Boomtown

When I write about Magic decks, I’m typically sharing ideas for the purpose of spreading fun around our card-slinging community.

Not today.

Today, I’m going to write about the antidote to fun; the extinction of fun. Well, except if you’re a dyed-in-the-wool griefer. Those guys will enjoy what follows an unhealthy amount.

If you play Magic to:

  • Meet new friends
  • Enjoy cool and complicated board states with big splashy plays
  • Shake hands with your opponent after an honourable match, then have them earnestly wish you good luck for the rest of your tournament
  • Still like yourself by the end of the tournament

…just stop reading now.

Remember the good old days?

You know, the days when it was OK to print cards like Sinkhole?

Sinkhole is one of a very specific breed of magic cards: the kind which shut down your opponent’s ability to actually play the game, starting on turn two.

While land destruction effects are widely despised in any form, they are typically confined to cards costing three or more mana; this allows a slightly larger window for an opposing player to try and establish themselves in the game.

At two mana, it is conceivable that a player going first could blow up each land their opponent plays every turn, beginning with their first, before a second can ever be deployed… or at least until the survival of those lands becomes irrelevant in the face of a vastly superior board position.

Thankfully, Sinkhole is relegated to older formats in which it sees little play – formats so powerful that they can shrug off such punitive disruption. No-one playing a more contemporary game will have to worry about such demoralising shenanigans.

Boom - Bust

Oh…wait.

Boom//Bust is a split card from Planar Chaos, which offers two options both decidedly unfriendly to the real estate on the board. For the uninitiated, split cards work very simply: you can play them as either of the spells printed on the card, although usually not both.

It’s also legal for play in Modern, a format which looks set to be used for at least one round of PTQs each season for the foreseeable future.

And Boom costs only two mana.

But I don’t want to blow up my OWN lands, you fool

Don’t worry, my disproportionately angry friend – neither do I.

Boom only

If Boom was guaranteed always to kill one of our own lands, we simply wouldn’t play it. It would put us at a card disadvantage which would rarely be worth the sacrifice.

Happily, there exist ways to make the card rather more one-sided. The first and best known of these is Flagstones of Trokair, a land which, when it dies, handily replaces itself if your deck has been constructed correctly.

Flagstones was used to mitigate the downside of Boom in this way in Time Spiral block and the accompanying Standard format, so many older readers may be familiar with it. However, building a deck with only four lands which can help us break the symmetry of our marquee spell is going to yield underwhelming results. We need more lands that play ball.

…which brings me to Darksteel Citadel.

Artifact lands are almost universally banned in Modern, having enabled the dreaded affinity deck in some of its more potent previous incarnations. A by-product of this ruling is an obsession on my part with running the sole survivor, Darksteel Citadel, in various decks. Those decks typically care about the land being an artifact, so it will play nice with Tezzeret the Seeker and Thirst for Knowledge; this one is a break from the norm, because it only cares that the Citadel can’t be blown up.

It is the ideal partner for Boom, enabling multiple copies all on its lonesome.

Eight lands still isn’t enough for me. I want more!

Fetchlands are not the premier target for a Boom, but they’ll do in a pinch. The trick works as follows:

  • Cast Boom, targeting your fetchland and an opponent’s land
  • DO NOT pass priority. On Magic Online, you achieve this by holding down the CTRL key as you cast the spell.
  • In response to your own Boom, crack your fetchland. Keep holding that CTRL key until the ability is on the stack!
  • Put your fresh new land into play.
  • Allow Boom to resolve. Since your fetchland is gone, it now only has one target: your opponent’s land, which will die ignominiously.

The reason that this isn’t an optimal play is that you need two mana plus a fetchland in order for it to work – so you can’t cast Boom on turn two if a fetchland is your only target. At worst, this version makes Boom into a Stone Rain, which is still a respectable spell; if you have a one-mana play which you can make using the land you just fetched, you’re still gaining some tempo.

