Thursday, December 6, 2012

Color Identity Crisis

So, I’m half-heartedly trying to come up with a deck for each two-color and three-color combination. It’s a popular challenge among EDH tryhards (using this term lovingly here, not as a putdown) to try and have one deck for every possible color or color combination. Taken to its logical extreme, that means having 5 mono-color decks, 10 two-color decks, 10 three-color decks, a five-color deck and a “mono-brown” or Colorless deck. That’s 27 total decks for those mathematically-challenged readers.

Frankly, I just have no interest in any mono-colored decks, so I can skip those. Similarly, I have zero interest in attempting the colorless deck, and I’ve got my Big Highlander to satisfy my 5C Good Stuff cravings. So mostly I’m just looking at two and three color decks, leaving me with an even 20 possible decks. I’ve got some colors covered: there is absolutely nothing in Magic that would compel me to play anything other than Wrexial for my U/B deck. But, while Savra is currently my favorite deck to play right now, I have been getting a strong urge to scrap it for a more aggressive Skullbriar deck.

Now, I am just Spike-ish enough that I don’t want to build a bad or janky theme deck just to have a deck in some color scheme. It is a prerequisite of fun, for me, that all my decks have the capacity to win. They don’t need to be unstoppable juggernauts, but a realistic shot at winning is absolutely required. If I don’t feel a deck can win a fair share of games I am not going to have a good time playing with it.

The reverse is also true, though – I am positive that I could very easily build a Grand Arbiter deck that would dominate the table in most matchups, but I probably wouldn’t have much fun playing that style of deck, regardless of power level. More to the point, my opponents would definitely not have any fun. So I’m not going to build a deck just to satisfy some OCD completionist urge. If I’m going to put time and effort into it, I need to actually want to use the deck.

So, this is where I’m at right now: I have this pile of cards that looks an awful lot like a Nin the Pain Artist deck. It’s 100 cards exactly, sleeved up in Purple sleeves, and has a Nin sitting at the top of the pile. There are cards like Plagiarize and Stuffy Doll in this stack – cards you’d definitely expect to see in a Nin build.

But it’s not a deck. Not by my standards anyway.

Just from goldfishing a few hands I can already tell this deck will never win a game, unless my opponents simply hand me an undeserved victory through mana-screw, bad threat assessment or just ‘cause they suck at Magic. I haven’t played a single actual game with it, because I don’t need to watch this pile of cards serve my ass up on a silver platter to my opponents for me to know that will be the outcome. I’ve been doing this long enough to know when I have a lemon of a deck.

So this fetid pile of cardboard disguised as a Nin the Pain Artist deck… what is to become of it? Honestly? I don’t know. I had high hopes the Izzet stuff from RtR would miraculously make the deck viable. And while the Izzet did provide a number of relevant and useful cards for the deck, it’s still a dud. And it’s not just about power level and competitiveness. The very identity of the deck feels wrong somehow. I am really trying to push the Instants and Sorceries matter theme that is usually pretty common in Red/Blue but very prevelant in the Izzet in particular. Stuff like Goblin Electromancer, Talrand the Sky Summoner, Snapcaster Mage, or Sphinx Bone Wand – all things that form the core of “play lots of instants and sorceries”, but are not instants and sorceries themselves compete for space with the things they encourage you to play! Then there’s the Nin-specific tech like Stuffy Doll, Constipated Sphinx or Cerebral Vortex that you just really need to play in order to make Nin herself relevant. Cramming all this into one deck means every category gets shafted and falls short.

The most obvious solution is to switch generals. The instant/sorcery theme strongly suggests Jhoira but Jhoira has baggage. Even if I build her to be fair, and avoid the obvious Jhoira stuff, I’m still probably going to get hated out of games right and left.

Tibor and Lumia just kinda suck, but they actually have the closest thing to synergy with the deck. I just don’t see them being relevant, though, and I hate playing generals “just for the colors” these days.

