Battle of Wits‘ printing has created a lot of buzz. Luis already tried battling in a Daily Event with his take on the list, and I will do the same in the near future. Brave souls have tried Battle of Wits at actual tournaments, to a fair bit of success for some. The card, at its core, is simply a sweet effect that players gravitate toward. Playing Battle of Wits in a couple of Extended PTQs is still one of my fondest memories in Magic. The card just seems to resonate with people.
All of that said, Battle of Wits is clearly not the best way to win a tournament. The card inherently invites additional variance on your chances of success. But, there will always be people who are willing to make that trade—a whole lot of fun in exchange for a few percentage points in the W column. Because the strategy is not the most consistent, there are little in the way of resources. I am going to change that.
The key aspect to Battle of Wits is that it is a customized experience. It is not fair to simply throw a list out to the world and expect it to be widely adopted. If you have made the decision to play Battle of Wits, you probably want to do it your own way. So, rather than dictate what you should be doing, I will instead explore various options for the deck in an effort to make the list as competitive as possible, while preserving the essence of what we all want out of Battle of Wits.
Battle of Wits naturally requires two things of your deck building: The first is that you have the ability to have 200 cards in your deck the turn after playing BoW, and the second is that you have the mana, or method, to get BoW into play. Both of these are straightforward, but the former is quite unique.
Clearly, getting the number right can be tricky. Start with too few, and by the time you resolve the signature spell, you can’t trigger it. Start with too many, and the consistency of your deck goes from mediocre at best to abysmal. As a result of these confines, people often wonder what the correct number of cards to run is in order to maximize consistency and enable Battle of Wits to be your win condition.
Right away we can narrow down the range a little bit. If you factor in your opening hand, plus the minimum of six cards drawn before Battle can trigger when you are on the draw (assuming you are actually casting it) you already have a minimum requirement of 213 cards. Of course, casting BoW on turn 5 is a lofty goal, without factoring in any card drawing or deck thinning you might have.
This implies that we want some wiggle room to allow us to do the things a blue deck, specifically a large blue deck, wants to do without punishing our main strategy. You also want to be able to win a 10- or 11-turn game with a BoW trigger.
I think most players end up settling on between 230-250 cards as a result. I personally prefer to run 250, as it increases your tool box through singleton answers, without hurting consistency all that much—or at least in a noticeable way. I think if you manage to hit the sweet spot of between 230-250 cards though, you will be happy with the results. Any more than that is likely unnecessary, and any fewer than that runs the risk of rendering your marquee card ineffective.
In summation, 230-250 cards is my ideal range for BoW lists.
Mana, Mana, Mana, Mana
For the remainder of this journey, I am going to assume 250-card count decks for our Battle lists. While this might not be true for your own list, it does allow me to address specifics, and only small adjustments are needed to accommodate your list, assuming it falls between that 230-250 sweet spot.
What is the right number of lands to run in this 250-card monstrosity? The easiest approach to answer this question is to run the same ratio that you would in a traditional deck. Let’s assume that the traditional deck runs 24 lands in a 60-card list. That comes out to 40% lands. So, after multiplying that amount by 250 cards, we arrive at the conclusion that 100 lands is correct. This assumes a lot of things though.
First of all, it assumes that 24 lands is the correct number to run in 60-card lists. Secondly, it assumes that no additional variables in the conversion from 60 cards to 250 cards exist. And lastly, it does not factor any additional mana sources, such as signets.
When I ran the list in Extended, during the height of Dredge, I believe I ran shy of 90 lands, although the exact number escapes me. This was because I had things like the Ravnica Signets, Mirrodin Talismans, and Coalition Relic to accelerate my mana. At the end of the day, I was rocking nearly 110 mana sources, some just in disguise, like Eternal Dragon.
