This entry is part 27 of 41 in the series In General

Grandpa (Eric)

By Eric, AKA Grandpa Growth

 

Hello and welcome back to another “In General.” As you can probably infer from the title, I have something a little bit different in store for today. I don’t normally dig into the specifics of deck technology or share decklists. I usually like to keep things high level in my columns. Today, though, I’m going to share a deck that I’ve been having a total blast with on MTGO and talk about some fun stories, interesting results, and strategic lessons that have popped up while testing it. First thing’s first:

 

The Deck

The Commander is Norin the Wary. The list is titled “Annoying the Weary,” because it has a beleaguering effect on the poor souls in just-for-fun room on MTGO.

 

Upon loading up my very first cue, my opponent and I exchanged the normal pleasantries and they commented that they hadn’t seen a Norin deck in a while. I responded in the expected manner (by saying: “he comes and goes”). I knew right then this was going to be the start of something special.

 

You can check out the list that I’m currently using over on Tappedout.net.

 

This list was really designed to test a hypothesis: that Norin is the top dog in Mono Red. It’s a semi-competitive build that eschews some of the more random elements of a typical Norin deck in favor of cards that consistently produce wins. For the purposes of testing on Modo I play strictly in 1v1. Multiplayer isn’t super convenient and it’s even more of a nightmare online. This deck wouldn’t be well received by the multiplayer community, anyway. Just keep in mind while you’re browsing through the list that cards like Mindslaver and Wheel of Fortune are much safer in single player.

 

For those who have never had the displeasure of playing against me, I’m a HUGE griefer. I love to watch people squirm. Now, I’m not particularly interested in the average Chaos deck, because the novelty of randomness is not appealing to me. For me to stay engaged, the deck needs to have difficult strategic decision points and the themes of the deck have to be well positioned in the metagame that I’m trying to infiltrate.

 

Norin really delivers here. There are plenty of opportunities to outplay confused or frustrated opponents. Exhausting mental resources can be a shortcut to victory. This was the major belief upon which my theory about Norin being the best Red deck is built: you get a certain number of free concessions because your opponents are unable or unwilling to fight through a game where the board has become complex. On balance, only a fraction of my games actually came to a proper conclusion under the rules, and I lost more than half of the games that did. In spite of that, though, the deck put up impressive numbers if you count opponents’ concessions as victories, which, I understand, is a somewhat spurious concept for some people.

 

After dozens of games, I made some changes that are reflected in the list I shared on Tappedout. The major points were as follows:

 

Cards That Underperformed

Buried Ruin: This was included for the obvious interaction with Slaver. I never activated it, despite achieving several locks in my games. I would consider cutting it to round the number of Mountains up to an even thirty. The card has potential, though, and I’m hesitant to give away any method of converting mana into real cards late in the game. The deck has a real problem with flooding out.

 

Glacial Chasm: Total bust. Never put it in play, never searched it up with Expedition Map. I drew it several times and never needed it. The reality is that the deck doesn’t get into too many race situations. I’m really trying to distract my opponent with Norin’s ETB interactions long enough to set up some sort of combo kill. None of my opponents online presented a creature deck aggressive enough to warrant main deck play of Chasm. This slot would be better off as more dedicated removal, if such options existed.

 

Goblin Charbelcher: This has long been one of my favorite win conditions in Red, but this deck doesn’t really have the tools to abuse it. We could maximize the effectiveness of this card by including things like Furnace of Rath or Voltaic Key, but it just doesn’t seem worth it. See the “Interesting Circumstances” section for a good story of my bad Charbelcher beats.

 

Palladium Myr: At first, I thought I should use this because it’s a mana rock that could potentially attack to trigger Norin. Then I decided that was pretty dumb. It’s pretty trivial to blink Norin, and having a more vulnerable mana base is too high a cost to justify this marginal benefit. I’ve replaced with card with Worn Powerstone.

 

Gauntlet of Power and Caged Sun: This deck doesn’t need that much mana. It can certainly produce quite a bit, but the current build doesn’t have a way to abuse big mana. Without an exciting top end to ramp into, I would rather just have a cheaper mana producing card that I can consistently cast in the early game.

 

Scrying Sheets: I’ve long been a fan of this card, but online I experienced a technical issue that decreases the efficiency of the card dramatically. There is a bug on MTGO that causes Sheets to cost three total mana to activate, two of which must be from a snow permanent. I’ve passed the issue onto Wizards support, but that isn’t likely to return results anytime soon. It seems like Scrying Sheets will just have to be a little underpowered for the time being.

 

New Cards to Try

After my initial testing run, I’ve added some new cards to try and shore up certain parts of the deck:

 

Abbot of Keral Keep: There’s a big emphasis on card advantage in the few cards that I’m adding. The deck has a tendency to stall out if you don’t draw well, which is never a position that I want to be in. With so little card advantage in the initial list, I often found myself either drawing enough mana OR enough action, but rarely both. Abbot is kind of sketchy in my eyes. I don’t normally include new cards in my decks right away, but the success that this card has seen on the professional circuit convinced me to give it a try.