Four spells does not a deck make

I’ll concede that point. We need more ways to blow up lands if we want the strategy to work. Luckily, there are cards at three mana which fit the bill.

  

Of this motley pair, I’m more attracted to Molten Rain. It’s marginally harder to cast, but I plan to deploy a deck which won’t struggle to hit RR by the third turn – and I expect the damage it can deal to be relevant.

There is an argument for running both, of course. To make a land destruction deck work, a certain density of spells which will take out a land is required… but having played some of these decks before, I also know that a great way to lose is to flood out on them. There is nothing more demoralising than dying to your opponent’s one-drop creature, which they resolved before you started blowing up all their lands, having smashed their manabase turn after turn. As it attacks you for two, over and over, as each draw step yields another Stone Rain or a land rather than the removal spell you so desperately desire, you may very well go mad.

I want to make space in my deck for cards which can kill creatures and kill my opponent. I also want to have access to extra copies of those cards and my land destruction later in the game.

This brings me to the card which, together with Boom, inspired this particular deck:

Welcome to a world of utter degeneracy

With Snapcaster on our team, we get to do dreadful, dreadful things. The ideal play pattern runs as follows:

  • Turn two: Cast Boom, hitting one of our synergistic lands (ideally the Citadel) and the opponent’s first land.
  • Turn three: Cast Molten Rain on the opponent’s second land.
  • Turn four: Snapcaster comes down, flashing back Boom to clear away our opponent’s third land.
That's exactly what was about to happen here... had my opponent not gone on rampaging tilt and disconnected after the first Boom.

That’s exactly what was about to happen here… had my opponent not gone on rampaging tilt and disconnected after the first Boom.

This is clearly an amazing draw, but it’s not actually that unlikely. In fact, simply drawing any additional land destruction alongside a second-turn Boom is very good against a lot of strategies.

Any deck can experience a draw which is light on mana – and in these cases, a couple of lost lands are frequently enough to leave them down and out. Even a draw which sees them make land drops on turns one through four can be severely disrupted by a couple of Molten Rains. The important thing is to capitalise on each stumble, bringing enough pressure to bear that an opponent can be finished off before they can meaningfully recover.

Choosing our threats

My first draft of the deck carried a suite of burn and creatures with which to finish off the opponent – but in an effort to maximise the land destruction theme, they included several Avalanche Riders and Restoration Angels.

  

This was a fine combination when it worked; the problem was, I was creating situations where an opponent was choked for mana early in the game, but I wasn’t putting them under pressure with these creatures until turn four and five.

I kicked the deck around with some much better players and arrived at the idea of playing everyone’s favourite one-mana threat, the mighty-morphin’ Delver of Secrets, to start bringing the heat from turn two onward.

  

I still had space to plump for some four-drops, though – but again following advice, I pushed through my budget-friendly instincts and traded my way to some premier planeswalkers:

  

Ajani supports my strategy in the same way as Avalanche riders, typically taking out a land for the whole game… but he can also keep a threat under wraps, give me some help burning an opponent out or even wreck their mana for good if the game goes longer.

Elspeth, as it was put to me, is just awesome.

Topping the curve, I wanted something which would hit like a train and help me to close out the game in short order. Happily, I didn’t have to shell out anything for the perfect candidate, whom I was fortunate enough to pick up for next to nothing when he was unfashionable:

Full disclosure: this guy is pretty pricey, so if you’re looking for a budget alternative, I’d try something like Archwing Dragon. It’s more mana intensive, but cards in this slot should generally only have to attack once or twice for you to win.

The rest of this deck is rounded out four copies each of four strong cards, all of which help advance your strategy or close the game.

