For this article I’m going to conduct an experiment. I have no idea how well it will work out. I’m going to pick a card and design a deck around it. This will be a card I have not used before so I wont just be pasting a decklist I’ve tried and tested. This will also be done in real time. As I’m starting this I have no idea what will be in the deck or even really anything beyond the card I plan to base it around. There is a chance this deck may end up decent but there is an equal chance it will be absolutely terrible. I’m hoping that even if the deck ends up being teh suck this will still be a helpful look at deckbuilding.
The card I’m going to use is something I’m positive is not tournament quality and possibly not even good period. It is also something that has had my interest since I first saw the card. It also looks like it could be a lot of fun to use even if it doesn’t work often. The card I’m referring to is Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker. One on hand that ability is clearly abusable. I’m sure anyone can rattle off a list of at least a dozen creatures that would be amazing with it. From Mogg Fanatic to Sakura-Tribe Elder it is obvious it can do some crazy things. One the other hand one Shock and your fun is over. Paying 5 mana for something that will immediately die is not an appealing proposition, especially since if they kill it after your 1-power creature dies but before it comes back the ability wont work. As such this will likely be a very Johnny deck that will rarely work but that will be very fun when it does. For this deck I will give myself one limit. That limit is no Skullclamp. This would just make it too easy and the deck would also likely go from being a Shirei deck to a Skullclamp deck. That is clearly not the goal here. I also don’t even know what format the deck will be for. Since this is casual I will likely start with type 1 but if it is close to another format or would benefit from being another format I’ll switch.
When designing a deck around a single card a good first step is to just brainstorm cards that work well with it. In this case it will be one=power creatures that are prone to dying. I’ll make a far from complete but still quite lengthy list of examples and see what colors that leads to. I’ll also add cards that would work well with either Shirei or with the same creatures.
Black is of course obvious since you will need it to cast Shirei. Thankfully it also seems to have some of the better creatures for it. What really stands out here is green. Spore Frog can form a lock against any creature deck without removal (pretty much just green decks). Sakura-Tribe Elder is an endless supply of land (he’s AMAZING!!!). What really seems to stand out for me it the nutz that is Deranged Hermit. With Shirei in play you just neglect to pay the echo and you will get 4 dudes each of your turns. Add an extra sacrifice outlet and you can get them during your opponent’s turn as well. This should end the game in short order. As a bonus most of these cards are still good without Shirei, which is very important for making the deck not suck.****
The next step is to throw together a rough draft of the deck out of the cards you want to play. I’ll start with something like this:
After a few quick goldfishes it seems that the landbase is close but I do want to make a small change. Pull one Swamp and add one Forest. While the divide between the colors is actually pretty close it seems green mana is much more important early on. The black is also heavily inflated by Grave Pact which wont need to hit the board until later on. This makes getting that green mana early much more important.
Testing Against Actual Opponents:
Mow it is time to “run the gauntlet.” This means to test the deck against a variety of different decks to both see how the deck performs against an actual opponent and to see if I can identify some of the weaknesses of the deck. The decks I’m going to test against include Sligh, Suicide Black, and Stompy for the aggro decks and Draw Go, The Rock, and Mono White Control as the Control decks. I’m just going to ignore combo since it is practically non-existent in our group. Each of these decks is built to be quite generic and are built solely for testing deck like this. Also even though I’ll be using Magic Workstation to test these decks are build out of cards I own so the power level is not as high as it would be at a tournament. This means things like no Cursed Scrolls or Ball Lightnings in the sligh deck and only one real Wrath of God in the MWC but they are still quite powerful and are at about the power level most of my decks tend to be. I’m going to play best 3/5 against each of these which is more than I usually do but I want to be thorough for the article. I’ll first explain my expectations for the matchup and why I feel that will be so then I’ll do the actual results.
Expectations: Sligh I don’t imagine this is going to be pretty. Not only is sligh way too fast for this slug of a deck but this build has 16 cards that kill Shirei, making getting the lock pretty much impossible. Spore Frog and Thrull Surgeon aren’t exactly amazing speed bumps here either.
Actual Results: 3-0 in Favor of Shirei Wow! I was very very wrong. I was correct in my assumption that Shirei would be next to worthless in this matchup but that was a non-issue. I somehow managed to forget that Spike Feeder is AMAZING! against sligh. It would always seem as though the sligh deck would be just about to win then the Feeder would hit the table. It would generally block and trade with a creature as well as gain 4 life. Sakura-Tribe Elder was an excellent speed bump as well. Attacking with a Jackal Pup just isn’t as wise with one of these on the table. These would buy time until Deranged Hermit would hit the table which would provide enough blockers to stabilize. If a Grave Pact hit the table it was pretty much game over for the sligh deck. The burn wasn’t as helpful as I expected it to be. Sure it prevented Shirei from ever doing anything but the problem was that unless the burn was used against early blockers the red deck would have trouble getting damage through making it very easy to stabilize but the burn really needs to be sent toward the head before Spike Feeder does his amazing thing too many times. I expect that if the red deck had Cursed Scrolls and/or Grim Lavamancers like most tournament sligh decks this would change drastically but with no recurring source of direct damage it couldn’t handle it.