Any tricks you can do like this to increase your mana density without actually increasing your land count is huge. Battle of Wits might not have a higher ratio of lands than a normal deck, but due to things like improper shuffling, huge clumps of lands do come up and absolutely kill the consistency you want to reach. By having more mana acceleration, or tricky mana sources, your mana flood games become that much more bearable. Utility lands, like Kessig Wolf Run and Desolate Lighthouse are absolute musts. These perform similar roles to non-land mana sources in that they allow you to function when you have drawn too many lands.
Who’s Theme Is It Anyway?
Battle of Wits does seem like an easy card to build around though right? It plainly states on the card how to build around it. However, we normally know we need 60 cards in a deck, but rarely is that inspiration for building a particular archetype.
Battle of Wits gives you a rough outline of what you should draw, but it never provides you with colors to fill in all those blank spaces with. This is where Battle of Wits becomes exciting and personalized. Each player gets to build Battle in his or her own way. It is generally good to follow a few steps though.
1 – Isolate a major theme you would like to build around WITHIN your Battle of Wits shell.
2 – Develop numerous smaller synergies or themes to build toward during any given game with Battle of Wits.
3 – Meld these ideas together in as consistent a way as you can.
Picking the central theme to your deck might not be necessary in older formats, where the power level of individual cards can carry the deck on their own, or possibly with just the aid of some smaller batch synergies. In Standard though, individual cards, while powerful, tend to be concentrated at similar mana costs, have prohibitive mana costs, or lack consistency.
Recently, over at Daily Decks on the mothership, I featured the following Battle of Wits list:
Battle of Pod
2012 Silver Qualifier – Xtreme Games 8/11
While there are certainly some holes in this list (3 copies of Ponder and Green Sun’s Zenith!), Rich has met a huge goal—finding a central theme that gives his list direction. In this case, Rich has a sweet Birthing Pod package that gave him direction in terms of creature inclusion and other synergies with the Pod.
Battle of Wits must still contain a lot of powerful cards that do not necessarily fit into any particular theme though. When you are working on a 250-card list, some of the format powerhouses are just going to have to make an appearance. But, subthemes are still important. In this case, once Birthing Pod became the primary focus and engine of the deck (outside of the namesake card) we know that creatures are going to be at a premium. It would make sense then, and Rich recognized this, that our subthemes also involve creatures.
Check out the reanimator subtheme for example. Some of the cards that fit into this category are just good cards, like Sun Titan or Sheoldred, Whispering One, but there is still a conscious effort to add more reanimator synergies. Unburial Rites, Forbidden Alchemy, and Faithless Looting definitely give the feel of a reanimator deck, similar to Frites in Standard.
There are a couple of one-card themes that might not directly fill the deck’s empty space, but they do alter play patterns and lines you might take with the list. Door to Nothingness and Etched Monstrosity are both pretty good examples of this. While neither requires a lot of deck space, they do have a big impact on any game in which they are drawn by giving you a new minigame to work toward. You now get to play out like a ramp/5-color deck, which are both present in every game you play, but are now emphasized to a greater degree.
Step Aside Please
One final question you have to ask yourself when building Battle of Wits, is to know whether Battle of Wits is a focal point of your list, or simply a thing that can come up from time to time. Neither of these are worse than the other, but I will note that the most popular direction is to make BoW a feature of your deck and not just a footnote. Once you make the conscious decision to play Battle of Wits, you want to win some games with the dang card.
Decks featuring BoW as a center stage strategy generally include more tutors and ways to get Battle of Wits into play where a deck that simply has Battle as its plan B might look more like a large version of a traditional archetype that can occasionally turn their 5 mana into a win. We’ve seen this in Legacy before where a deck that was through and through a 250-card Zoo list, still had draws available that would Show and Tell out Battle as early as turn 2. If you are unsure of which style of Battle of Wits deck to build, ask yourself what you want out of the experience, and that will generally give you solid direction.
Hopefully I will be able to get some videos with some Battle of Wits lists out in the next few weeks, but I am currently computerless, as I await my new laptop to show up in the mail. That said, Battle of Wits is fun and personal, so don’t feel the pressure of having to copy one person’s list in order to validate your efforts. Build it the way you want to and have a blast in the meantime. Thanks for reading!