The Wakefield School
The Wakefield School
One of the most talked-about strategies, in terms of internet interest, has got to be the Wakefield School of Magic. Jamie Wakefield is maybe the internet's (and the Dojo's) most popular writer, but I think that sadly, his"School" is analyzed in unsophisticated (or even plainly incorrect) terms. This article will be an attempt to look at Jamie's work analytically.
Tenets of the Wakefield School:
- ONE color!
- fatties are the only true road to victory
- middle-of-the-road beatdown strategy
- 62 cards, 26 land
If these are the real principles that drive the Wakefield School, I would respectfully say that its graduates wouldn't do a lot of winning... there simply has to be something more complex to the strategy, or no one (including Jamie himself) would really play these decks.
The most well-recognized Wakefield deck is probably"Black Fat." When I first met Jamie, at Pro Tour Dallas 1996, I told him that he shouldn't be surprised when people knew what was in his deck... as he had plastered it all over the internet.
This is a version Jamie used to qualify for Pro Tour Los Angeles 1998, during the post-Tempest, Chicago-era 1.x qualifiers:
Clearly this deck supports the 26/62 construction. Yes, it has a lot of fatties. However, I question the deck as a middle-of-the-road beatdown strategy. In my mind this example of the Wakefield deck is more reminiscent of a destructive control deck, and can actually be taken as a blunt interpretation of the Weissman deck. (I am talking here about the traditional Serra/Scepter/Book Weissman deck that we all learned about back in the days of"Schools of Magic," not some post-Mirage Mystical Tutor/control deck that may have evolved from the original).
If you clear away all the elegant nuances of the Weissman deck, you basically have a strategy that tries to strip the opponent's hand with Disrupting Scepter and just kill him over the next five or so turns with a Serra Angel. Brothers Very Grimm sort of does the same thing: it tries to generate (interactive) card advantage with Carrionette, Nekrataal, and Hymn to Tourach (which specifically strips the other guy's hand) and then tries to slam him repeatedly with a big creature.
Both decks have a large amount of threat removal: the Weissman deck sought to generate a permanents-hostile environment with Moat, Swords to Plowshares, and Disenchant; Brothers Very Grimm features a great deal of creature elimination (Contagion, Diabolic Edict), some of which has the added incentive of keeping itself alive (Drain Life), or deals with the board in an even more hostile manner via global reset (Nevinyrral's Disk).
Anyway, Brothers Very Grimm is probably Jamie's most successful deck from a historical perspective, having won him a slot on the Pro Tour, and more boxes of Magical cards than any other deck. A version of this deck got him 18th place at Pro Tour One (New York), and the week after Jamie used it to qualify for LA '98, Mark Wraith of the United Kingdom got an L.A. Pro Tour slot with it as well.
Phoenix-Haups (or"Wakefield Sligh")
Jamie used a fatty-based R/W Jokulhaups/Ivory Gargoyle deck to qualify for Pro Tour Dallas. Visions brought Bogardan Phoenix, which allowed Jamie to take out the white for Ivory Gargoyles. Because the Wakefield school demands mono-colored decks, he decided to go with the"amazing" mono-red version for Vermont States 1997.
Jamie went 5-0 at states but lost in the top 8. He then went with another version for Regionals 1998, where he placed a disappointing 10th.
The deck has sort of an eccentric mana curve for a Sligh deck, 7-0-3-2-6, but Jamie is an eccentric designer. All he had to say was"fat = good." The interesting things about the Wakefield Sligh deck are that while the Black Fat deck had some interactive card advantage, the Phoenix-Haups deck has no real card advantage at all. It does however sport a ton of removal, including 3 Jokulhaups. Harkening back to the Nevinyrral's Disks of the Brothers Very Grimm, this deck runs 3 copies of a global reset.
Phoenix-Haups is one of the less successful decks of the Wakefield School. Its principal legacy as a monochrome 26/62 fatty deck is that is served as the base for Brian Kowal's Ponza Rotta Red deck, which amused and amazed Wisconsin and Chicago from the Rath Cycle qualifiers for Rome to the present day. Ponza Rotta Red also won the 1998 Wisconsin state championships, where Jake Welch was able to best the Great One himself, Bob"the Bomber" Maher, playing Academy.