Against Suicide Black:
Expectations: Shirei but close It may be close though. Really the only reason I think it will go this way is because Smother doesn’t kill Shirei. The Shirei deck has a very large amount of chump blockers that can hold off until something really nasty like Deranged Hermit hits the table. On the other hand since Bone Shredder is a dead card actually dealing with the creatures will be hard. Basically the black deck must win before a recurring Spike Feeder or Deranged Hermit makes things ugly. Both decks have Grave Pact which will be good against both deck but devastating to Suicide Black.
Actual Results: 2-3 in favor of Suicide Black The Shirei deck got mana screwed in two of the games. I think it could have stabilized in both given more mana. The key to the matchup seemed to be how fast Shirei could hit the table. In the games that the Suicide Black deck won it generally pretty close. The deck was usually either holding something that would allow it to stabilize but didn’t have enough mana to cast it or would have drawn it one turn too late. If Shirei hit the table the deck would generally stabilize with recurring Spike Feeder or Grave Pact.
Expectations: Shirei The green deck has no creature removal. This means Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker + Spore Frog just ends the game right there. Grave Pact will also cause problems. This is a stompy deck with a full mana curve including fatties so it isn’t as fast as a weenie stompy deck.
Actual Results: 1-3 in favor of Stompy Once again it was generally mana problems that kept the Shirei deck from stablizing. Also cards like Blastoderm and Troll Ascetic can’t be killed by Bone Shredder. By far the worst problem was Sword of Fire and Ice and Umezawa’s Jitte. It gave the green deck the removal it needed to do things like pick off Deranged Hermit and a few squirrels or even kill Shirei. Without this piece of equipment it would have been much closter.
Against The Rock:
Expectations: The Rock This is almost entirely due to Pernicious Deed. The Rock has similar defenses plus better disruption and Deed. Deed will just wipe out any sense of board position that the Shirei deck had. If no Deeds are drawn however this match could go either way.
Actual Results: 0-3 in favor of The Rock Much like I expected Deed was nasty. Between running 4 copies plus tutors The Rock saw multiple copies every game. Even if the Shirei deck could get a loop going with Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker, Spike Feeder, and Spore Frog, even with a Grave Pact in play the Rock could just wait it out then drop a Deed and stablize. It also could Naturalize Grave Pact and Living Wish could get many a nasty creature. The Rock is just way too powerful of a deck to handle.
Against Draw Go:
Expectations: Draw Go Really all the Shirei deck has to do is resolve Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker. This however is easier said than done. With only Thrull Surgeon to help it may not be possible to force much of anything through. Plus this build runs Vedalken Shackles which will likely cause many problems.
Actual Results: 0-3 Really the only problem card the Draw Go deck seems to have is Vedalken Shackles. Unfortunately there is so much card drawing in the deck that it is almost garunteed to see in in multiples. The Shirei deck is fast enough and has enough threats that the countermagic alone cannot keep up.
Actual Results: 2-3 in favor of MWC This matchup wasn’t near as bad as I expected. While Wrath effects were in fact nasty the Shirei deck is so threat dense that it seems to be able to run the white deck out of Wraths. It seems to almost always win the topdeck war. It really ends up being a Deranged Hermit vs. Decree of Justice battle. Each game felt like it really could have gone either way.
Tweaking the Deck to Cover Weaknesses:
After you have tested the deck a bit you can try and determine which cards underperformed and what some of the weaknesses of the deck are. This deck really doesn’t like mass removal. A mass removal spell backed up by a threat or enough disruption will cause havok to the deck. Also the deck really needs some more mana acceleration. It doesn’t do much of anything early game so it would be nice to try and make the deck a bit faster. I also was very aware of the lack of artifact and enchantment removal. There were many games that may have turned out better if I could deal with them.
Spore Frog was quite dissapointing. In only one game out of all the ones I played was I able to set up the lock. I still lost that game after a Nevinyrral’s Disk was popped. It was only decent a few times so it can definitely be replaced.
Thrull Surgeon was also mediocre. I rarely had the time/mana to activate the ability. It was often just a chump blocker. Even in the matchup I expected its ability to be most relevant it wasn’t all that great.
Shirei - Final Version
The deck ended up being much better than I expected. Then again there are plenty of powerful cards in the deck and it performs just fine without ever seeing a Shirei, Shizo’s Caretaker. In fact it may be best to drop a copy. Drawing multiples of a legend is usually not a good thing. As for the rest of the deck there are still a few slots that I’m not sure are optimal yet. I’d like another Grave Pact and Oversold Cemetery and also something that can kill creatures that Bone Shredder can’t handle would be nice. I also don’t how how the single Spike Weaver would perform. This deck is far from tournament worthy but it should be fine in casual games. It is a lot of fun to play as well but would likely be anoying to play against. I hope you guys learned something about the deckbuilding process for this exercise.