Quietus Spike
1 Argentum Armor
1 Sword of Fire and Ice
1 Sword of Light and Shadow
1 Beastmaster Ascension
1 Strength of the Tajuru
Of all the decks I’ve built, I think this one has gone through more changes in basic construction than any other. Oddly enough, it has also stayed true to its original concept throughout all the changes – make unblockable guys bigger and swing. I’m really happy I was able to fundamentally change how the deck works (multiple times at that!) and still have essentially the same game plan. It says a lot for Magic as a game that I can take so many different routes to reach the same objective.
But the big lesson here is quite simple. If you find that your deck isn’t working the way you want it to, but you know (and I mean KNOW) the idea is a sound one, perhaps the best idea isn’t to dismantle it. Maybe your starting point is good and your final destination is worthwhile, but the Mapquest directions just aren’t letting you get there. Instead of canceling the trip, just use Google Maps instead, everyone knows it’s the better option.
Okay, that was a long and arduous (and kind of silly) metaphor, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good one! My initial idea of Isochron Scepter and Giant Growth effects to make unblockable guys huge was kind of dumb, I’ll be the first do admit it. But it wasn’t the basic premise of “make unblockable guys huge” that was the dumb part, just the implementation. So I took another look at my premise, and realized there was another way to get there and switched over to an equipment theme. Since then I’ve taken advantage of +1/+1 counters appearing as a major block theme and retooled the deck again. And then equipment came back in vogue and brought proliferate with it, so the deck is now a hybrid of counters and equipment. If this turns out to be a good idea, I’ll run with it. If not, I’ll have to pick one or the other and focus on it.
The other thing I want you to take away from this long, rambling nonsense is this: Don’t be a slave to your theme. All decks are missing something when they stick to the theme too closely. This deck was no different, having no removal of any sort and seriously needing some acceleration. This might not be the best article to say this, since I was able to find some on-theme solutions to these problems. The Fertilid helps out with counters and giving me land and the Anatomist, Clasp, and Engine play the role of removal. If you get creative (and lucky), you might be able to make your utility fit your theme, but don’t feel like you have to do so! Sometimes you just need to shore up some weaknesses to make the deck run more smoothly.
Now comes my favorite part of these Challenge articles. What do you guys think? Can you see any cards that just don’t go in there? What would you replace them with? Or would you take the deck in an entirely different direction? I know that I personally want to fit in at least a single copy of Edric, Spymaster of Trest from the recently released Commander decks. I also briefly thought about adding in a tiny little touch of white to throw in a single Finest Hour, because that would be completely ridiculous. I ultimately decided against it due to a lack of Finest Hours, but I think it might be worth it. If you guys have any ideas, concerns, questions, bribes, or stock advice, just leave a comment! Oh, and stay tuned for the next edition of the 60 Card Challenge, where one of my mono-black decks will be the star! And don’t ask which one, I haven’t decided yet. Thank you all very much for reading and uh, go play some Magic!