“Sticks and Stones”
When I first re-discovered Magic as an adult, after playing for about 19 minutes in the 7th grade, one of the first decks I ever saw was a Splinterfright deck on Building on a Budget by Jacob van Lunen. I was in awe, got most of the cards I needed for the deck and slung some spells at FNM. I had no idea what I was doing, or if Magic was even fun to me any more. I tried it out for a while, and with the help of my new friends, found out that there were decks that were easier or better to play. Splinterfright didn’t do anything against the Delver decks when those were popular.
But Delver is dead.
Long live the self-mill.
Oh, one more thing.
This. Deck. Is. Fun.
I’m going to explain my processes about constructing this deck, but first I’d like to plead with you to try this deck out. I had opponents dreading an attack with 45 cent Kessig Cagebreakers, a card that has never seen one second of serious constructed play. To me, that was great fun.
Opponents attempting to figure out what my deck was and what it was doing was great fun. Having a laugh in your brain while your opponent happily tries to put the pieces together to formulate a game plan against you is the essence of Magic.
I don’t blame people for playing the same deck week after week. It’s actually a good way to become good at Magic. Theres nothing wrong with mastering a deck to have consistent results, but my hats are off to those who craft a new deck each week. I am a huge advocate of playing your strengths, but breaking out into the absurd and underplayed has some merit to it.
I really struggled with this week’s 75. I mean really struggled. I tried an evolve deck that I just didn’t feel comfortable with on a 50 dollar limit. I tried a version of this deck with Vorapedes and Primordial Hydras. I even tried a version with Invisible Stalkers and Wreath of Geists. Wildwood Rebirth and Revive were even tossed around in my head for a bit. I even added Avacyn’s Pilgrims and Ulvenwald Trackers at the last second with some opinions from friends. The fact is that the cards I didn’t play, that I just mentioned, were just poor in this deck. They either took up too much of the budget, preventing from playing Hinterland Harbors, or the synergy wasn’t there with the other cards.
Or, more importantly, they weren’t creatures.
[Editor’s note – click any of blue card names or featured card images to view and purchase the card from Jupiter Games!]
This deck needs dudes. Just dudes. Getting all fancy with Wreath of Geists on a card not called Invisible Stalker would have been terrible, and Invisible Stalker is pretty terrible without being slapped with a power-up. Splinterfright needs dudes in the yard. Skaab Ruinator needs dudes in the yard. Kessig Cagebreakers needs dudes in the yard. I could only afford 8 non-creature spells if I wanted the deck to function how I intended.
But, I did not want to be dependent on having a graveyard in order to function. That is where, I believe, the self-mill decks get into hot water. You might notice that Boneyard Wurm is missing. Boneyard Wurm is functionally terrible useless unless you hit on a turn 1 Thought Scour. Otherwise, it sits in your hand most of the time because you can’t cast it or just have something better to cast.
So, I wanted to have a midrange element to the deck–Green fatties that were as big or bigger than all the aggressive creatures running around. I just really wanted to have creatures that were bigger than anything an opponent could throw at me. That’s where Yeva, Wolfir Avenger and Deadbridge Goliath came in, accompanied by Dungeon Geists to gain some tempo ability. I knew that I could always cast a Wolfir Avenger on turn 3, but I wouldn’t always be able to say the same about Splinterfright. Sure, I had a very good chance of casting the big pile of sticks on my third turn, with Thought Scours, Mulchs, Tracker’s Instincts and Deranged Assistants all putting cards into my graveyard, but I needed some 100% chances in this deck.
Yeva, Nature’s Herald is a very good card. I could flash her in against opponents playing Supreme Verdict, and I could flash in a Kessig Cagebreakers with a huge graveyard to practically kill someone out of nowhere. I was thoroughly happy each time I played her.
Deadbridge Goliath and Skaab Ruinator, while being gigantic, were unconditional upside of milling myself. They were two-ofs with good reason. Particularly with Ruinator, I didn’t want to have one stranded in my hand that I couldn’t cast. Ruinator provided inevitability to decks that couldn’t deal with my graveyard. This bigger, dumber, slower and probably uglier version of a worse Ichorid served very much the same purpose as the real one. Straight value. I wasn’t nonboing myself my removing creatures with Unburial Rites so that I couldn’t cast Ruinator and vice-versa. Goliath also let me make something gigantic at those times when each player is holding no cards or lands and the race is on.