 

Coercive Portal: I don’t think much of Will of the Council in general. It’s not the type of thing that I want in Magic, but some of the cards have interesting implications in single player games. Portal, for instance, let’s you create a scenario where you draw an extra card a turn and you can choose to get a free board sweep on any of your subsequent turns. Being able to clear the battlefield and then use your mana to lay a threat of your own is a big tempo swing. Red is hurting for good ways to deal with noncreature permanents and is also lacking for card draw. This is about the best it can do. I’m a believer in this card after seeing it used successfully against me in a couple games.

 

Reforge the Soul: This card is pretty bad, but it’s a draw seven. In the situation I outlined above – where I only drew enough cards per game to have either mana or gas but not both – can be easily corrected by casting Wheel of Fortune. It’s good enough that I would play a second copy, even if it costs significantly more.

 

Vandalblast: This card was suggested to me in the comments of my “Important Red Cards” article by Academicace808. Having not played with it before, I’m going to give it a shot. What I really want is a second copy of Shattering Spree, which is absolutely bananas in a world where everyone is packing Mana Crypt and Mana Vault. Time will tell if Vandalblast is equally good.

 

Takeaways

Several interesting lessons came out of my mono-Red experiment. First of all, the format has changed significantly over the last year. Khans block really had an impact and added several high profile cards to the Commander format as both generals and members of the other ninety-nine. The delve spells are obviously at the top of that list, but Sidisi, Brood Tyrant in particular has impressed me. Sidisi Dredge has quickly become one of the most competitive lists in the format. Air-tight lists can be found freely online and the cards are relatively cheap to source. It has been two years since I last did an in-depth examination of the top decks in the format in my “Seven Deadly Sins” article. I think the time has come for an update, because Sidisi deserves to be in that conversation.

 

Another big revelation is that, I haven’t built a very good Norin deck.

 

My deck has Norin in it. It has ways to generate value from using Norin’s ability, but it doesn’t really maximize his potential. The deck is fairly consistent, given the severe limitations of a Red-only color identity, and it’s certainly capable of powerful plays. However, most of the good things going on in this deck have nothing to do with Norin. Using Strip Mine to lock an opponent out isn’t exactly unique to this deck. I’d say maybe six out of ten times, my Norin was coming in and out of play every turn, but not really doing anything constructive at all. In these moments it couldn’t attack or block and was just straight up worse than any other commander. I’m not put off by this fact, though. This may upset some Commander players, but I’m comfortable having a decidedly un-Norin-like deck if it performs better. I think this list accomplishes that.

 

I played a mix of single games and best 2-of-3 matches. There’s no real structure to how I decided which to do, and I always host the games when I’m testing. I don’t want to have any control or knowledge that may come with choosing between different potential opponents. When I host, I just have to play the game that I’m in, even if it’s a bad match-up and the same player keeps joining your queue multiple times in a row. This mix lead to some interesting results, though. The deck performed very well in game-one situations, but the majority of my losses came in games two and three of my match sets. This is a little strange, because there are no sideboards and nothing changes about our decks between games. I have a couple of proposed explanations for this phenomenon:

  1. I suspect that my deck is simply better positioned on the play than on the draw. In my 50 test games, I was on the play 68% of the time. Naturally, this could skew my data and give a significant edge to a deck that needs to be on the play to win. What can I say? I’m the roll master. Once we regress this result back to the mean, I expect that a lot of those extra wins will disappear. I was much more likely to lose on the draw, so I’d expect to pick up two-to-three more losses in a data set that was split 50-50 play/draw, all else being equal. Notably, in the match games, the die rolls were a little bit more normal. This tiny sample bore out my suspicions. If I was on the play in game one, the match usually ended 2-0. If I was on the draw it always went 1-2, the other way.

  2. A second theory is that my opponents’ were expecting a much more casual game and thus kept loose hands. In a single game, they might just lose and that would be the end of it. In a match setting, though, they had an opportunity to come back to the plate and try again, knowing full well what was in store for them. With more information about the strategy of my deck and my limited selection of win conditions, players could make better mulligan decisions which created more favorable results in games two and three. It would be tough to put together enough data to truly certify this claim as being causative, but I think that the hypothesis is logical and elegant enough that it’s probably true, at least to some small extent.

 

Winter Orb doesn’t do what I thought it did. I was under the impression that Winter Orb interacted with lands in some way. It turns out, that just isn’t the case in this deck. You see, it’s much more analogous to Howling Mine. Mine lets both players draw cards, but gives each player the chance to actually play those cards in a timely fashion. Winter Orb works much the same way, essentially allowing you to draw extra cards relative to the board state. Without the necessary mana to cast the cards you’re drawing, you end up going through several turns where neither player can cast spells, but the board is intact and you can still attack and trigger Norin or activate a planeswalker. At the end of several turn cycles, I found myself with a bunch more cards in hand, but without having lost any significant tempo to acquire them. I could feel confident lifting the Winter Orb, because I now had time to draw into the second half of a combo or to piece together another damage outlet that would let me take the lead in the game. [cardWinter Orb[/card] has always been a fantastic way to stall out the game, but with Norin you aren’t fettered by the loss of untap steps; your game plan revolves around triggering abilities.