Before proceeding to Jamie's favorite deck, Secret Force, I think it is useful to talk about the rules of the Wakefield School before moving onto the possible exception:
The Wakefield School happens to run one color only. While it kills with fatties, I think that route to victory is incidental. The point of the Wakefield decks is to hammer the opponent's game by destroying all his useful permanents. Fatties are a reasonable way to win because they can off the opponent before he has a chance to recover from being repeatedly Hymned or having all of his permanents removed. This marks the Wakefield School as more removal or control-oriented than beatdown, obviously... Jamie generates a board or positional advantage, and then he tries to capitalize on it as best he can. Rather than playing high power-to-casting cost threats in the early game to force a reaction (the hallmark of good beatdown), the Wakefield deck tries to react to the opponent's threats and then trade repeatedly to out-last the opponent.
The other main feature of the Wakefield strategy is that it features"the answer.""The answer" in the above decks manifests in global resets like Nevinyrral's Disk or Jokulhaups. Jamie's strategy, especially when he is put in a situation that he cannot normally go for the"remove that and then try to out-last you" game, is to blow everything up and then out top-deck the opponent. Commentators from Team Rogue, Adrian Sullivan and Brian Kowal, have pointed out that while Wakefield Sligh doesn't have any real card advantage, it does have the capability to out top-deck the opponent. Because the deck features an eccentric mana base of 26 land, it is reasonable for the Wakefield deck to cast Jokulhaups (or later, Apocalypse) and then draw enough land to win while the opponent's tighter deck mana stalls. This is especially possible due to the 4 Wastelands in most Wakefield decks.
The Wakefield strategies generally have a subtle element of mana acceleration... in the Black Fat deck, we saw this with the Dark Rituals, in Secret Force (below) the Elves and Wild Growths. Wakefield Sligh takes a slightly different turn and just goes for a few early-game plays (the 7 1-drops and 3 Shocks) to keep up in the first few turns of the game.
Secret Force is Jamie's all-time favorite deck. This is an early Type II version from last year:
On its surface, Secret Force seems to be a departure from the Wakefield School, generally. While it remains a monochrome fatty deck, Secret Force has both a different mana base (only 22 land out of 62 cards) and no reset. The former is compensated for by the addition of 4 Wild Growths in addition to the 4 Llanowar Elves. With twice the mana acceleration of Brothers Very Grimm, it is okay for this Wakefield deck to run 4 fewer lands.
The deck also runs no global reset. One way to categorize this is that mono-green has nothing on the order of a Jokulhaups, and that Nevinyrral's Disk would be ridiculous in this version (no other artifact targets, blows up too many of Secret Force's permanents). Since both of these statements could be made for mono-black, I think that the superior answer is to talk about the global reset in terms of"the answer," (above).
The Wakefield"answer" is mostly a way to get out of a position where the deck will have trouble winning. For Secret Force, that position might be any time when there is a Tradewind Rider on the other side. Use of a card like Nevinyrral's Disk, or even Cursed Scroll, is vastly less effective than Scragnoth for beating Tradewind Rider, as the Rider will just bounce the offending artifact before it is likely to become a problem, or in any case, can survive a Cursed Scroll hit. Furthermore, mono-green lacks significant disruption against permission decks (e.g. no Hymn to Tourach) and has a much harder time punching a key card through. For all of these reasons,"the answer" here has to be main-deck Scragnoth... it can't get countered, it runs right by a Tradewind Rider.
At the same time, Secret Force is very good against fast beatdown decks due to the presence of Spike Weaver... he is a pretty good answer against anything attack-oriented, and has more or less the same effectiveness as a Nevinyrral's Disk against creature-based strategies, with one distinction: he doesn't stop Jamie's own creature assault!
The key card to Secret Force is clearly Natural Order. The Order is a Tutor-like effect that Jamie can use to get either of these answers, and combines especially well with the Saproling Tokens of the Verdant fatty-king himself.
In other respects, Secret Force remains a Wakefield creation. It features a huge amount of removal (especially for mono-green). Like the Carrionettes and Bogardan Phoenixes before it, Secret Force runs a number of underplayed cards, as well (Natural Order, Unyaro Bee Sting, Wild Growth).
Jamie On The Pro Tour
The end of this little essay comes with a Secret Force victory. Before last weekend, the win list under this mono-green was unimpressive, in my opinion. But Secret Force has qualified Jamie for his fourth shot at the Pro Tour!