  

  

  • All this deck ever wants to do is profitably cast Boom on turn two. Casting Serum Visions on turn one will help to make that happen.
  • Lightning Bolt needs no introduction. Alongside Lightning Helix, it gives the deck a means of mopping up creatures which have slipped through before you started cutting off your opponent’s mana… and equally important, it provides reach to let you finish things off before the opponent stops reeling and starts casting good spells.
  • Remand helps us to keep an opponent bottle-necked, whilst drawing us into more action spells. It can be surprisingly effective in a land destruction strategy: remanding an opponent’s play, then untapping, making a land and snapcastering a molten rain to cut them off from playing it again feels pretty good. That said, it’s the spell I’m least sure about in the deck, since I want to be spending my mana proactively with almost every other card… holding up two mana to counter something can be awkward.

Just show us the deck, already

Here is my current working copy of ‘Boomtown’:

Boomtown Delver

The maindeck, I’m pretty happy with. The sideboard is, frankly, a mess… but it’ll get better as I play more matches and understand which strategies I’m really gunning for.

  • Sudden Shock is a little piece of technology I adopted after some tough matches against poison, but it has proven to have further-reaching value.
    • It kills a Glistener Elf or an Inkmoth Nexus stone dead, regardless of how many pump spells the poison player has in hand.
    • It kills an Arcbound Ravager, or any potential target for his modular counters, without a moment of concern.
    • It kills Kiki-Jiki or Melira, as a Pod player goes for their combo, in a way that eliminates all chance of shenanigans.
  • Wear//Tear is a bit of a catch-all utility card, but I like it. So far it has destroyed Birthing Pods, Vernal Blooms, Cranial Platings, Inkmoth Nexi, and Oblivion Rings. I hope to snag a few Prismatic Omens in due course.
  • Slagstorm I’m a bit ambivalent about. I added it because I noticed that decks with an abundance of mana-creatures could ignore my core strategy – and I wanted to be able to punish them for committing lots of them to the board. I plumped for a three-damage sweeper so that I could handle a wider range of creatures… still, I’m not sure it shouldn’t be Pyroclasm.
  • Boros Charm… this used to be in my maindeck. Some games I would win simply because I had aggressively Lightning-bolted my opponent early, then managed to charm them for four, untap and snapcaster them for the final four… but my win rate didn’t really dip when I exchanged them for more Remands. I still have them as insurance against sweepers and some extra reach, but I rarely side them in. They should probably go.
  • Restoration Angel is here because A) I’m addicted to value and B) I sometimes feel like I want another creature or two which can sneak in damage. Since they aren’t essential enough to make the maindeck, I could see just dropping them.
  • Smother is my concession to Tarmogoyf. By including them, alongside a single Watery Grave, I give myself an out to one of the most popular threats in Modern. Short of that, I have to race the Goyfs or tap them down with Ajani, which is less than ideal.

Put your money where your mouth is

I may be about to punt a large number of these

I don’t generally build decks which have an eye on cut-throat competitiveness; it’s not my style. However, this is a land destruction deck with a healthy smattering of premium cards in it, so I can’t kid myself that’s it’s a purely fun contraption built for shits and giggles.

For that reason, I’m not going to treat this in the same way I do my other, more friendly durdlings: this is not something I will be running out in the casual rooms simply for the joy of playing. If I’m building a deck which is only acceptable in competitive surroundings, I owe it to you, the reader, to actually measure its effectiveness in that environment.

I will therefore be vacating the Tournament Practice room, where this deck was born and took its first steps, for the steeper climbs of the Two-man queues. My plan is to jam as many games as my ticket balance will allow, then report back to you with my findings.

  • If all goes well, it will be a valedictory post in which I pat myself on the back for a work of deck-building greatness
  • If it goes rather more realistically, the article will at least serve as a warning to inveterate brewers about how easy it is to throw away your money online

Be it tragedy or triumph, I will endeavour to make it funny – and to include a number of comedy screenshots, come rain or shine. Cross your fingers for me.

One thought on “Boomtown

  1. Pingback: Boomtown… rats! | Caveat Lector

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