I wanted to make sure my sideboard was ready for aggressive decks. Gnaw to the Bone and Tree of Redemption were there to buy me time while my creatures developed. Ulvenwald Tracker was a last minute addition, but the idea of smacking an opponents creature against a Ghoultree seemed like a really profitable thing to do.
Misthollow Griffin seems like a strange card to have in a sideboard, but it was ammo against decks where I feared Rest in Peace might be coming. I would quite easily replace Skaab Ruinators when I feared my graveyard becoming exiled.
Round 1- Tom Keefer: RATS!
I won the roll and played a Guildgate as I hoped that Tom was playing his Rats deck instead of his Mono Black Control deck. I found a Drainpipe Vermin staring at me, and I was pleased. I knew there would be some discarding in my future, assuring my Splinterfright was turned on. A Screeching Skaab found some guys anyway, but I still had to pitch a Deadbridge Goliath to a Ravenous Rats. I continued with a Splinterfright and let my deck do the work for me. Tom untapped and played a Blood Artist and Drainpipe Vermin and passed. I attacked with a 4/4 Splinterfright, putting Tom at 16 and played an Avacyn’s Pilgirm. Tom missed some damage points by chump attacking before he cast Mutilate, killing my board. I shrugged off the Mutilate with a Skaab Ruinator, which ended up killing Tom on 5 hits after he showed me a Pack Rat. When Tom was at 6 life and no cards, I cast a Dungeon Geist on an empty board for good caution. Tom found a Liliana, and I felt proud of my decision. Skaab Ruinator killed Tom two turns later, but Tom did force me to discard before scooping just to see what my silly deck was doing, something the Tom of a few months ago would not have thought to do just a few months ago.
-2 Mirror-Mad Phantasm -3 Tracker’s Instinct +2 Ranger’s Guile +1 Aetherize +2 Tree of Redemption
I knew I would be greeted with some Nighthawks and possibly some spot removal for my huge idiots. Mirror-Mad’s seemed bad, and I wanted to mise an Aetherize for Pack Rat shenaniganery.
I was off to a slow start in Game 2, staring at a perfect 4 lands, a Deadbridge Goliath, a Splinterfight and a Ghoultree. Tom started with double Ravenous Rats and a Typhoid Rats, pitching the Goliath to get my Splinterfright again once more. He found a Nighthawk on turn 4, and I was chipping away at the stalemate with a Wolfir Avenger. I was pretty content ticking away at some rats while my Graveyard filled. That is, until he cast an Immortal Servitude twice on two, returning both his Ravenous Rats both times. I had no had, but luckily I didn’t need to cast Skaab Ruinator from my hand. I continued to suicide my Ruinator to trade with both Nighthawks Tom found, casting it from the yard repeatedly. I eventually found a Dungeon Geist to tap down a third Nighthawk, allowing me to attack with a 11/11 Splinterfright and a Skaab to win.
Round 2- Seneca Hobler: Naya Humans
Seneca mulliganed to 6 and led with an Avacyn’s Pilgrim and I followed suit, keeping my 7. He played a Nearhealth Pilgrim unpaired and passed. I played a land, leaving up mana for a Wolfir Avenger and passed. Seneca then did something peculiar, and I forgot to ask his reasoning for this play, but he tapped out, played a Frontline Medic, paired it with the Nearheath and attacked me with the Nearheath Pilgrim. I would have blocked with my Pilgrim in an instant because it would have turned on my graveyard and turned off his Battalion. Obviously, I flashed in my Avenger and blocked, fearing no tricks because he was tapped out. I hit him for three and passed with a Yeva in hand. Seneca played a Silverblade Paladin, pairing with the Medic without attacks. I flashed in Yeva on his endstep and my Avenger was Searing Speared in response, which was kind of annoying. Seneca had no cards, so I felt safe to attack with Yeva, holding a Ghoultree. I was never blocking with my Yeva, so I knew I was going to be attacking. Seneca swung in with a Battalion Trigger, and I flashed in a Ghoultree. I commented how skillful Seneca was at Magic to find a Selesnya Charm with no cards in hand to exile my Ghoultree before blockers were declared. I went to 9. I untapped and passed back with a Splinterfright in my hand. Seneca drew a Mayor of Avabruck and Battalioned me once again. I threw my Yeva under the bus and went to one. I had a Deadbridge Goliath in my yard and needed to get pretty lucky to make my Splinterfright that was currently a 5/5 into a 12/12. Splinterfright did find two creatures, but I didn’t draw a milling spell so that exiling my Goliath only made it into an 11/11.
