Academy: Drawing cards for fun and profit: Nin, the Pain Artist

Drawing cards for fun and profit: Nin, the Pain Artist

Mike Eaton, Play Unplugged

The rules of Magic: the Gathering dictate a few things that all decks must have. Sixty or more cards, for example, and no more than four of each card (with one notable exception). Then there is conventional wisdom on how to make a deck work. Twenty to twenty-four lands, give or take the mana curve and a win condition.

Wait! Whoa, back it up, son! A win condition? . . . It doesn’t have to be an effective one, does it?

you're doing it right

You see, I find that the decks I build can be broadly separated into two categories. There are those meant to do well in a duel (“competitive” decks), and those meant for Party Magic. The Party Magic decks (usually) can knock another player out of the game, but that’s not at all the reason I’ve built them. They always have some particular theme or trademark that make the cards within fun to cast.

Here’s a quick look at some competitive decks I’ve built, and what sort of things they do, for comparison. I say “competitive,” but I use the term loosely most of the time. These are decks that are good enough that they’ll drown in a multiplayer game, once players see they might lose, but I don’t think they’ll sweep the Pro Tour anytime soon.

  • Boros Standard Humans (All The Tokens, let’s run ’em over.)
  • RWB Modern Poison Reanimator (Elesh Norn or Gisela into Mass Infect.)
  • Bant Modern Exalted Hexproof (I’ll be taking to Grand Prix Columbus. It just does what it says.)
  • U Legacy Merfolk (I guess it’s a “Fish” deck. I just like Merfolk.)
  • Non-Red Legacy Counter-Sliver
  • G Vintage Elves
  • W Vintage Tempered Steel

For contrast, here’s the current version of the multiplayer-only deck that I’ve put the most work into, as of late. It’s a concept based on Nin . . . the Pain Artist. (She kind of talks like the Borg Queen.)

you are the canvas

  • 9 Island
  • 4 Seat of the Synod
  • 4 Great Furnace
  • 3 Shivan Reef
  • 1 Mountain
  • 4 Skill Borrower
  • 3 Nin, the Pain Artist
  • 1 Consecrated Sphinx
  • 4 Teferi’s Puzzle Box
  • 4 Temple Bell
  • 4 Cerebral Vortex
  • 4 Muddle the Mixture
  • 3 Echoing Truth
  • 3 Molten Psyche
  • 3 Mystic Retrieval
  • 3 Increasing Vengeance
  • 1 Dispersing Orb
  • 1 Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded
  • 1 Wheel of Fortune

As you can see, I have no one-drops, four two-drops, and not enough Echoing Truth. But that’s OK, in Party Magic. The first time I play this deck, if no one knows what it does, I can probably stay alive for enough turns to melt some faces.

What the deck has going for it is politics — fitting, for a legend printed especially for the Political Puppets Commander deck. Temple Bell draws everyone cards making players more likely to keep me around. Nin can take out major threats as they hit, meaning players without removal might need me, and anyone I’m hurting is at least drawing cards from it. A lack of offense takes me off anyone’s radar, unless I’m offing their army.

Where does the wall start to break down? A few key places. Teferi’s Puzzle Box tells them that either I just get my kicks from chaotic hand-shuffling (True), or I have an alternate agenda based around this classic, weirdo card (Also True!). Additionally, the moment my Skill Borrower flips a Cerebral Vortex, or possibly Molten Psyche (although no one is ever scared of that thing), it’s clear that I actually have (*gasp*) a plan to deal damage. And once I look like a threat at all, the deck can’t operate.

is something burning?... oh it's my brain...

And how does it actually work? Well, it’s imprecise, but essentially, at some point you’ll draw a ton of cards in one turn, and I’ll find a way to turn that into damage. Skill Borrower can be a land, a Temple Bell, or a Pain Artist, as the cards allow.

Folks often encourage political maneuvering if you want to swoop in for a late-game kill — but for improbable decks like Nin, sitting back and enabling other decks is just a way to get all your eggs into their basket before you count them. Though, since your opponents might start gunning for you when they feel insecure, a weapon like Cerebral Vortex is nice to have around.

So, why did I build this deck? Because Nin is awesome, and because I’ve always wanted to use Skill Borrower, and never found a way that wasn’t crazy. It’s a deck idea that can’t survive a duel, but still has a place in my box, because it’s constructed specifically for a party. The strategy revolves around what Nin does — force people to draw cards. Playing everything becomes my win condition, instead of who gets knocked out of the game.

I guess what I’m saying is that if your inner Johnny has a great combo idea that’s entirely impractical? Set yourself up for multiplayer. And try not to make anyone too mad until it goes off, eh?

There are eight million reasons to build a deck in the naked city. This has been one of them.

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