Then there are the two Niv-Mizzet versions. Firemind is a card I love dearly, but he has almost as dirty a reputation as Jhoira and while I wouldn’t play Curiosity and the like, I couldn’t stop myself from adding tons of “Draw 7” effects to get maximum synergy. That deck has been done to death, though, so I don’t want to go there. Meanwhile Dracogenius is rather more generic, in that he doesn’t actually suggest much of a theme to build around, so I could easily just focus on the Instant/Sorcery stuff, which would give me more room to make that central theme work. But… he’s just kinda  generic and I can’t get interested in him. I like generals that have some mechanic that says “Oh, hey, if you’re playing me, you know what else would be really good?” They don’t need to be full-on “Build around me” but at least have a hint of synergy at their core.

You know, like how Niv, the Firemind says “Oh, hey, play Wheel of Fortune and Consecrated Sphinx!” or Nin the Pain artist says “Play Repercussion with me!” Dracogenius doesn’t really suggest anything at all. And that just kinda bores me.

So what’s a girl to do?

Option #1 – Scrap the whole Instants and Sorceries Matter theme in favor of an Artifacts Matter theme. Goblin Welder, Master Transmuter, Bosh the Iron Golem, and the Mages Trinket and Treasure all suggest the possibility of a stronger, more cohesive theme. The downside is, it might be just as crappy as the existing pile, or it might be just good enough to make everyone in my group start playing Vandalblast. Worse still, to build this deck, I’d have to cannibalize a LOT of key Artifacts from other decks to make it work, and I’m not thrilled by that prospect.

Option #2 – Keep trying (and failing) to make the idea work until I get frustrated enough that I completely fall out of love with the idea and no longer even WANT to make the deck. I’ve already unwittingly started down this road. The failure of this deck to come together is one of the main reasons I’ve been so quiet on here lately. I have just been very discouraged by this failure. It seriously got to me badly enough that I was convinced for a couple of weeks that I had completely lost my deckbuilding mojo and somehow became sucky at Magic. Writing this article is actually self-proscribed therapy. I need to get my mojo back.

Option #3 – Wait for Dragon’s Maze and hope the new Guild Champion is a better, more playable Tibor and Lumia – an actual Legendary Creature that has a strong Instants and Sorceries matter ability that doesn’t suck. This is an option that doesn’t really require a commitment. I can just pursue one of the other options actively in the mean time, and later on this one could just sort of “happen”. Not worth counting on though.

Option #4 – Convince my playgroup to let me use Epic Expirement as my “General” for the deck. Yeah, okay, this one isn’t exactly feasible. But it is a funny, Izzet-minded idea, right? Maybe I could get them to go for Hypersonic Dragon instead. No that probably won’t go over any better. Then they’ll all start wanting to use non-Legendary generals. Where does it end? When someone has Command Tower as their general, things will have gone way too far.

Option #5 – Don’t build a R/U deck. Basically, if I can’t find any other solution, this becomes the default. As I said before I’m not about to build a shitty deck just to have one in the colors, and I am not going to force myself to build a deck that just isn’t fun to play regardless of power. Hopefully I can get this sorted out. Strictly from a personality standpoint, I’m definitely an Izzet-alligned person. I enjoy other color combinations in Magic more than R/U, but it would seem a real shame for me not to have an Izzet deck that was well-suited to my playstyle and personality.

Alrgiht enough ranting already. Basically, I have just hit a dead end with this project and so I’m turning to the interwebs for guidance and advice. I’m not asking you to build the deck for me – that would be very much against the flavor of the Izzet League after all! But perhaps I’m just too close to the problem, and I need someone with no investment to offer a dispassionate, reasonable argument for one solution or another. Cause I’m starting to feel a little like a mad scientist here – grand ideas and schemes whirling around in my mind, promising untold power, if only I could get the damned thing to work right!


  1. I think you're going to reach a point where you ahve to come to terms with the fact that you're settling for scraps with Izzet in the general department. With so few available (and some terrible options to boot), you might ahve to sacrifice cohesion for overall theme.