-3 Mulch -3 Tracker’s Instinct -1 Mirror-Mad Phantasm
+2 Tree of Redemption +2 Gnaw to the Bone +1 Aetherize +2 Ulvenwald Tracker
I knew that I needed to get rid of my Mulchs and Instincts to make room for the cards that would help me not die. I didn’t want to take out creatures since I was brinigng in Trackers.
Seneca got out to a fast start and the game was over quickly. He grew a Champion of the Parish quickly and my Gatecreeper lost that fight quickly. I cast a Tree but my life total was slowly chipping away, and I was unable to actually kill any of his creatures. He cast a Mayor of Avabruck, and I conceded to not draw out a game I had no chance of winning.
Round 3- Nate McCollum: Naya
Nate somehow managed to cast three consecutive Avacyn’s Priest, causing me to not begin to kill him for a long time. Luckily, between those and 2 Avacyn’s Pilgrims, he was out of cards quickly. I cast an ever-growing Splinterfright, a Deadbridge Goliath and a Skaab Ruinator, but I still couldn’t attack him until I eventually found a Dungeon Geists to tap down a Priest. He forgot to tap down something in response, and I began chipping away with a Splinterfright. Nate found a Spark Trooper a couple of times, which were annoying because I still could only attack him one or two creatures at a time, but he eventually died to an absurdly powerful Splinterfright.
+2 Ulvenwald Tracker +1 Silklash Spider +1 Aetherize
-3 Tracker’s Instinct -1 Mulch
I knew that Nate had access to at least one Assemble the Legions because I sat next to him the round before. I also wanted Trackers to fight his small guys and Spider to transform his Spark Troopers into Angel’s Mercys.
Nate went Avacyn’s Pilgrim into Avacyn’s Priest, and my Avacyn’s Pilgrim into Deranged Assistant matched. My Assistant found a creature before cast a Chandra, the Firebrand on his fourth turn, pinging my Assistant. I flashed in a Yeva and attacked Chandra. With no mana available, he chumped with his Priest, protecting Chandra. I was pretty okay with that. I held a Splinterfright in my hand that I planned on flashing in on his next end step, which I did, after he cast a Angelic Overseer. I attacked into Chandra with more than enough power to kill her unless Nate blocked with both creatures. I was okay with either option because Chandra would kill my creatures anyway, but I was going to prevent her from Ultimating in any case. He elected to let Chandra go down and try to kill me. He eventually did with back to back Spark Troopers
-2 Mirror-Mad Phantasm +2 Ranger’s Guile
I cast a Thought Scour on my first turn, finding a couple of creatures to turn on my Splinterfright. I followed with an Ulvenwald Tracker and cast a Splinterfright on my third turn. Between the giant tree and a regenerating Wolfir Avenger, I was able to pick off his tiny creatures through Tracker fights. He cast a Spark Trooper or two to slow me down, but the growing Splinterfright was too much for him.
Round 4-John Cartner: White Green Aggro
I knew this was a bad matchup for me, but I was going to try my hardest. John started with an Avacyn’s Pilgrim into a Loxodon Smiter, and I only started with an Assistant. He then Rancored up the Smiter and played another Smiter. I kept the Rancored Smiter with a Dungeon Geist to try and stop the bleeding. He followed with a Paladin, pairing with the free Smiter, and I was dead. I got to untap and had a small chance of winning with a couple chump blockers, but a Township on his side ended the game.