 

Thieves’ Auction is the real deal. I cast this card three times and won all three games. It wasn’t ever close. On paper, this card has a ton of text and looks really goofy. In practice though, it behaves much like Confiscate. If you are beating me and I have nothing going on, Auction probably just wins. The caster gets to take the most relevant permanent first, which is often good enough to win on its own. Those three games ended by me taking an Ugin the Spirit Dragon, a Karn Liberated, and a Progenitus. Those are the kind of cards that can make everything else on the board look small.

 

If your opponent is hanging onto to more permanents than you, you can create raw card advantage by just redistributing them to your side. Where my proletariat at?! The other key factor to my successful thievery came because I was piloting a mono-color deck. If the opponent needs three colors of lands to cast their spells, they have to seriously consider taking lands over other permanents. I can operate with two or three Mountains, but they might need five or more land to produce double or triple mana in all of their colors. As a result, I ended up with the better board state after the Auction and have a much easier time casting my own follow-up spells. Norin plays well in this situation as well. He leaves play before the spell resolves, so I have an opportunity to take their commander, but they can’t take mine – not that it would do them much good. Finally, Thieves’ Auction can be a skill-tester and not everyone was up to the task. You need excellent card evaluation instincts to make the most out of resolving this card. There’s a subtle leveling mechanic going on as you resolve the effect, and if your opponent isn’t experienced in playing against this they can easily make a mistake that’ll end up costing them the game.

 

Interesting Circumstances

Uncle Landdrops is a Big Game Hunter. He loves Commander, because it’s the format where you can come away with the very best stories to tell. The Thieves’ Auction shenanigans were more than satisfactory material to Spin into Myth, but there was so much more. Here are just a few of the zany things that happened in my test games:

 

  • Cast Wheel of Fortune, drew seven Mountains. Fell out of chair from the maddening tilt.

  • Crushed to death by 28/28 Scute Mob. It had picked up some extra counters from a Blade of the Bloodchief, of all things. I haven’t lost to Scute Mob in years – literally years. I need one of those workplace accident safety signs: “We have gone 752 0 consecutive games without a workplace Scute Mobbing.”

  • I was successfully locked out with my own Mindslaver, which, as I’m sure you’ll all agree, is the closest thing to justice in our world. The opponent was playing Geth, Lord of the Vault and used Praetor’s Grasp to search out MY MINDSLAVER. That’s just embarrassing.

  • In one crazy game, I was on the play. I opened up with a Mountain, a Mana Crypt, and Norin on turn one. My opponent plays Strip Mine, Mana Vault, tap to play Crucible of Worlds. He then types GG in the chat, presuming he had won…and he might have if he’d been playing somebody else. I untap, play a Strip Mine of my own and take out his Mine. I then tap my three mana to cast a Crucible of my own. I flip my Norin and pass. He now types “LOL” into the chat, Strips my Mountain, and passes the turn back. I untap, play my Mountain again, and cast Impact Tremors. He takes one from the Norin trigger, tanks for about two minutes, and decides to scoop it up. Which is good for me because it’s almost a mathematical certainty that I would lose to my own Mana Crypt unless something changed (which was highly unlikely). No matter how many times I chant the words at my monitor, tails does in fact fail sometimes. This was a game only I could enjoy. I guess he decided that he was just not down for my kind of grind.

  • I lost my Norin twice. Which is pretty remarkable in itself. The first time I had to sacrifice it to a Sheoldred, Whispering One. My opponent was tripping out in the chat. He said he had never killed a Norin before and repeatedly pasted “Achievement Unlocked” into the chat box.

  • The second Norin loss came when my opponent, playing Damia, Sage of Stone, hit me with a Voidslime on the return to battlefield trigger. Since he was already in exile and I had not chosen to send him to the command zone (which you don’t really ever have to do in this deck) he was just gone forever. Trapped in the phantom zone like General Zod.

  • I lost a game where I was solidly in the driver’s seat. My opponent had me on a three turn clock, but I had a Charbelcher which I had successfully been using to burn through my opponent’s forehead. From forty life down to seven, nothing but Belcher. I thought it was all sewn up. I just needed to casually activate my Belcher a few more times and walk off with a win. Until, I flip bricks three times in a row. Activate Charbelcher for zero…three times in a row. The only positive thing about this is that if you combine the severe tilt from Wheel fiasco, I had come all the way back around. 360 degrees of shame and anger. Now I’m a healthy stable person again. Thanks, Norin.

  • Finally, I snapped the following picture of a game where my opponent came to battle with a Boris Devilboon deck. Much respect. I was playing Maelstrom Wanderer in this game. Sometimes you have to take a break from stacking all those Norin triggers, you know. We exchanged some friendly banter in the chat, but from the picture I think you can tell what happened in the game. He was not super thrilled with the result.

 

 

-GG

“In General” is the place where I share my ideas on unconventional topics that are often only tangentially related to Magic. This column is a mixed bag where I collect and present ideas that don’t have a home anywhere else. If you want a column about strategy, psychology, design, economics, philosophy, internet culture, and referential humor, you have come to the right place.

 

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