balustrade-spy

This last weekend I participated in an 8-man tournament put on by JustSin over at MTGOAcademy. I convinced my fellow brewer obZen to join too. We both played 1-land Spy. While ultimately we were both taken down by the same Delver pilot, we both prized and both had some pretty cool stories to tell. I will start with a little recap, and then delve deep into the inner workings of the deck.

While obZen brought a slightly different deck than me, this is roughly the list we both played:

1-Land Spy (Pauper)

Land (1)
Forest

Creatures (25)
Balustrade Spy
Anarchist
Deadshot Minotaur
Simian Spirit Guide
Street Wraith
Tinder Wall
Wild Cantor
Wirewood Guardian

Spells (34)
Cabal Ritual
Conjurer's Bauble
Dark Ritual
Destroy the Evidence
Haunting Misery
Land Grant
Lotus Petal
Manamorphose
Morgue Theft
Songs of the Damned
Springleaf Drum
Sideboard (15)
Basking Rootwalla
Duress
Flaring Pain
Fog
Ingot Chewer
Crypt Rats

Tournament Report

In round one, I played against Trinket Control. Trinket plays out a lot like playing against monoB, except they don’t have Gray Merchant[c]/ so you don’t have to worry too much about opposing life gain. While they do run [c]Augur of Skulls, their discard suite is not as difficult to deal with either. So game one I had a considerable amount of time, but could not find a Land Grant. Eventually I realized that I could try to go off despite not having the land.

What you need to do when you don’t have the land is you have to spy yourself twice. Since my last article, obZen and I have adopted a lot of the Oninaka list that I posted in my last article. We are running 2x Morgue Theft, Anarchist, and Songs of the Damned. At this particular time I had a Morgue Theft in the graveyard, and both a songs and a Conjurer’s Bauble in hand. I figured if I could Balustrade Spy myself into another Balustrade Spy I’d probably have enough creatures to songs for an additional 7 mana required to fight through the land.

I was successful.

(1-0)

Game two my opponent mulled to four and did very little besides get out an Island and a Swamp. Now unlike most decks, if my opponent mulls a bunch that could be very bad for me, because they may be mulling into countermagic. That’s exactly what happened here – I got Negated. But since I had won game 1, and Trinket usually doesn’t run Negate, I figured I’d make him show it to me before I brought in Duress.

(1-1)

At this point I realized that my opponent was on the mull to Negate plan, so I brought in all four Duress. My opponent again mulled, but this time I believe it was just once. I got a pretty quick start with Springleaf Drum, Land Grant, and two Tinder Wall. After my opponent passed turn 3 without playing a land, and I had not drawn a Duress,I realized it was time to switch plans.

My opponent’s plan was to just sit on Negate. But he only had two land. So I did what any sane 1-land combo player would do, and I started going into beat down mode. I cast Street Wraith, Simian Spirit Guide, and Balustrade Spy targeting my opponent. I even retained a Tinder Wall in order to play around edicts. My opponent was still on three lands by the time the team swung sideways for lethal.

(2-1)

obZen’s opponent was on turbofog, and while that is probably a bye for 1-land combo, it was a super bye, because obZen’s opponent apparently DCed into oblivion.

(4-1)

The next round I played against Delver, and there is not much to say there. It is hard to beat counter magic decks, but Delver is the most challenging because they also apply pressure. A couple of Delver flips later, and I’m out of the tournament.

(4-3)

But this is where obZen’s story gets cool. 1-land spy can go off quickly. I’ve even turn 1’ed before with the Songs of the Damned win. In round 2 obZen showed a Tron player the meaning of going off quickly. He was able to go off on turn two twice. Game one, the opposing Tron player got to play a tron piece and a trinket, before obZen killed him.

Game 2 his opponent was on the play, so he got to cast a few more things, but again obZen T-2ed. The Songs of the Damned win condition makes the list really robust, and I’ll go into it more below.

(6-3)

obZen almost had a T-1 against the Delver opponent. But this Delver player’s ability to flip a turn on Delver every game made it exceptionally difficult to win.

(6-5)

So overall we went just slightly better than .500. But we managed to string enough wins together to make 6 tickets between the two of us in this free tournament. We also got a lot of people excited about the list. Since Empty the Warrens, Grapeshot, and Invigorate got banned turn two wins just don’t happen anymore. obZen did it twice.