-2 Mulch -2 Tracker’s Instinct -2 Mirror-Mad Phantasm
+2 Rapid Hybridization +2 Gnaw to the Bone +2 Tree of Redemption
I had to keep a slower hand with good mana, as the Deadbridge Goliath in my hand would have been wonderful against John. I played a tap land and passed. John exclaimed for joy when he found a Forest that he obviously didn’t have and played an Arbor Elf. He then played a Sunpetal Grove on his next turn and I wasn’t happy. I had to throw a Splinterfright in my graveyard just to be able to play the one from my hand due to no other plays. He Rancored and Paladined the Healer, and I was dead.
Round 5- Phil Javier: R/G Aggro
Phil opened with an Experiment one, and I started with a Thought Scour. I feared the worst when he followed with a Strangleroot Geist, but I found a Splinterfright on my third turn after he stumbled on land on his. Eventually, my Splinterfright clogged up the board, along with a series of other huge creatures that he couldn’t get through. He told me after the match that he kept a hand with two Domri Rades in it, and he drew the third soon after. I cast a Skaab Ruinator from my graveyard with a Yeva on the field, and Phil played his first Huntmaster of the Fells. He then followed with a second Domri after I killed his first. I then flashed in a Ghoultree and began to pick away at his planeswalkers with my Ruinator, but he added Huntmasters to his side to gain life. I eventually ran out of spells, and the Huntmasters eventually flipped. I had Phil at 9 when he played his third Domri, and I untapped and punted the game away. I neglected the Wolf Run on his side and attacked Phil instead of Domri. He then fought my Skaab using his Wolf Run and a token he didn’t care about. He then chipped at me with Huntmasters flipping and an alpha strike.
Sideboarding: +2 Gnaw to the Bone +2 Tree of Redemption +2 Rapid Hybridization +2 Ranger’s Guile
-3 Mulch -3 Tracker’s Instinct -2 Mirror-Mad Phantasm
I put up the defenses quickly with a Splinterfright and Goliath on curve. Phil opened with several Huntmasters, and we found a stalemate. I cast a Ghoultree, but couldn’t attack because I lost some damage early to an Experiment One and a Burning-Tree Emissary. I dug and dug for a Skaab Ruinator which I eventually found and got on the same plan as the first game. Phil continued to play Huntmasters, and took a large chunk out of my life total when they eventually flipped. He was convinced that I had a Simic Charm and was afraid to not play a spell on his turn or use his Kessig Wolf Run. I, of course, had no Simic Charm in my list. He missed out on several points of damage, risking only a token or two per attack if he had gone for it. After the 3rd connection from a Ruinator, Phil knew he had to alpha strike me to win, so he tried. He never saw the Gnaw to the Bone in my graveyard that I cast to gain twenty life to not die.
I threw away a no lander and kept a six card hand with a Hinterland Harbor, Avacyn’s Pilgrim, Deranged Assistant and spells. If I drew a land in the next of my first two turns I was probably fine so I kept. I never got there and Phil fought my Pilgrim with a Domri on his third turn. I shook his hand and scooped to hop in my draft that was firing.
These last five weeks have been absolutely amazing. The community at FNM have been very encouraging, and many of you of have been actively interested in what I am playing at any given time. That alone makes me feel extremely wonderful and accomplished.
The budget decks have been a wonderful experiment in relationship to the metagame at Jupiter and my ability as a player and deck designer. I have learned so much, but I must inform you that I will no longer be featuring only budget decks.
I will still be featuring Standard decks, and I hope to play a different one each week. From time to time, there may be times when I experiment with a certain deck for a couple weeks or decide to play a budget deck again or simply have a wacky deck that pops into my brain that I like.
How this column goes forth is entirely up to the feedback received from the community. I urge you to offer suggestions in the comment box.
I would like to feature the wacky and the sane. I’d like to provide something spicy most times, but provide the experience of piloting an unfamiliar but accomplished deck also. I have some good ideas built up already, but I’d love to hear other opinions.
Until next time, whether it’s the kitchen table or the feature match, have fun and keep brewing.