In a field of Broken Jar, High Tide, and Forbidian, Jamie was able to take the following deck to the #1 position, and got himself an invite to Pro Tour New York 1999.
More miraculous than anything else is that this version of Secret Force was only 60 cards! (Rumor has it that Jamie's co-Cabalist (and deck genius) Mike Donais requested a ban on 26/62 card decks, saying"can't we all just post 25/60 decks, which are the same but just better?").
This version of Secret Force seems more dedicated to an early game than any other Wakefield deck that we've seen. It runs a huge number of 1-drops, as well as 4 Walls of Roots; beyond the 22 land out of 60 cards, this equates to a lot of ground-stall as well as 12 additional mana-acceleration. Furthermore, the Wakefield"answer" has been all-but eliminated from this deck, with Scragnoth replaced by Overrun. I suppose in this more speed-oriented environement (with smaller and faster threats on Jamie's end), the answer was just to end the game.
Now for the fun stuff: Elements of the Wakefield School
1. Never, ever, run non-interactive card advantage engines. I mean never. The R/W Jokulhaups Jamie used to qualify for Dallas had ZERO Thawing Glaciers. Every deck in that environment ran Thawing Glaciers! The *Necrodeck* I qualified with had 3 Glaciers. None for fatty R/W! Speaking of Necropotence, that is another non- interactive card-drawer. Never a 'potence in the Wakefield black decks.
Jamie claims that running card-drawing engines (non-interactive card advantage) glut a player's hand with too many fatties when he is running a Wakefield deck. Even with the huge amount of mana--and mana acceleration--the Wakefield decks run, they can't keep up with that, as many of their threats cost 5 or more mana. It is just better to top-deck and save the slots for actual answers, fatties, or mana, rather than cards that go and get mana or fatties or answers.
It appears to be all right to run interactive card advantage (destructive) engines. Jamie has killed many creatures with Nekrataal, Carrionette, and so on. His monkeys have smashed many artifacts, and his Weavers have held off a lot of rushes. Jamie even had Disrupting Scepters in one version of Black Fat, and he used them to good effect, by stripping hands in an even more traditionally Weissman way.
2. Make your deck really bad against Winter Orb. The high casting costs of the Wakefield decks make them particularly vulnerable to Winter Orb because they tap out a lot. (Tom Guevin pointed that out at Regionals 1998).
3. Make your deck really good against control. We have already talked about the presence of main-deck spoilers like Scragnoth. But the Wakefield strategy is just really disruptive in general. A lot of the Wakefield cards are underused, and an opposing control player just doesn't know what to counter. An inoffensive"scrub" card like Natural Order will more often than not bring out something that your average deck will not be able to handle. (Jamie has many stories about this one). The huge amount of removal in the Wakefield deck can also make winning impossible for control decks that have few routes to victory. (Tom Guevin also pointed out this aspect of the Wakefield School at Regionals 1998).
4. Crush Sligh. Just do it. Kill every single creature or gain more life than they can eliminate while beating them down with a toughness-4 creature that they can't bolt. If you have to run Lighting frigging Blast to have as many bolts as you want, do it.
Jamie doesn't always beat mono-red, but he tries to make his decks as resistant to that strategy as possible.
5. Use only very bad library manipulation. This is where most critics of the Wakefield School (primarily myself and edt) come into conflict with Jamie. The Wakefield School will never run a card like Impulse, arguably the best cheap search card in modern Magic, but it WILL run a card like Sage Owl... basically a neutered Impulse that happens to put a 1/1 creature into play. The Wakefield School will not go find creatures with Survival of the Fittest, but it will sacrifice them to Natural Order (inherent card-disadvantage unless we are talking about an active Spike or Verdant Saproling token).
Jamie claims this is because his decks are so creature-heavy (even if Sage Owl isn't actually a fatty). I mean why have an Impulse if you can have a bad Impulse but also a relatively useless creature?
6. The rest of the stuff... win with fatties. Don't make your deck more than one color. Play a huge percentage of mana-making cards (especially land). Have an answer or global reset button. Play with little kid cards that your opponent has to read. Have fun while casting Magical spells.
Bad Player Flores
Team Discovery Channel