Discussing the Deck

Community Involvement

So what is the Oninaka win? Why are we playing Anarchist, Songs of the Damned, and 2x Morgue Theft? When JustSin told me about Oninaka playing the list in a daily, I watched his videos and he would get up to 5 mana when his Forest was in play. Then he would cast Balustrade Spy, targeting himself, of course. With the last mana he would cast Songs of the Damned, making 25 mana, because all of his creatures are in the graveyard. Then he would Morgue Theft back, both Blood Celebrant, and Mnemonic Wall. Next he would cast Blood Celebrant, convert a black mana to a blue mana, and cast Mnemonic Wall targeting Haunting Misery, and Misery his opponent for the win. It was a bit convoluted, but resulted in fast wins.

After playing the deck a little bit I realized we could switch Mnemonic Wall out for Anarchist and add Manaforge Cinder over Blood Celebrant to save some life. But then after a couple of test runs, obZen informed me that we could just get back a Simian Spirit Guide with Morgue Theft. There was no longer a need for two new creatures for this combo.

I believe Oninaka and his friends took our list and improved upon it. We then took Oninaka’s list and further improved upon it. This process has taught me that the community brews better than any individual.

Other people have worked on this list too. As I mentioned in my last article, I started working on this list before spy even came out. It is a cool card, and this deck is a rough port of the Legacy deck “Ooops All Spells”, and “ManaLess Dredge” has run Spy in the past as well. People have come up with this idea independently of me, and I’m not surprised. I am pleased.

In the last article Tom The Scud pointed me in the direction of a PDCMagic page that details his work on the list. In the thread other people chime in with other ideas on how to tweak the deck as well. It is a real community experience, and a good read.

I encourage you to pick up the deck and try to figure out a solution to one of the remaining problems.

The Problems

As the tournament report suggests, countermagic is still difficult. obZen has been running 4x Pyroblast, and 4x Duress in his sideboard. I’m not sure we’ll ever get around this problem, but I encourage you to hit it head on. Maybe you can figure out some way to get around blue mages.

Another problem is life gain. My list runs 25 creatures. That means that if I go for the Oninaka Anarchist win, I will have to use at least one Simian Spirit Guide, one Balustrade Spy, and Anarchist.

These all subtract from our final Haunting Misery count. If we go this route our maximum damage is 22. I actually made a mistake earlier this week when I took this list to a daily. I had a few creatures stuck in my hand, and took out a creature for my 4x Duress. As a result, I could only zap my opponent for 19. This illustrates that 20 damage is hard enough sometimes, imagine if your opponent goes Kabira Crossroads into Lone Missionary.

obZen has tried to mitigate the impact of lifegain by adding a singleton copy of Crypt Rats to the sideboard. Assuming he can float a red mana somewhere, obZen can go for the Oninaka win but use a Morgue Theft on Crypt Rats. The Crypt Rats can use the remaining black mana to do additional damage, while wiping your board, and thereby increasing your final Misery Count.

While the Crypt Rats plan is nice, it doesn’t allow you to win via Conjurer’s Bauble. This is still a problem that hopefully one of you can figure out.

The third problem is still inconsistency. I’ve won on turn 1, obZen won back to back games on turn 2, but the deck is still inconsistent. We’ve tried Gitaxian Probe, Read the Bones, and Sign in Blood. But we’ve ditched all of these overtime. I need your help to figure out some form of increased consistency that doesn’t require life loss.

If you look at the comments on the link Tom the Scud posted you’ll see that user FlxEx said “I can’t imagine playing less than 4 Gitaxian Probe is correct.” Well the more I play this deck the more I am convinced FlxEx is totally wrong. While Gitaxian Probe costs no mana it is not free in our deck. It takes up two valuable resources.

  1. Our primary resource is life. We only have 20 of it, and so using 10% of your life to draw a card is not worth it, when your opponent is trying to kill you before you go off.
  2. It takes away from the creature count. This is why Street Wraith is still in the deck. This deck is 60 cards and 1 land, but sometimes it is hard to fit everything you need into the list. You need a lot of creatures to make this deck work, and if you play Gitaxian Probe you lose 4 potential creature slots.

In short, life loss in exchange for cards seems like a good idea on paper, but when you’re playing against burn you’d almost rather just say go than give them 2 damage so you can cycle.

The benefits

This deck has plenty of benefits. First, it is really fun to play. It is not every day that you play a deck with one land and feel like you can win. Second, you can beat any deck that doesn’t pack excessive lifegain or countermagic. This means with a bit of luck you can beat any aggressive strategy, Tron, mono-black, and Trinket Control. Third, it rewards people as blessed as Oninaka.

When I asked Oninaka why he was playing the deck he responded with three words. He wrote back “I’m very lucky.” If you’re more lucky than good, then maybe this deck is for you too.

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