    I think you saw Imshan's article on GDC a few weeks back regarding the Izzet Storm brew; it really kicked me into gear to the point that I've been doing nothing but tweaking and tuning it at the expense of all other decks since then. Instants/Sorceries matter is a *blast*, and it's worth the play.

    If you're considering trying to slot a non-creature as your general, why not slot a real general that might not be exactly what you're looking for instead? (FYI - Your playgroup should absolutely tell you 'No!' anyway...having that kind of access to EE would break the brew I have right now in half. Just saying.)

    The deck wants Niv 1.0, but you don't want that hate. Spend some time with Niv 2.0. You'll come around. He's as on-theme as the former Niv, and he is a late game card-drawing house. Spot removal never hurts too.

    Let me know if you want more. I'm glad to share what I've got, and if I can help break you out of your funk, I'm happy to do so. ;)

    1. Yeah I was totally kidding about Epic Experiment as my general. Taht would get outta hand real quick.

      But, uh, refresh my memory... have you posted your Izzet brew? And if you have, how up to date is it (I should have said 'Izzet' there... LOL.)?

      I need to purchase a Dracogenius and an Epic Experiment I guess.... just realize I own neither yet. :(

    2. Okay I went back and found Imshan's deck. It's really cool but I don't want to do the Storm thing. We have a house ban on countermagic and going full-on Storm would be savagely taking advantage of that fact. My opponents would have no ways of interacting with me, save attacking me.

      That might be true of any "Instants and Sorceries matter" deck, which might be why I'm having so much trouble with this...

    3. (Sorry...didn't see you replied!) I think it's a matter of how you tweak and tune it. Imshan plays in a very different metagame than I do - his contains infinite combos, while mine bans them - so I've tweaked mine to go in a different direction.

      It still has the storm mechanic present, but only to act as Epic Experiment #2. I'm not winning the game with it...I'm getting value while playing some removal, draw, and so on. The deck is simply incapable of's designed to do 'big turns' at instant speed.

      Of course, the same may be true of your meta versus mine. No counters? At all? What about copy/redirect effects and removal?

    4. Yeah, we don't do combo at all. Part of that is just disliking combo, but the main reason is, if we allowed combo, we'd HAVE to allow countermagic, and there are two people in my group who would just flat out refuse to play if there was any countermagic present. I'm one of them. It's not that they're not fair - but I literally cannot have fun when I know they're around. It makes me extremely nervous and stressed-out to try and play around countermagic. That's the primary reason I quit playing any kind of tourney Magic.

      That said, almost all of us have played with countermagic in our EDH decks at some point. I put several in my Edric deck, but eventually took them out more because they weren't pulling their weight than anything, but also they made the deck more boring for me to play.

      Copy effects, redirects, removal etc. are all fine of course.

    5. Here's your daily dose of irony -

      I played my deck last night at the shop. I had my Epic Experiment countered (which would have netted Inferno, Fact or Fiction, and Cyclonic Rift), and was then combo-ed out by the counterspell player.

      I'm not sure how that applies here (it probably doesn't...), but I thought of this immediately when it all went down.

    6. Well, in other news, last night I got an envelope from Star City Games. Guess what was in it?

      Niv-Mizzet Dracogenius and Epic Experiment. LOL. Looks like I'm going to find out the hard way if my playgroup can handle this shit.

      Still don't know exactly where I'm going with this, but it's going to invlove casting lots of stuff.

  2. My Nin deck (almost current list here: is loosely themed as "Here have some cards, buddy! NO! BAD CARDS! YOU DIE NOW!" - it plays a little like a group hug deck (I can hear the groans from here but lemme finish), but it punishes people for the cards they draw with things like Sudden Impact, Spiraling Embers, Psycho Crawler (Qu'est-ce que c'est), and so on. It is very heavy on instants and sorceries, although it doesn't have an "instants and sorceries matter" theme. It's a lot of fun to play and not horribly under- or over-powered. Have a look-see and see if inspiration strikes :)